Gardener's Grapevine 2015.07.15

Art and I took a weekend getaway trip to western Michigan this past weekend. It was a chance for us to relax and enjoy a couple lovely days. As an added bonus, it was a chance to see how time has changed some of my favorite stomping grounds from my teenage years.

We have close friends who live in Kalamazoo and St. Joseph, Mich. If you’ve never been to St. Joseph, it is a treat and pretty much always has been. As with any town, you have to get involved to see the beauty and enjoyment in it. St. Joseph sits right on the edge of Lake Michigan. Many years ago, long before I took my first breath, Benton Harbor and St. Joseph were known as the twin cities and were the Traverse City of the past. People flocked to them for summer vacation fun on the water and off.

This side of the state is a nature lovers’ heaven. It’s lush, usually quite warm with a warm breeze to make it tolerable, and beautiful water as far as you can see are the obvious draws. This particular weekend we were pulled to the beachside community to enjoy the Krasl Art Fair on The Bluff. It is a fine juried art fair that overlooks the dunes, the beach and Lake Michigan. As a teenager I lived in this area for a few years and developed a lifelong love of it.

There is no doubt the area is supported by a great financial background, and one of the largest is the Whirlpool corporation. To give this corporation credit, they have rebuilt their company on the edge of Benton Harbor where they began, tearing down old factories and rebuilding new ones with more environmentally friendly options such as solar use. The new buildings fit in more with the natural aspect of the area instead of screaming “factory!”

In the beginning, Benton Harbor was the bigger pull of the two cities. Then urban blight and decay came in and St. Joseph grew while Benton Harbor became somewhere you didn’t dare stop; you just drive through and kept moving. You have to get through Benton Harbor to reach St. Joseph, so this was an issue. Whirlpool solved a lot of this by cleaning up the main thoroughfare and moving their new plants there. There are flowers everywhere—summer flowers in the boulevard, homeowners’ yards, porches, decks and at the beach.

I love beach grasses and flowers. They are such a gift of beauty. I do not know the name of most of them, but I enjoy them as much as the beach. There is a very prevalent flower that looks like our wild chicory—that little blue flower you see along beside the road. The beach version is purple though.

Walking the beach in Michigan is not like walking it in Florida. A lot of debris washes up from all the ice dams in the winter, and you can find all kinds of cool things from nature on the beach. I love to pick up little bits of nature that have been thrown on the beach. They work well in wreaths, jewelry making and sometimes sewing. Driftwood is really nice.

St. Joseph has a couple of other wonderful things. First is the Tiscornia lighthouse. A beautiful old lighthouse you can walk along the boardwalk out on the lake to. The other is Silver Beach, below the bluff—it is a day of sheer enjoyment for everyone. There is a huge water pad with jets above and below to give all a good dousing if desired. There is an antique restored carousel and enormous band shell with a grassy area to listen. Every weekend there is different bands playing and the music drifts across the beaches, water and through the local neighborhoods.​ Last weekend was jazz music, and it was beautiful to sit in the warm evening air listening and watching the lake.

Nature’s beauty doesn’t have to be only in your back yard, sometimes it’s in someone else’s.