The last time my husband and I were in Michigan, we visited Friendship Gardens, a destination so hidden away it’s easy to forget that it exists. Yet the entrance is right off of busy Route 12, barely a mile north of Michigan City’s heavily visited outlet mall and casino. Turn off the highway and into a secret preserve of amity and repose.
When we first arrived, ours was the only car in the parking lot, and the office where we normally stop to pay for admission was closed and locked—no sign of life—, leading us to fear the gardens had fallen on hard times. We set off into the heart of the gardens, eventually running into the director and his assistant, riding in an enormous golf cart, who assured us that, no, the gardens are not in trouble—23,000 people visited last year. The place is booked solid for months for weddings. The 80-year-old gardens, which spread out over some 100 acres, are gradually being rejuvenated and enhanced.
The gardens are old, but not over-developed. There are gestures toward the ‘friendship among nations’ theme. Some of the gardens honor some of the world’s nations, without going so far as to be planted strictly according to their respective landscape or horticultural traditions. For a city-dweller, the appeal of the gardens lies in their many beautiful specimen plants and expansive setting, which includes sunny vistas and beautiful groves of towering old trees.