Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Summer II 2019 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
Bellaire Bed and Breakfast’s Jim Walker is no ordinary innkeeper and his gardens are no ordinary gardens. They reflect his mastery of growing arts and his ability to enhance the environment by planting among the flora statuary, water features, seating and other artsy touches.
The stately 1879-built American Gothic B & B sits on more than two acres. The cheery yellow inn and carriage house are surrounded by elegant gardens developed by Walker since launching the bed-and-breakfast in 1997. It seems it was his destiny.
The innkeeper is a certified landscape designer who previously worked for Michigan State University Department of Agriculture and as an instructor for MSU Nursery and Design program extension in Traverse City. His talent for unifying greenery and decor creates charming, inspiring spaces.
Decor of metal, concrete and stone materials mix within the inn’s yardscape. A classic white wooden arbor marks the entrance to the Sunken Garden, a handicap accessible retreat beside a small 19th-century outbuilding.
In the Fountain Courtyard Garden, Walker’s Scottish-style rock wall surprises with plants tucked into the cracks between stones. The courtyard’s water feature brings the serenity of flowing water to the area, pleasing birds, guests and the innkeeper himself.
“I get a kick watching robins take a shower,” Walker said.
Visitors discover Walker’s ability to strike a joyful chord by blending decorative elements into the edible garden and along pathways. An angel statue hidden among shade plants watches over garden visitors. The spreading arms of an accent tree is the perfect place to hang a wind chime. Wooden benches perch beside a 1950s shuffleboard court, and rustic wood and concrete benches offer visitors a cozy place to rest and reflect.
Walker’s eclectic mix of yard features ranges from simple stonework to an artsy metal birdbath to a Japanese fountain filled with pond lilies, to a rust-colored sign simply spelling out the word “relax” — it somehow all fuses into one remarkable, living canvas people can’t resist exploring. And that’s how Walker likes it.
“We have no problem with people driving up and taking a look,” he said. “On an average day we have three peepers come out.”
Visitors to Sarah Olson-Rosenbaum’s yard experience its wow factor.
“Everyone who comes over is overwhelmed by the art,” she said.
Olson-Rosenbaum and her husband relocated a decade ago from downstate to their home at the base of Old Mission Peninsula. They soon rolled up their sleeves to begin transforming their 50-by-100-foot backyard into a private, green wonderland.
“When we moved up here, we went to East Jordan glassworks,” Olson-Rosenbaum said. “And that started it all.”
The Olson-Rosenbaum outdoor decor collection features colorful hand-blown garden art from Jordan Valley Glassworks and other original art pieces crafted by local artists. There’s a metal ostrich statue, handmade cattails perched on stakes, hanging stars, moons and a colorful bottle tree.
The art is set amidst a variety of perennial, native and pollinator plants. Thirty containers filled with blossoms decorate steps and deck. Greenery and art are set off by a garden bridge, waterfall and pond alive with fish and lily pad blooms.
“It’s definitely an escape,” said Olson-Rosenbaum, a member of The Friendly Garden Club of Traverse City and chairman of the group’s 2019 garden walk.
Club member Sue Soderberg takes a thrifty approach to enhancing her 11- acre wooded property in Long Lake Township. The Master Gardener and Northern Michigan District V director for Michigan Garden Clubs is an ace in repurposing items to decorate her half-acre garden.
“The first thing I bought at a yard sale is still my favorite,” she said. “It was used to roll newspaper logs and I plant annuals in it.”
Soderberg doesn’t shy from purchasing garden decor from art fairs but finds repurposing items from secondhand stores stretches the garden budget. She said thrift shops are her happy hunting grounds for finding containers to fill with blooms.
“I have so much shade, I like to add pops of color,” she said.
Her ingenuity creates a one-of-a-kind greenspace with whimsical features like an old tricycle accented by a secondhand basket filled with flowers.
“Last year I made a totem of recycled plates and glass you can get at Goodwill,” she said.
The retired federal worker likes to take in the fruits of her labor from one of the handmade wooden benches her husband crafted.
“I like to come out, sit, read and enjoy it,” she said. “But like any gardener, I soon see weeds and I’m back at work.”