Far from the madding crowds, nature lovers reconnect with their spirit and nature in Hidden Lake Gardens in Lenawee County. A local businessman developed this haven, and his vision kept evolving. Today, it features miles of quiet trails and a world of flora. And his idea, maintained by Michigan State University, keeps growing. Visitors will soon be able to see it from new angles from an accessible tower and canopy walk.
If you have curious kids along for the journey, you may want to check out MSU’s 4-H Children’s Gardens within the university’s Horticulture Gardens, featuring the popular Peter Rabbit Herb Garden and Pizza Garden, in East Lansing.
HIDDEN LAKE GARDENS
A visionary’s improbable paradise, Hidden Lake Gardens has become a gift to nature lovers who love solitude. Maintained by the Michigan State University Horticulture Department, it is in Lenawee County, 64 miles southeast of the MSU campus.
Businessman Harry A. Fee, who had always dreamed of owning a lake, made that happen when he retired in 1926. He bought the lake and 200 acres. Although it was not part of his original dream, he began landscaping the property to create “a series of pictures.” He then built a road around the lake to view his living pictures.
Fee liked the experience so much he determined it should be accessible to the public and, in 1945, donated it to Michigan State University with an endowment to support it. Later acquisitions expanded Hidden Lake Gardens to 755 acres, more than a square mile. Within it is a 120-acre arboretum with maples, evergreens, crabapples, lilacs and shrubs. A six-mile paved roadway and 12 miles of hiking trails, including a wheelchair accessible trail, allow people to explore the gardens by themselves.
This summer, Hidden Lake will open a 10-story, treetop tower with a 700- foot canopy walk accessible to people in wheelchairs. The project will offer a whole new vantage point on the area.
Other attractions include a glacial kettle hole, a visitor center with exhibits and a gift shop, a tropical dome, a perennial garden, rare conifers and collections of bonsai. Hosta Hillside—where Fee’s rock garden once was—has more than 1,000 hostas and other shade-tolerant plants. The popular perennial comes in a variety of sizes, textures, shapes and hues, including blue, gold and red. But what would you think is the most popular combination for this Michigan State garden? Green and white, of course.
MSU HORTICULTURE GARDENS
On the campus of Michigan State, the “Go Green” university, everything comes together in its entrance to the Horticulture Gardens in East Lansing. There are plants, of course— and quite an education, for both visitors and students of landscape horticulture at the first land grant college in the U.S.
With themed gardens, greenhouses, crafts and make-and-take activities across its 14 acres, there’s plenty for families to see and learn, and that goes for little sprouts, too.
The Michigan 4-H Children’s Gardens have almost 100 themed gardens or pocket-sized areas designed to get kids excited about plants. The indoor garden hosts an annual butterfly exhibit (although the next one won’t be held until 2021), and outdoors there is the Peter Rabbit Herb Garden and Pizza Garden, with ingredients for a pie. At the Monet Garden, the bridge over the pond is a replica of the one at the artist’s garden in Giverny, France— except East Lansing’s was built of wood from trees downed on the MSU campus.
From the teeny tiny to the big and piney, there are gardens of roses, annuals, perennials, and ones for insects and pollinators. The Clarence E. Lewis Landscape Arboretum has indigenous prairie plants and examples of Japanese and English landscaping. Be sure to get a photo with the giant topiary peacock at the entrance to the Horticulture Gardens.
A small staff and a large corps of green-thumb volunteers run the gardens and events, which attract 300,000 people a year.
Photo by Kath Usitalo