Take a break from all that seasonal weeding and trimming to gather ideas from the efforts of others at upcoming events like the Northville Garden Walk on July 13. Homestyle has previewed one of the iconic locations that will soon be in full bloom. Known as the Secret Garden, the vast site is the work of an avid gardener who poured her heart and soul into the private property behind her home.
When Jodi and Robert Brown first bought their Northville apartment 30 years ago, they weren’t quite downsizing. Instead, the now retired couple will expand their footprint to accommodate visits from their children and grandchildren who live out of state. “We wanted to make space for everyone,” says Judy, a former artist and art teacher who also needed more space for creativity.
But the thought of moving from a wooded plot of their former home in Plymouth to no garden at all made Judy cry. “Gardens enhance property value and bring a lot of satisfaction to people,” she says.
Her emotions will lead to a creative solution. “The only reason I started this garden was because I was crying so much,” my husband said, “Stop it. Says Judy, who has obtained permission from the property’s previous and current owners to move forward with the project on the estimated two-acre site.
get to work
Robert began clearing the area and advanced from there. A continuous loop covered path takes visitors on a scenic path around the many beds surrounded by rocks on the property that also line the creek thanks to his efforts. The separate beds are designed to simulate single rooms. “That’s exactly what I thought when I was doing this,” Jodi explains.
In addition to all the perennial garden plantings, outdoor ornaments add texture and depth with outdoor decor collected or gifted over the years. The pieces vary from colored gazing balls to concrete figurines. “I’m a sculptor by nature, which is why it feels like that. I’m very niche,” says Jodi.
Quiet sitting areas dot the property, like a bench that came from a neighbor and a dining table and chairs on a small patio offer a shaded respite. “It’s almost impossible for me to come in here and just sit,” Jodi admits. “I can only pull out weeds and so on.”
Jody, who continues to add new elements like containers and hanging plants that provide pops of color, says the hostas surrounding architectural sculptures she calls “a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright” include some of them as old as 40.
Ferns appear in several sections such as those that house the patio area. Most species are wild. “Ferns are very peaceful,” says Judy. This is a very spiritual possession.”
Flowers in bloom include peonies, cimicifuga, clematis, corydalis, red and pink trilliums and purple azaleas that decorate the entrance gate. The Japanese maple behind their apartment takes on a sculptural feel. “I went to Japan and the gardens were pretty much laid out that way,” she says.
One of the decorative carvings I got on a lawn tour reminded her of a chess piece, but it’s actually an air vent from the top of an old building. Placing it on a pedestal makes its unique find even more alluring. “This is how my brain works,” says Jodi. “I see something and it sparks thoughts.”
Its layered displays make the garden even more magical, like the sundial propped up on a tree trunk and the whimsical frog she calls Prince Charming perched on a glass-covered tree trunk. Her fondness for these creatures made her sit with a large frog figurine on her lap during a long flight home from California.
Judy has names for other characters who adorn outer space like a tall statue she calls her garden wizard. “He takes care of the garden and asks all the plants to grow,” she jokes. She also loves to play guessing games with her little ones in the natural environment with questions like: How many birdhouses can you count on? Can you find the rabbit in the tree? What about dragons on Earth?
Other highlights include the ornate heron statues that look right at the house near the creek where fern-flanked bleeding heart joins phlox and blue prunera. The pagoda highlights daylilies and astilbe, while trees like red horse chestnuts create shaded areas for visitors.
According to Judy, the park wasn’t quite set up when the latest photos were taken, but it will be event-ready. “You can wash and brush your hair, but you have to clean it, like a garden,” she says. “It’s getting better and better all the time.”
Judy, who was also a high school tennis coach, stayed active in the park with the help of Robert, a former math teacher who coached several sports. The two make a great team. Robert was instrumental in clearing paths, carving walls, lining the creek with rocks to prevent erosion, and more. He helps Judy with planting and replanting and has also built a gorgeous wooden wall for one section that features a milk separator from a local farm. The antique piece surrounded by a hosta honors Judy’s farming family on her mother’s side.
As she has taken an ingenious approach to her passion project, Secret Garden features endless special items for visitors to enjoy. “Everything has a short story,” says Judy. “They are all a piece of art. These are my summer drawings.”
Northville Garden Walk
The 28th annual Northville Garden Walk, sponsored by the Northville Country Garden Club, an affiliate of the National Women’s Farm and Garden Association, will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 13. and local baked goods. Tickets $12 in advance and $15 on the day of the event. It can be purchased online at eventbrite.com and is also available at Gardenviews, 117 E. Main and Green Space behind the Northville Library. Proceeds support local and national gardening organizations, urban beautification, and Northville High School scholarships. Go to cgcnv.org.
Jenin Matlow writes Homestyle’s Smart Solutions column. You can reach her at [email protected]