Ford’s Flora…

10 Aug

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We’re in the smallest of the Pointes, Grosse Pointe Shores, on a piece of land known as Gaukler Pointe, you might know it as the Edsel and Eleanor Ford Estate. We purchased a membership for a small fee that allows us free access to the grounds nearly every day of the year. Each time we visit the landscape changes in appearance; there’s always something different in bloom, roses, daffodils or phlox perfume the air, the sun sits at different angles in the sky, changing the shadows of the trees, the color of the lake. The one constant is the utter beauty of this secluded piece of land. Thanks to Eleanor Ford’s foresight it can be enjoyed by all.

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Public access to Bird Island began this spring. Originally a sandbar in Lake St. Clair, Jens Jensen built a peninsula of land that created a protective cove for Edsel’s boats and served as a habitat for songbirds and wildlife. At Edsel’s request the island was planted with seed-bearing herbaceous shrubs, Elm, Ash, Linden, Crabapple, Dogwood and other berry-producing plants. Now connected to the estate by a bridge, Bird Island adds 3,000 ft to their shoreline. We follow the mulched path that hugs Ford Cove, a few boats float perfectly still in the sheltered water. We pause on the wooden bridge, sailboats dot the horizon, a placard explains the transformation of the island with photos of the flora and fauna found here. Clusters of ripe red berries cover low-growing shrubs, fuzzy, cone-shaped plumes grow on others, we enter an area completely surrounded by trees, we get glimpses of the lake through narrow branches, like peeking through Venetian blinds, the only sound we here is water lapping at the shoreline.

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The trail leads us to an open, grassy area, benches are perched along the shoreline giving us a panoramic view; power boats and jet skis have joined the mix of activity on the lake. Back in the woodlands we enjoy shady areas, a much needed break from the heat of the day. A mass of yellow flowers top tall green stalks, bumble bees and honey bees are enjoying the colorful blooms. The Ford bees are busy making honey, their hives are in a ways from the path, view them from a distance—or with a zoom lens like Kris did. Back in the trails you’d never know you’re just outside a major urban city. Eleanor would often go for walks here, asking to not be disturbed, she valued her privacy. Today we see just one other couple on the trail. 

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We take a break from the grounds and head to the visitors center, we’re having lunch in the Cotswold Cafe. The charming cafe has a greenhouse-style ceiling and wall that looks out onto the patio, furniture is garden-like, the carpet is green–very outdoorsy; the sun shines overhead lighting up the room. We are having the Avocado and Palm Heart Salad: mixed greens, diced avocado, palm hearts, cherry tomatoes, red onion, yellow pepper and red quinoa lightly tossed in a lemon and mint vinaigrette, so refreshing on a warm day. We took the Croque Monsieur, thick slices of toasted white bread, Dearborn ham, Swiss cheese and Dijon mustard topped with a creamy, browned cheese sauce and turned it into a Croque Madame with the addition of a poached egg on top. The sandwich is absolutely delicious, a nice mix of crunch and sauce, tangy and creamy. We have cleaned our plates, let’s get back outside.

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Just outside the visitors center is the Tribute Garden which honors Eleanor Ford with a mix of annuals and perennials. The garden provides color all year long with Liatris, Lupine, Zinnia, Marigolds, Tulips, Phlox, Roses, Columbine, so lovely. A small screened in garden acts as a butterfly house, today it’s teeming with butterflies enjoying Verbena, Zinnia, Coneflower and Salvia. Moving onward we pass the shuttle stop, cross a driveway and walk on the grassy shoreline, sunlight glitters on the water’s surface, the number of boats has doubled while we ate lunch. The landscape and gardens were designed by Jens Jensen, he is best known for his natural landscape design. He preferred open spaces, pathways, native plants and materials. The most prominent feature at the Ford house is its long meadow which is visible from anywhere on the grounds. Extending from the house to the gate lodge, running east to west, the great meadow captures the rising and setting sun. Jensen worked on this landscape from 1926-1932, he combines meadows, woodlands, wetlands and native plants to engage all 5 human senses.

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Water is another element critical to Jensen’s design, the lagoon is a secluded pond, as if we were in the woods and happened upon it, stacked natural rock creates the sides, here we look through and are rewarded with a stunning view of the swimming pool.  The pool is free-form in shape, surrounded by trees, water from Lake St. Clair fills the basin; a docent tells us Eleanor liked it kept at 80 degrees. A waterfall at the end of the pool allows pool water to overflow into the lagoon, at one time the lagoon was open to the lake but was closed for privacy and security. Oh how I’d like to dive in, splash around, take a few laps! 

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Walking away from the pool we enter a more formal-type garden, the Rose Garden. Eleanor loved her roses, Jensen, however, did not like formal gardens, the compromise resulted in a lovely collection of rose bushes. On one end an elevated slate patio with benches gives us an overall view of distinguished beds, each featuring a single color of rose; pink, pale yellow, apricot, cream and white, in the center a fountain, stone frogs wait expectantly in each corner for the water to flow. To the left a fountain built into the wall is also dry today. I turn completely around, my eye travels from the pool to the lake, visible through a frame of trees. Roses smell sweet as we pass on our way to the New Garden.

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In 1939 this space was re-designed by Jensen’s son-in-law Marshall Johnson, here we have straight lines, hedges and a reflection pool, these types of gardens exemplify the Golden Age of Gardening that was popular on large estates from 1880-1940. I like these types of gardens, such a contrast from the natural style, they work well together. Flower Lane is just what it sounds like, a winding gravel path leads us past irregular shaped borders that host a variety of cultivated perennials and shrubs such as delphinium, lupine, veronica, shasta daisies, phlox and daylilies. Edsel and Eleanor chose the plants, white, yellow and blue are the dominant colors; in springtime this area is a mass of Daffodils, Tulips and Hyacinths. The flowers are bordered by overhanging flowering trees, such a sight in May, the grounds are truly beautiful any time of year. After all of this walking, it’s time for a treat.

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Sweeties is located on Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Park, this darling shop sells ice cream, candy and coffee, what else do you need? The mint green and white brick exterior gives way to a natural wood paneled interior; on the right tall shelves hold large jars of “penny” candy. Scoop out your desired amount of Mary Janes, Swedish Fish, Black Jacks or Tootsie Rolls. In the mood for ice cream? The freezer holds about 16 varieties of tasty flavors from Mackinac Island Creamery and organic and vegan selections from Reilly Craft Creamery of Detroit. After a few different sample tastes I choose the coffee chip, such a nice deep coffee flavor and big chunks of dark chocolate, yum. Kris is having the salty caramel, so good! We sit at a table in an area resembling a library, bookshelves run floor to ceiling and are packed with thick volumes, vintage board games and a children’s section complete with tea sets, wooden puzzles and books are all for customer use. On the way out I check out the variety of coffee beans, bulk chocolates, nuts and popcorn. So many things to try, we’ll have to come back often…..

 

 

2 Responses to “Ford’s Flora…”

  1. Mike Ricketts August 10, 2016 at 4:39 pm #

    We have European Lily plants at our home, that were first imported to the Ford Mansion, by Mrs. Ford. Working in GPS had many little perks.

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