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'It makes me feel peaceful'

Dylan Goetz • Jul 9, 2018 at 8:00 AM

ROBINSON TWP. — While Robert Allen tends his plants, he comes up with a lot of excess brush and sticks, as one would expect.

However, instead of adding them to the burn pile, the Robinson Township man weaves the twigs and brush into a homemade fence on the east side of his property.

“This is my natural fence,” Allen said, pointing to his creation. “I weaved all this together over the past few years.”

The natural fence is one feature of plenty of unique plants and trees on Allen’s property on Ott Lane. Everything from a bonsai tree to 8-foot yucca plants, Allen spends hours working on his property each day. His property is a certified wildlife habitat with the National Wildlife Federation.

Allen, 70, grew up in the Grand Rapids area. He credits his father for keeping him interested in nature, despite growing up so close to the city.

“My dad was nice enough to keep us (kids) wild, despite being on the edge of suburbia,” Allen said. “I like nature — it’s my church. It makes me feel peaceful.”

Allen showed off his mulberry tree, which he tried to kill “a hundred times” but it just kept coming back. The berries are edible, and he often finds himself coming out for a snack.

Allen, a vegetarian, says he takes a lighter philosophy to gardening — he likes to let all plants grow.

“An environmentalist brought a tarp out here and shook the branches last year,” Allen said. “I think she might have left with a couple hundred mulberries.”

Along with plants, Allen enjoys multiple bird feeders and even a squirrel feeder. He created his own bird feeder featuring a post with aluminum pipes and a cage with a jar of peanut butter inside.

Squirrels can’t reach the peanut butter thanks to the cage and the pipes. Since Allen said he “has to feed the squirrels, too, because they eat everything,” he leaves out a basket of nuts next to the bird feeders.

The yard also features plants that draw in butterflies, bees, dragonflies and other insects. 

Allen said he gets most of his gardening ideas from the National Wildlife magazine.

Allen has a degree from Grand Valley State University in Environmental Studies, and now he teaches taekwondo part time at the university. 

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