The chance to design large and multiple gardens for a resort hotel firmly committed to a landscape of distinction for many years-this was a dream come true. Did I dream about gardens? Absolutely. Did the owners of the hotel dream about gardens? Oh yes, and by the way, long before me. My tenure with Grand Hotel was a good one; I was hired into a very friendly garden oriented environment. They encouraged and supported me. I grew lots of different kinds of plants in challenging conditions. I sweated every detail. When I design a garden now, I assess those conditions first, before I ever put a pencil to paper. Mackinac Island has almost no native soil. It is comprised of big rocks, and little rocks, with a thin layer of compost over top. An island means any materials have to be freighted over on a boat. Yes, we brought soil over on a boat, until the composting program was mature enough to supply all of the garden’s needs. Mackinac Island is in northern Michigan; the cold comes early, in the fall, and stays late in the spring. Plants that tolerate cold did well. The thousands of the geraniums that are a signature on the porch-they hated the May cold.
There are no motorized vehicles on the island but for the fire truck and ambulance. Plants were hauled from the dock to the garden holding area on horse drawn wagons. Plants arrived loaded on tall racks; flats frequently came in their own custom made box. In between the design and the planting, there were lots of steps needing lots of energy. The gardens were beautiful-none told the tale of how difficult it was to make them.
A resort hotel has to be ready for guests every day of the week, every month of the season. A big stand of shasta daisies yet to bloom, or past their bloom-this scenario would not work. I met so many guests for whom their visit marked a special event or anniversary. The gardens needed to be a special event for them, and new guests came every day. I took to designing with annuals that had the look of perennials. Generously sized and lushly growing borders, in the English style. Pink hollyhocks and Park Princess dahlias, red geraniums and white alyssum-you do not have to be a gardener to relate to this. A garden that invites guests to react emotionally to their moment, their visit-this is a garden that is designed to serve a specific viewer.
The cold temperatures made certain plant choices obvious. Red cannas so beautifully represented the red color integral to the identity of the hotel. This robustly growing dill served to hide to slow growth of those cannas that only longed for some heat. Herbs grew beautifully here, and were an integral part of the garden.
The tea gardens, on either side of the fountain-a wild mix of tall and gracefully growing annuals. Not one bit pretentious or formal, these giant and generously designed gardens were friendly to the eye. Lily bulbs would go in these gardens by the hundreds. Various nicotianas, green eyed daisies, marguerites, goldenrod, calendulas, and verbena bonariensis all spoke to profusion.
On the border, dianthus and sweet william provided solid blocks of color. Park Princess was the only dahlia I dared use. It performs well under duress. The air on Mackinac Island is so cool and clean-no vehicles. The color there, like no other color I have ever seen. Brilliant and crisp.
The hotel itself is white. I designed with intense and saturated color up next to it, knowing it would read strongly against all that white. The gloriosa daisies and nasturtiums spilling over the curb-I was especially fond of any plant that would soften the borders.
A horse drawn carriage is a trademark, and part of the logo of the hotel. That we interpreted in the landscape via a lifesize topiary saculpture. An iron frame was home to many thousands of ivy plants. The manes and tails-Stella D’Oro daylilies. The Triangle garden was any visitors first view of Grand Hotel, coming up the hill. I would have named this the enchantment garden, had it been up to me. That garden set the stage for the experience to come.
The Victorian era celebrated the planting of bedding annuals. I designed true to the period in certain gardens. An election year featured stripes ands stars in the ribbon garden. Big gardens need big and clear gestures. This garden was primarily viewed from a distance. A simple pattern with big blocks of color would read well from far away.
Small gardens bordering a walk-what do they ask for? If you are a big resort hotel, that garden may ask for company at eye level. We did grow lost of Carefree Beauty roses here; they perform reliably. The best part of my time at Grand Hotel? Learning about what it takes to enable people to relate to nature.