Before it became an enchanted place, the stony point of a small peninsula in Omena was a wild, densely wooded place with thickets of ticks and poison ivy and an old kit cabin set on cedar planks, relinquished by the family who had visited in turns for three generations.
“I don’t know why you’d want that rocky piece of property,” one Realtor said.
But the couple who purchased it in the fall of 2007 — parents of two adult sons — included a wife and mother whose ample time outdoors with growing boys over the years had fostered a love for nurturing of another nature.
Equipped with insights gained hands-on from projects at prior homes with collaborative landscape principal Krista Rensland of Blue Flower Design in Grand Rapids, a Master Gardener course through Kent County/MSU Extension and classes at Frederik Meijer Gardens, the new owner looked past the land’s 300-foot band of near impassable forest and saw what could be.
“I envisioned views of water everywhere,” she said, “and woodland paths winding to different areas throughout the property. The first few months were just spent walking and clearing the land — I had lots of ideas.”
With her husband’s full support but outdoor aid less by initiative than request (he’s more geared toward planting holes in one), the inspired gardener discussed her vision with Rensland, who developed a plan and began navigating details.
“One big challenge that I had not envisioned was having to clear a large, raised area for septic,” said the homeowner. “But we planted grass with a perennial border and used rocks excavated on the property to build a beautiful wall around what’s become a favorite place to play games like croquet.
“As an expert who lives and breathes landscape design each day, Krista just knows and brought so much to the project.”
But the beauty of this woodland haven is equally due, the site’s owner said, to the meticulous crews at Spinniken Lawn & Irrigation in Lake Leelanau and Ada-based Touch of Heather Landscaping, Inc., with aid enlisted in-between from a local husband/wife team.
“Maintenance is as important as design and installation — many talented people have been instrumental here.”
From the start, crooked cedars and vast amounts of Michigan fieldstone in all sizes caught Krista Rensland’s eye on the untamed peninsula. “I knew right away,” the landscape designer said, “that these were two elements we’d need to heavily incorporate to keep the site’s natural look and mystical feel.”
To enhance the woodland’s air of enchantment, Rensland blended the region’s native pink- and red-toned rock with moss-fringed, gray-brown fieldstone from another forest into woodland paths and a bay-facing grilling space with fireplace and seating built from excavated stones (opposite page, bottom right).
Property rocks also make up the fire pit base and punctuate patios made of natural bluestone, which echoes hues of lake, sky and stone used on the home, designed by Grand Rapids-based Via Design principal Brian Barkwell, AIA.
Winding bark pathways — essential for maintenance as well as the homeowners’ enjoyment — and Joseph Coat Roses on all transition structures including this arbor provide further continuity throughout the expansive wooded site.
Built during the early 1900s, the forested site’s existing cabin — originally red, dark and very wooded — was renovated before the couple’s main house was built. The fresh cottage white exterior trimmed in blue with pink blooms and window boxes belies the revived retreat’s new identity.
“This is really a Man Cave,” said the resident gardener, whose husband and two 20-something sons called for their own slice of the landscape. “It’s been completely updated with a bar, fireplace, pool table and big-screen TV, plus an outdoor area to grill with stone seating.”
Inspiration for the new water feature roots back to fun the brothers had as boys digging and helping first with a little tub-in-the-ground project, then a larger formed upgrade at prior homes.“This pond,” their mother shared, “is nostalgic for our family.”
While limited path lighting adds subtle ambience, dead branches orchestrated with an even split of boulders and plants including showy, low-care hydrangeas create always-been-there appeal.
“She has a unique irrigation system to go along with her unique and natural landscape,” noted specialist Matt Spinniken, whose peninsula client’s custom system draws water from the bays and employs a lake pump to keep the pond filled, as well. “We used two-wire technology on the property for the ability to expand the system in any area as the landscape matures…It’s been a very interesting and exciting project.”
Uncover other region-inspired imagery at kenscottphotography.com.