United States of America, Michigan, Wayne, Grosse Pointe
The Birches (Grosse Pointe, Michigan)
This riparian garden is characterized by a contrast of sweeping central vistas towards the lake and a series of intimate spaces both around the house and along the progression down to the shore of Lake St. Clair. A long swath of gently descending lawn is framed by naturalistic plantings of trees and shrubs reminiscent of Jens Jensen's landscape designs of the Midwest. The garden features many hardscape elements which serve to define 'outdoor rooms' and dining spaces as well as to create level terraced areas on sloping ground. Natural materials such as stone, rocks, and gravel predominate the design. On the east side, a slender formal garden is formed between the house and the property line. Geometric patterns, linear and curvilinear, are created along a brick and block lined gravel path defined by boxwood hedges. On the lake side a large flagstone patio extends nearly the width of the house creating a large outdoor dining and relaxing space. The formal fountain is centered along the house wall. A low brick wall borders the patio beyond which a hedge of shrub rose softens the transition from patio to lawn. The sloping lawn leads to stone steps and a flagstone patio by a curved pool.
The lot, on which the garden is situated, is a large trapezoidal area measuring 103' x 496' x 102' x 540'. The dimensions of this lot reflect the cultural and economic history of the Detroit area. Farms in the 18th and 19th centuries were laid out on long narrow strips of land called 'ribbon farms.' This was due to the need for proximity to water to sustain farm life. The placement of the residence in the middle distance of the lot provides a physical and visual stopping point. The entry drive features a hedge of arborvitae. The driveway guides the eye up to the circular front entrance. Four river birch trees act as a focal point to the center of the circle. On the lake side of the property the strict geometric form of the narrow lot is balanced by the organic curvilinear beds and water features. Different textures and layers of plant materials as well as subtle mounding of the lawn soften the hard contours of the site.
Water features in various forms provide the dominant theme and design interest in this garden. The main focus of the design is the long view toward Lake St. Clair. The wetland corner of the property provides a natural riparian element unique to this coastal area in which seawalls define the extended shoreline. Other water features include a rill of circulated water which splashes down along the descending west edge of the property over a rocky bed and occasionally overflows into the wetlands. A more formal waterfall gently cascades over a semi-circle of rocks from a raised warm water pool into a cool water pool. The kinetic sculpture above the pools repeats the rhythmic movement of the water. Two fountains, one formal on the terrace and one more intimate in the walled garden provide focal points to the area.
Persons associated with the garden include Ruth W. Prescott (former owner, 1941), Mr. and Mrs. Henry E. Bodman, (former owner, 1956), Mr. and Mrs. Henry Taylor Bodman, (former owners, 1964), Keith Dessinger, (landscape designer, 2009), and Larry Smith (landscape designer, 2011).
The folder includes worksheets, a planting list and a garden features plan.