2017-07-09 / Insight

Finding happiness, serenity in Lapeer’s ‘hidden’ garden

810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com

A view from the middle of the Display Garden on Suncrest that showcases the beauty of the hidden gem near the Lapeer County Medical Care Facility in Mayfield Township. 
Photo by Andrew Dietderich A view from the middle of the Display Garden on Suncrest that showcases the beauty of the hidden gem near the Lapeer County Medical Care Facility in Mayfield Township. Photo by Andrew Dietderich MAYFIELD TWP. — Mary Paine has somewhat mixed feelings when it comes to the Display Garden on Suncrest.

On the one hand, the 20-year-old garden (15 years in its current spot) is there for residents of the Lapeer County Medical Care Facility (Suncrest) and public alike — to enjoy a relaxing stroll, or have a seat on of the benches scattered throughout. There’s even stuff for kids to do.

But on the other hand, too much foot traffic through the serene setting and it’ll lose, well, its serenity.

“I think it’s not as utilized as it could be, but how much traffic do you really need in here?” Paine, who serves as chairperson of the garden, told The County Press. “I don’t think we need to advertise too much.”

The Display Garden on Suncrest is tucked neatly away on about an acre in the hills on the grounds of the Lapeer County Medical Care Facility, 1455 Suncrest Dr. in Mayfield Township.

In 1997, the Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) Service and the Master Gardeners of Lapeer County established the first Display Garden behind the Lyle Stewart Building in Lapeer.

When the Stewart building closed, the garden moved to its current location in 2002.

To gain access, visitors must go behind the large medical facility, to the farthest corner of the parking lot.

Though it kind of feels like you aren’t supposed to be back there, one way to tell you’re near the entrance to the garden is that you will see signs for it — and “garden etiquette” — near the medical center’s massive oxygen tanks. (Access will be less cumbersome when the current expansion project at Lapeer County Medical Care Facility is completed and visitors can access the garden via a parking lot closer to Suncrest Drive.)

Follow the pathway from the parking lot and you’ll find a garden broken up into 16 garden beds, each demonstrating an individual focus that’s based on purpose, plant type, or season interest.

There are rock, Japanese, grass, herbal, butterfly, herbal, annual, perennial and even “fun & funky” gardens, just to name a few.

Perhaps the Display Garden on Suncrest website puts it best: “The Garden is a peaceful and beautiful Eden. It is also a place of healing providing calming, meditative walks for residents of the medical facility. For the children, it is a place of active, fun-filled learning. Young and old alike are guaranteed to relish the visit and return again and again.”

Gardens are maintained by about 20 active volunteers who must have been, or are, master gardeners.

Paine admits that those who tend to the garden probably get more out of it than the visitors.

“We get to hear that people love what we do,” she said. “And we like the people we work with, the people we talk to.”

Volunteers are assigned to specific beds.

Sue Corder is in charge of the butterfly garden.

The garden is a Monarch Waystation — an area set aside to help provide “resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration.” (More on Monarch Waystations can be found at http://monarchwatch.org/waystations/)

The butterfly garden includes milkweed and nectar-producing vegetation like Butterfly Weed, Yarrow, Heuchera, Coreopsis and Agastaches, to name a few.

Visitors can walk along a stepping stone path through the garden bed, or have a seat on a stone bench to allow for some serious butterfly-watching.

Corder also is a herbalist, and says she enjoys gardening in general, but is especially fond of her role at the Display Garden on Suncrest.

“I’m really kind of drawn to the butterflies because I find them so fascinating in their diversity and variety,” Corder said, adding that it’s not uncommon for visitors to ask her about the butterfly garden.

“I love that,” she said, pointing to a bag of books and reference material she keeps handy while at the garden.

Though the garden offers plenty for adults, kids aren’t left out.

In fact, the garden offers numerous learning experiences for children. There’s a tunnel of hops that children can wander through along with an arborvitae maze. Children also can enjoy a small swinging bridge, or play one of the many unique “instruments” in the children’s garden.

According to the Display Garden on Suncrest website, “the garden provides a living laboratory where the children learn through the seasons about the life cycle of plants, and the rewards of growing, harvesting and eating their own vegetables and herbs. As they take walking field trips through the entire Display Garden, the children observe the garden wildlife, birds, bees, butterflies, frogs, fish and a variety of insects. They learn about composting and find worms and ants in the compost area. The soil from the compost bins is used by the children in the vegetable and herb gardens which they plant here.”

People visit the garden for a variety of reasons.

Residents and their families from the Lapeer County Medical Care Facility watch with interest as the garden awakens in spring, and track the growth and bloom of the plants throughout the season. Others use it as a backdrop for wedding, prom, or family photos.

Regardless of its use, Paine said the calming effects of the garden are palpable.

As a result, family members of those particularly fond of the garden oftentimes make donations.

A bench that encircles a tree near the main entrance, by example, was designed and built by a man whose mother wanted a place to sit in the spot.

Paine, a General Motors retiree, said that upon retirement she was going to take classes to become a pilot.

“But the kids didn’t want that,” she said.

So in 2006, she took a master gardener class and soon thereafter became involved with the Display Garden on Suncrest.

To say Paine takes a certain amount of ownership in the garden is putting it mildly.

She recalled a time when Lapeer County Medical Care Facility officials wanted to put a 20-by-20-foot concrete walkway to a fire pit residents use near the entrance.

“Twenty by 20 concrete out here?” she said. “Give me a break.”

“Besides, concrete cracks and breaks. And it’s ugly.”

Instead, a brick-paved path was created using monies provided by the Lapeer County Community Foundation.

A pavilion adjacent to the Display Garden is available for rent from the Lapeer County Medical Care Facility. Paine and the volunteers at the garden aren’t involved in its operations, though they do use it.

One such event is Tea Thyme – an annual tea party in the garden that serves as the major fundraiser for the garden. The 14th annual event is being held today. (Don’t worry if you missed it, the garden is open from dawn to dusk.)

Amy Cichon was among those who were busy this week cleaning up the garden for its biggest event.

She was busy cutting flowers that weren’t going to make it through the year from the rock garden.

Cichon uses just a few words to explain why she thinks people like it so much.

“Happiness. Serenity,” she said.

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