You’ve been coming to Mackinac as a visitor for years . . . or it’s your first time ever on the island. As your ferry navigates the Straits and the island comes into view, you see Grand Hotel and the Victorian summer cottages strung along the bluffs like beads on a beautiful necklace. You step off the ferry, and your eyes are once again drawn up to those homes. And – for just a moment – you imagine what it would be like to spend the summer season on Mackinac in one of those beautiful cottages.
Your imagination is sparked even more as you tour the island – either walking, biking, or in a carriage behind a team of horses. As you stop at a gate in front of one of the bluff homes to snap a photo, you wonder what it must be like to stroll across those yards and inhale the sweet scent of the hundreds of varieties of flowers displayed before you.
Now imagine that gate swinging open, and the owner inviting you in for a closer look . . .
The Grand Garden Show swings open that gate, and for several hours – over two afternoons – you get to tour the splendid gardens the cottagers enjoy every day. It’s a heady experience.
But don’t take my word for it. Come on along now . . . I’ll show you!
First of all, it’s not all about touring the gardens. The Grand Garden Show (presented by Proven Winners) is a two-day event that just completed its third year. It includes presentations by celebrity gardeners, break-out sessions on all kinds of gardening (shrubs, annuals, perennials, etc.), and the most “give-aways” I’ve ever seen at any conference I’ve ever attended (and I’ve attended quite a few).
The first morning the keynote speaker was P. Allen Smith, an award-winning designer, gardening and lifestyle expert.
Besides authoring several best-selling books on gardening, he is the host of the PBS series Garden Home. He designed and created the set for the series by turning a bleak 650-acre piece of land in Arkansas into The Garden Home Retreat – a place that blurs the lines between indoors and out.
Allen was an outstanding speaker – witty and knowledgeable. I’d love to hear him again. After a short break, we went into a break-out session. . .
. . . where Stacey Hirvela, a Proven Winners Shrub Expert, gave an informative talk on the Big Impact of Shrubs on Small Spaces.
The morning flew by, and when we weren’t listening to speakers, we were admiring the dozens of Proven Winners NEW plant and flower varieties that were visible everywhere – inside and out . . .
. . . or watching magic tricks performed by Jamie Andress (island resident and Chief “Duck” Andress’ son).
Lunch was on our own, and then it was time for the first garden tour. We had a choice of biking, walking, or taking a Carriage Tour two-horse hitch buggy ride. We chose to take the carriage the first day because we’d be covering both the East and West Bluffs, deciding to save the downtown gardens for the next day and to do those by bike.
Out of respect for the privacy of the cottage owners, I won’t be using cottage names, but if you’re familiar at all with Mackinac, I’m sure you’ll recognize most of them!
Here’s the Day One tour. Come on! The gate is open!
We started on the East Bluff. At each cottage a tour guide was available to point out garden designs, identify flowers, and answer questions. All of you KNOW I’m not going anywhere near “flower names”, and we took in so much information there’s no way I can remember it all. Proven Winners flowers were used in all of the gardens pictured, and Jack Barnwell of Barnwell Landscape and Garden, Inc. was the garden designer.
I love the front of this cottage, with its sweeping front porch sitting lazily under the branches of a big old tree.
Here’s something you may or may not know about “the bluffs”. On the West Bluff, a service road runs between the cottages and the barns or stables behind the homes. On the East Bluff, the service road runs behind the stables/barns. This means – in most cases – the East Bluff backyards are larger – like this one, which stretches up and over several tiers.
The herb gardens and some flower beds have been raised to keep out bunnies, who like to harvest the crop before the owner can.
Behind the cottage is a beautifully landscaped pool. And behind that . . .
. . . is the owner’s putting green!
Just before the service road is the stable. We weren’t lucky enough to see their horses that day.
A huge curving expanse of flowers has replaced what was once just a hedge of shrubbery.
I wish I’d had something to give you a perspective on how large these flower blossoms are. This one was as large as a person’s head.
Gorgeous purple blossoms against blue sky and water!
These are Supertunias – I remember that name because there are about a dozen new varieties, and they are growing all over the island. I loved these with the green edges and purple middles.
A fairy garden path within that swath of flowers. The owners’ grandchildren love this.
We hopped on the carriage and landed next in Hubbard’s Annex. Like the majority of the summer cottages on the tour, this one is over 100 years old. I’ve photographed it many times in the Fall when those front windows are ablaze with the reflection of gold leaves on trees across the street.
This garden is all about the shade and the splendor of old trees. You enter the side yard through a beautiful pergola . . .
. . . and then pass through an archway carved through the manicured hedge. Soon, that circular garden will encompass a fountain.
The side porch looks out on . . .
. . . a shade garden of ferns, ground cover, and other foliage so green you can literally smell the richness of the earth it covers.
This beautiful blue cottage in the Annex is very grown-up in the front, but in the backyard . . .
. . . it’s all about the kids – and straight out of Harry Potter!
What fun this family must have out here! There’s a teepee for overnight camping . . .
. . . tree trunk seating arranged around a firepit (with a giant turtle looking on) . . .
. . . painted trees that wander alongside a brook, and there’s a bridge for crossing.
The entire back and side yard is a whimsical delight, filled with arches entwined with greenery . . .
. . . and there’s even a life-size chess board! If I was a kid, I’d sure want to live here!
Now we’ve traveled to the West Bluff. I wish I could tell you the complete story behind the transformation of this cottage (it was already beautiful), but it would require a blog of its own. Both the cottage and the yard have recently been enlarged and transformed.
It really doesn’t matter where you’re standing – all you see is a kaleidoscope of color.
Looking across the white picket fence to Lake Huron.
A side tier with half-hidden Adirondack chairs for enjoying the view.
The backyard is a series of tiered gardens framed in huge boulders. I feel the need here to remind everyone that all of this is done with materials brought over on ferries and transported by horse-pulled drays.
Looking up the tiered garden path . . .
. . . and down the side of the house toward the water.
A beautiful fountain is the focal point in this back yard.
This has nothing to do with the gardens, but I just love that they have painted the ceiling of the porch blue . . . and added fluffy white clouds!
Flowers curve around the side of the house . .
. . . and spread across the front.
The Monarch Butterflies were everywhere that day and seemed to really like the flowers at this cottage.
So did I!
Another West Bluff cottage with magically beautiful gardens and flower beds!
How many different varieties of flowers and plants can you get in one bed?? Wow!
From the lush gardens in the back of the cottage toward the lake.
The carriage house at the back of the property.
House Eight – Last One for Today:
This is actually a park shared by the owners of two West Bluff homes. It is filled with beautiful gardens and whimsical creatures that have been added by both owners – like these frogs.
A beaver with a fresh stick to chew.
A chubby kitty.
And my personal favorite – a little hedgehog hiding in a flower pot.
The gardens are spectacular as they move from the park to the cottage.
A view across the park.
The park’s front entrance . . .
. . . and the stream that runs through it.
Peeking around the cottage toward the Grand.
You have to know the photographs do not do justice to how all this looks in person – how it looks, how sweet it smells, how enchanted you feel as you walk through each of these fabulous landscapes. I wish you could all come next year to experience it for yourself. Promise me you’ll think about it!
Day Two will be coming up in a couple of days! Come on back – there are a few more gates to open and walk through!