The other weekend, during our little Fall Colour Drive with friends I’d mentioned that we stopped for a couple of hours at Hidden Lake Gardens, I also said I’d do a separate post about it, so here it is, albeit a few days later than anticipated!  Interspersed between the historical text about the garden are some of the thirty or so photos I took in the gardens that day!

Hidden Lake Gardens was donated to Michigan State University in 1945 by Harry A. Fee.  Mr. Fee was an Adrian, Michigan businessman whose family owned an electric company.  He had always dreamed of owning a lake, and, upon his retirement in 1926, he purchased Hidden Lake along with 200 acres of land surrounding it.  He repaired and refurbished the old farmhouse, built a greenhouse, and began farming.  He soon realized that the land was not suitable to conventional farming or raising livestock and so he began to grow nursery stock.  Not wanting to compete with local nurseries during the depression he planted the stock on his own land in an effort to create a “series of pictures”.   Mr. Fee described Hidden Lake Gardens as a “dream as you go development”.  He built a road in from Hwy. 50 and landscaped it with a shrub and perennial border. The lake was cleaned out and the small pond and rock garden were constructed.

[All views, above and below,  from part of the scenic drive.]

“…I determined to build a road which would make the several beautiful views to be had from various places on the property accessible…” This road was built around the lake and later extended to the top of what Mr. Fee called Juniper Hill.   Much later, after the property came under the ownership of MSU, small parking areas were added at these vistas to allow the public to pause and enjoy the views.

[Hidden Lake]

“When the idea that I was making a series of beautiful scenic pictures available to the Public and just when I decided to dedicate the Gardens to public service I do not remember…all subsequent work has been and should be continued with the prime object of its being for the Benefit of the Public…”  Mr. Fee donated Hidden Lake Gardens to Michigan State University (then Michigan State College) in 1945 and his wish that the Gardens be for the benefit and education of the public has continued through the years.  He was actively involved in decision making at the Gardens until his death in 1955.  With his generous endowment under the direction of MSU’s Horticulture Department and later the Division of Campus Park and Planning, the Gardens have continued to develop with land acquisitions, construction of buildings, and the establishment of educational programs.  The original 200 acres have grown to 755 acres!  This includes a 120 acre arboretum that was begun in 1962 and consists of plant groups such as crabapples, lilacs, maples, evergreens, and shrubs.

Another benefactor of the Gardens, the Herrick family of Tecumseh, donated funds for the buildings here.  The Visitor Center building was built in 1965 and the conservatory was added in 1968.  The service building, replacing the old barns was constructed in 1973 and a picnic area was added in 1971.

[A rather dull shot of the conservatory buildings]

Year-round educational programs for all ages are offered in the Visitor Center which also houses a library, exhibits, auditorium, meeting rooms and a gift shop.  The separate Conservatory building includes tropical plants, arid plants, and a wonderful variety of flowering houseplants. A picnic area with shelter is available.

[A beautiful Japanese Maple at the entrance to the conservatory…. completely spoilt by me standing in front of it!  This was the weekend of the dreaded toothache, penicillin and pain killers, the root canal took place the next day.  I didn’t realise just how, in the space of two short days, it had pulled me down so much, I look positively ill!, but the Maple was too stunning not to show you!]

[Inside the conservatory]

Plant collections at the Gardens continue to grow.  In 1981, Justin C. Harper gave the Gardens a huge gift of over 300 dwarf and rare conifers  which now comprise the Harper Collection. These plants were transported from Mr. Harper’s home in E. Moline, Illinois to Hidden Lake Gardens by the Davey Tree Company of Ohio. The design for the Collection was done by Sam Lovall of Campus Park and Planning, MSU.  The Michigan Hosta Society has donated plants and their labor in developing a Hosta garden where Mr. Fee’s original rock garden was sited.  Both of these collections are now supported by separate endowments through The American Conifer Society – Central Region and the Michigan Hosta Society.

Another new addition is a perennial garden planted in 1991 with donated plants and volunteer help. A raised bed garden near the conservatory and a wheelchair accessible trail within the existing trail system were built with funds from the Kellogg Foundation.

Hidden Lake Gardens is owned and operated by Michigan State University under the division of Land Management, but supported through private endowments and gifts, along with a small amount of money from MSU.  Amazingly the Gardens are open 362 days of the year with an admission fee of only $3 per person.  Guided tours, requested at least two weeks in advance, are available at no additional charge.  In addition to more than 6 miles of one-way paved drives, there are 5 miles of hiking trails to allow the visitor a closer look at the beauty that the Gardens provide.

Part of the trail system that Sheena and I walked…. the boys were busy with this!  Graham ended up with a puncture just as we pulled into the parking lot at the trail head, so he and Andrew got the tyre changed for the spare whilst Sheena and I had a nice stroll!

It’s truly a beautiful place to spend a few hours and I had no idea that it’s open all but three days of the year.  Andrew and I have decided we’ll go back when the snow is on the ground and hike the trails, the photos in the visitor centre of the gardens in winter make me want to hurry the snow along so I can go back!

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