Tecumseh & Hidden Lake Gardens

29 May

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Springtime in Michigan is a short-lived wonder of Tulips, Daffodils and flowering trees; it’s when the heavenly scent of Lilac and Honeysuckle permeate the air. I love Spring. Hidden Lake Gardens is one of the best places to enjoy nature any time of year, but Spring is extraordinary. Located in Tipton Michigan, the gardens are nestled in the scenic Irish Hills. In 1926 Harry A Fee fulfilled his dream of owning a private lake by purchasing Hidden Lake and the surrounding 200 acres. He began creating a private garden laid out as a series of pictures, designing striking groupings of  plants and trees, he fabricated picturesque scenes for every season.  Wanting to share this beauty with the public, he donated everything to MSU in 1945. Expanding through the years, it is now a 755 acre botanical garden and arboretum. One of the nicest features of the park is the 6 miles of paved road that leads you through wooded areas and past breathtaking views, making the natural beauty accessible to everyone. For the more adventurous, there are 5 miles of hiking trails and picnic areas.

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We arrive at the gardens, pay our admission at the gatehouse, and begin the drive, in the distance I see a crabapple tree covered in fluffy white blooms; we have timed our visit well. Hosta Hillside is to our left, we park so we can get out of the car for a better look. We walk down to the lake, the water is still and clear, we see fish near the shoreline. I turn back toward the car, a multitude of Hosta’s are sprouting from the Earth, the magenta blooms of a Redbud break up the mass of green, a large shrub is covered in delicate yellow flowers. From here I will drive, allowing Kris to take photos; the road is a narrow one lane that snakes past the lake, through the trees. A stacked stone wall lines one side of the roadway, sunlight filters through Oak and Hickory leaves creating patterns on the asphalt, Creeping Myrtle is already blooming.  The road winds, twists and turns as we climb gentle hills, a deer stands in a grassy area unfazed by passing cars. Next the Dwarf and Rare Conifers take center stage, with over 500 specimens it is one of the finest collections in the country. The conservatory comes into view, we park again and go indoors.

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Inside the domes there is a definite mid-century feel to the architecture, narrow concrete pathways lead us through different climates. Brightly colored annuals are tucked into hanging baskets, Hibiscus and potted Geraniums mingle side by side, Palm trees are tall, nearly reaching the ceiling, we see trees that produce coffee and chocolate A large pot of Fuschia catch my eye, the flowers an amazing combination of cream, lavender and pink, a trumpet vine climbs a trellis. The arid dome is home to funky, woody plants bearing bronze colored flowers, cactus come in all shapes and sizes, some in bloom, I think the most unusual looking specimens are usually found in the arid display. The lathhouse is basically an outdoor living room; complete with comfy couches and chairs, shade loving ferns and Begonias take respite here, all that’s missing is a pitcher of lemonade. The bonsai display is just outside the lathhouse, tiny examples of White Cedar, Japanese Maples, Evergreens and Oak sit atop tall pedestals. It’s interesting to take the time to read about each specimen, some are quite old. Today they all seem to enjoying the warmth of the sun.

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Back in the car we continue to meander through the grounds, the area is more open and grassy as we near the exit. We finally reach the Arboretum, a large collection of native and exotic trees; Beech, Ash, Maple, ornamental shrubs, lilacs and what we came to see: flowering crabapples! As we get closer I see dozens of trees decked out in blossoms, I am in awe at the sight. The road leads us past trees that seem to be made of giant plumes of flowers. White crabapple trees are densely covered, branches look almost fluffy. Shades of pink run the gamut from the most pale to a deep raspberry color; the view is incredible, as is the scent. Random groupings hug the landscape, I keep looking from front to back as we idle by, this is definitely the showstopper in the gardens today, I’m so glad we came!

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We are headed to Tecumseh for lunch, we haven’t spent a lot of time here, so it will be fun to check it out. On our second pass down the main street (M-50) a building on one of the side streets catches Kris’s eye; a trip around the block leads us to Evans Street Station, where we will be having lunch. Formerly a city fire station, the building has been renovated into a “destination restaurant”. With a focus on farm to table they partner with many of the local growers in designing their menu. We walk around the back to the entrance and find a charming patio set up with tables and sunny yellow umbrellas, today we will be enjoying our meal Al fresco. Our waiter arrives promptly with water and menus, it doesn’t take long for us to decide. We place our order and chat with our waiter getting a bit of the lowdown on Tecumseh, before we know it plates of food arrive. The wedge salad was perfectly crisp, topped with herbed buttermilk dressing, crisp bacon, thinly sliced radish, peeled cherry tomato and a sprinkle of white cheddar, it was delicious. The Cuban sandwich is served on Avalon farm loaf; stuffed with shaved salami, prosciutto, house made pickles, Jarlsberg cheese and Dijon mustard it is grilled to a perfect crunch. The variety of flavors and textures in the sandwich makes it outstanding. What a great find.

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Tecumseh has a lovely downtown, the streetscape a colorful combination of 2 and 3-story brick buildings. At just over 5 square miles this was one of the first three settlements in the Michigan territory. The city became a manufacturing town in the 1930’s when Raymond Herrick founded Tecumseh Products, makers of refrigeration compressors. The first hermetically sealed compressor was made here in 1938, and the first window air conditioner was produced here in 1947. Herrick learned mass production techniques from Henry Ford himself, during WWII Tecumseh produced artillery shells for the Allied forces. In 1956 Tecumseh Products purchased one of the largest manufacturers of small gasoline engines in the US, Lauson Manufacturing Company, creating Tecumseh Power Company, engines were made here until 2007.

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Today the city has reinvented itself as a tourist destination. Historic buildings are filled with businesses such as restaurants, specialty shops, a bakery, winery and home decorating stores. We stroll down the street roaming in and out of shops, stopping in at the Spotted Cow Ice Cream Shop for a little dessert. Formerly a bank, the shop maintains the gorgeous marble counter and tile floor from its banking days. Walls are bright pink, the aroma of homemade waffle cones make it hard to concentrate, they have it all; soft serve frozen yogurt, hand dipped cones, sundaes and shakes. Kris and I each get a scoop, and it’s wonderful. As we finish our walk through downtown we pass several outdoor sculptures, part of Art Trail Tecumseh, we then go further on into the residential area. It’s like going back in time, homes are are large and elegant, a mixture of antique architecture; Victorian, Federal, no two houses are the same. Some are constructed of brick, most are wood; facades are highly detailed with ornamental trim and railings, delightful. Alas, it’s time to head back, located only 60 miles southwest of the city, what a great place to spend the day.

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