Gardens on the Lake: Meticulous planning and detail produce living artwork

2013-09-25T09:00:00Z 2013-10-01T22:12:29Z Gardens on the Lake: Meticulous planning and detail produce living artworkJane Ammeson Times Correspondent
September 25, 2013 9:00 am  • 

In a series of garden rooms, each designed with as much painstaking detail as an artist places paint on a canvas, Barbara Weirich has created a living masterpiece rivaling any work by such legendary landscape artists as Claude Monet and Paul Cezanne. Nothing is by accident or happenstance here. Weirich, an artist by training and vocation, doesn’t plop a half price end of the season special in an empty spot of dirt. Instead, she painstakingly plans each detail of the gardens on the 5 acres of land surrounding their 1840s farmhouse, layering, matching and contrasting colors, textures, forms, heights and garden art.

With some warm fall weather ahead, take a last look at summer with a trip to Lake Cliff Gardens on Lake Michigan. The gardens have been featured numerous times in such upscale garden magazines like "Fine Gardening."

Having a garden like this has always been a dream for Weirich.

It’s an amazing exacting project. Weirich does extensive research to find the plants she wants. Hellebore Hill, the sloping hillside behind the house, was started with a 100 hellebores she purchased from a nursery that was going out of business in Massachusetts and the rare hydrangeas like the lace cap hydrangea she bought from the Dan Hinkley collection at Heronswood Nursery before it was bought and shut down by Burpee.

Each spring, Weirich starts over 3,500 seeds. And her husband Ron did her one better this spring, planting 5,000 seeds, then transferring the plants to pots when they grew to about two to three inches. Together the couple planted 700 zinnias.

Weirich said she uses every seedling they plant and sometimes even has to go out and buy more.

The plants, so beautiful, have even moved indoor doors on a temporary basis while waiting their turn to be planted.

“I’m trying to renovate the house,” said Weirich, “but right now I have 60 peach baskets filled with canna lilies in one of the bedroom and another bedroom filled with succulents. It makes it hard to renovate.”

In the fall, it takes four 26-feet Ryder trucks to transport fragile plants such as tropicals like castor beans (don't get fooled by the rather unpleasant name, these are beauties) and ginger lilies to the 100-foot greenhouse in Lawrence, Michigan where they reside in the winter.

The hellebores have spread into over  1,000 plants, covering the hill. Even some of the garden art such as the concrete pavers embedded with river stones used for the pathways were cast by Weirich and her husband, Ron who also built many of the wood structures like the 36 screens used for garden accents. Ron’s business makes the dyes for the ringlets on pop cans and many of the old scraps from the dyes are used decoratively in the garden. The couple also made many of the sculptures found throughout the property.

“We’ve always been project oriented,” said Weirich, who is model thin from all the weeding and planting she does – some eight to 10 hours, seven days a week. That doesn’t include the time she spends developing her garden vignettes. She often rises at 3:30 in the morning to contemplate the arrangements of gardens.

The attention to detail is amazing. A lute back wooden bench was painted green to match the oxidized green copper in the Asian garden. A fallen arch shaped tree limb was placed in an area of ornamental grasses in the periphery of the Lake Garden, a wide swath of emerald lawn, edged with decomposed granite paralleling Lake Michigan dotted with large glass balls and metal circles filled with recycled tumbled glass.

“Glass is like plants,” said Weirick. “It needs light too.”

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