Cranbrook Garden Tour, Toast Birmingham

25 Jul


What would you say if I told you you could spend an afternoon at a European estate for only $6, well sort of…… All you have to do is drive to Bloomfield Hills and take Lone Pine Road to the estate of the late George & Ellen Booth, also known as Cranbrook.   Cranbrook House and Gardens began in 1904 when newspaper magnate George Booth and his wife purchased a neglected, barren farm. They hired Albert Kahn to design their home, and scores of landscape architects, gardeners, and laborers to create what is now known as Cranbrook Educational Community. Today you can tour the 40 acres of gardens surrounding the house or take a tour of the house itself, either way you will feel as though you have been transported to the English village of Cranbrook without ever having to get a passport.



Begin your tour at the Gate House, this is where you will buy your ticket and pick up the self-guided tour map. Wind through the entrance path surrounded by woodland plants and wildflowers, you will notice the temperature is a bit cooler here, cross the bridge and arrive at the La Bocca Della Verita fountain, it’s a nice place to sit and listen to the trickle of the water while looking at your map. Over to the side is the bust of Zues, one of the stones in front of him will make him weep, see if you can find it.



As you enter the main courtyard of Cranbrook House stand for a minute and take it all in. The house is an amazing example of the Arts and Crafts Style of the early 1900’s, everything was beautiful then, even the most ordinary utility item was decorated. Imagine what it must have been like to live in this extraordinary home; to be surrounded by nature and elaborate gardens, fountains, scenic vistas, art and sculpture. One look at the Sunken Garden with it’s intricate floral pattern made up of red, white, and pink Begonias will take your breath away. I like to stare it it from above for a while before taking the stairs to walk alongside it. Each year it is made up of different flowers and colors, I think this years display is one of my favorites, Oh how I love a beautiful garden! The Phlox were in full bloom; pinks and white, their perfume intoxicating, standing side by side with Purple Cone flower and Daisies, producing  a magnificent display. The herb garden is such a contrast to the floral displays, but still maintains that formal feeling; a marble sculpture of Ecolo keeps watch, the scent of the herbs is quite pleasing too. There is a Well Wishers Garden and Fountain off to one side, just a small space to enjoy a little peace and quiet before you happen upon the Turtle Fountain.  It is actually a copy of the La Fontana delle Tartarughe in Rome, and is marvelous. Have a seat and take in all the details, you can almost see the turtles moving. Just beyond the fountain is an impressive peek at Kingswood Lake. Remember; this was barren farmland at one time, every detail of this majestic estate was painstakingly planned out, the final result most impressive. The Reflecting Pool is a picture of elegance, the still water reflecting against the blue of the sky, so simple and yet so awe inspiring, spacious, lush lawns on each side. Here again, take a moment before descending the stairs to walk beside the pool and garden. Plantings here are more monotone; greens, yellows and white. At the end of the pool is Mario Korbel’s “Harmony” fountain, quite striking in such a setting.



Take the stairway at the end of the Reflecting Pool down to Kingswood Lake. You can walk the perimeter and observe even more splendor. There was a family of Swans gracefully crossing the lake, we stopped to watch the parents and youngsters pass by, looking so regal as they did. The Oriental Garden is delightful; the bright red bridge standing out among the green of nature. Don’t miss the Pewabic Tile Rainbow Fountain, it’s gorgeous, the tiles finished in their signature iridescent glaze. You will truly feel as though you are somewhere else, there are no sights or sounds anywhere to remind you have only ventured to Oakland County.  




Birmingham is a mere hop and a skip from Cranbrook and boasts a large selection of restaurants. The heat of the day put us in the mood for something cool and refreshing such as a salad or sandwich, Toast would be perfect. Located on Pierce, this “neighborhood joint” serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a quirky and fun atmosphere. Outdoor seating was plentiful, but out of the question, give me air conditioning! We scored a window table with a great view of the busyness of the day; lots of people on the sidewalk, most with a cold drink in hand. Somewhere along the way our appetites changed from lunch to breakfast, so we picked two items to share. The first was a Granola French Toast; soft challah bread cooked to a golden brown, topped with vanilla yogurt, granola, fresh berries and a drizzle of honey. The second item was the Breakfast Burrito, it is quite large and stuffed with all kinds of goodies; eggs, chorizo, beans, cilantor sour cream, topped off with house made salsa, yum. This is a fun place to have a meal, seating varies from standard table and chairs, to couches, booths and armchairs. Portions are generous and the menu features unusual ingredients. The decor is a mix of vintage and contemporary and looks great, if you like something a little different, try Toast.



The day had passed quickly and it was getting to be time to get back. As we walked back to our car we stopped at the newly renovated Shain Park  located on Merrill St.  This large expanse of public space has a little bit of everything; a large water fountain shooting sprays of water high into the air, it seems a favorite gathering place. The children’s play area was also popular while we were there; things to climb on and through, including a real tree. Cement and granite pathways lead you past a performance stage, the Marshall Frederick Statue, and a variety of benches; I liked the Butterfly bench, there’s also a xylophone bench, which seemed to be well-liked too. It was nice to sit back and watch folks take time out of their day for a little pleasure.



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