The corner of 5th and Clay in Muskegon grabs pedestrians’ attention. Arbors shade a path off the sidewalk, and at its end you glimpse an aqua bridge. Step in, and the view opens to roses and peonies. In the spring, swaths of daffodils. Happening upon it unaware, you’d swear you’re in a painting by Claude Monet.
And you’d be (kind of) right. The lush space a block from Hackley Park is a very intentional miniature of the iconic garden in Giverny, France that the impressionist painted 250 times.
This “pocket garden,” one of a number in Muskegon and other lakeshore towns, exists thanks to volunteers. The Lakeshore Garden Masters club created the Monet Garden in 2000 on a city-owned lot that, at that time, was strewn with junk. They have maintained it ever since. City staff pitch in for big jobs like trimming trees. Other supporters built the bridge, arches and obelisks for climbing plants, and raise the funds necessary for these projects.
It’s only 50 by 50 feet, but for devoted gardeners, small can be beautiful. The garden club’s members know how to pack a lot of beauty into this compact space. Many are graduates of Michigan State University’s master gardener program.
At least 50 species grow in the Monet Garden, where visits at different times of summer present different vistas as the various perennials come into bloom. Club president Marsha Green says they stick to what Monet had in his garden, which still exists today.
As closely as they can, that is. “The cultivars that he planted when he made his garden are not always available, or they’ve ‘improved’ them in some way. For example, some of the roses have lost their smell which is unfortunate. Plus, it has to grow in Michigan,” Green says.
Along with annuals in some beds, nearly a dozen varieties of tulips and a dozen of daffodils are planted, and peonies, hydrangeas, irises, allium and others. “In some cases, we wanted mixed colors, in some cases we wanted swaths of the same color — like Monet had in his garden,” Green says. When the original pink granite path began to disappear, it was replaced with pink-tinted cement with a cobblestone pattern, which makes it easier for people in wheelchairs to maneuver.
Other pocket gardens in Muskegon include one by Muskegon High School and Hackley Library’s Shakespeare Garden. They’re scattered in other towns, too — such as the period garden at Holland’s historic Cappon House (a project of the Holland Garden Club) and the Blue Star and Gold Star Memorial Garden near the Grand Haven waterfront, which honors men and women of the U.S. armed forces and is among six maintained by the Tri- Cities Garden Club.
Lakeshore “garden walks” are another way to enjoy the beauty others have nurtured, and to window shop to see what might grow well for you.
“The Secret Gardens”
June 24, Spring Lake 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. $12; free for children 12 and under
Seven gardens will be open for visits on “The Secret Gardens” garden walk, six private gardens plus the grounds of the Lilly Mansion, a restored 1876 structure whose gardens include an espalier of apple trees lined with herbs.
Starting point: Begin at any of the seven locations and buy a ticket there, or purchase tickets in advance at the Tri-Cities Historical Museum in Grand Haven (available starting June 10). Plants will be sold at some locations.
July 15, Holland 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. $20; free for children 12 and under
Stroll through 11 private gardens on Holland’s north side, some fronting on Lake Macatawa. They’ll include a moon garden and a huge shade garden on the site of what in the 1800s was the Waukazoo Inn. In the made-for-family-fun backyard of a home built in 2000, amid beachy plantings of perennials, a fountain cascades between a pool and hot tub. At another home, a lush Japanese garden with a koi pond shares the yard with rows of boxwoods, salvia, coral bells and other species, flowerbeds inspired by one of the owners’ British heritage. Garden art will be sold at some locations.
Starting point for tickets, maps, refreshments and restrooms is Dragonflies Discovery Preschool, 30 152nd Ave. Tickets will also be available in advance at three Holland locations: Van Wieren Hardware (645 Douglas Ave.), Jonker’s Garden (897 Lincoln Ave.), and the Holland Area Visitor’s Bureau (78 E. 8th St.).