Both social appeal and serene spaces make burgeoning public gardens inviting spots to visit.
Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park
The foundations of two silos that were unearthed during excavation are being repurposed in the Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park. // Illustration courtesy of Environment Architects

Before horticulturist Laurel Varon moved to Empire from Pennsylvania, she worked at the famed Chanticleer pleasure garden outside of Philadelphia. It was there she noticed a burgeoning interest in public gardens.

“I think it’s a growing trend throughout the country,” she says. “People travel and see public gardens in big cities and say, ‘Hey, let’s have one in our town, too.’”

Varon, whose expertise ranges from wild gardens to formal, manicured oases, notes people visit gardens to relax, unwind and enjoy nature.

“Especially for people in urban and suburban settings, it’s important for public gardens to provide that avenue of connection,” she believes.

On a more practical level, Varon says public gardens can bring tourist dollars to a region, inspire home gardeners, help preserve native plants, promote the arts, provide opportunities to see plants from faraway lands, educate children and even establish social connections via volunteering.

Two public gardens now in development — one each in Traverse City and at Detroit’s Eastern Market — illustrate public gardens in the Great Lakes State blooming with different goals in mind.

I think it’s a growing trend throughout the country. People travel and see public gardens in big cities and say, ‘Hey, let’s have one in our town, too.’
— Laurel Varon

Focused on Production

Eastern Market Corp. paired with the non-profit Greening of Detroit to create the Motor City’s first production-focused market garden. The Detroit Market Garden is in its second year and about halfway to full production, shares Dan Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corp.

The 2.5-acre site is designed as a model for how an urban farm of a similar size can support up to two full-time employees, he says: “We think it’s a very pivotal project for growing in Detroit.”

At full production, Detroit Market Garden is expected to grow more than 60 types of fruit, vegetables and flowers. Production takes place in three solar passive greenhouses that can grow food 11 months a year, a heated greenhouse for seed propagation, a mushroom plot and an edible forest with orchard and nut trees.

Barns in Summer
Photography Courtesy of Traverse City Botanical Garden

Designed for Fun

While the Detroit Market Garden is focused on food production, the Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park in Traverse City puts a greater emphasis on recreation.

The 56-acre park was originally the site of the farm for a former state psychiatric hospital. Several buildings, including a granary and barns, have been transformed into a visitor’s center, meeting rooms and reception facility, thanks to a $1.5-million capital campaign.

This spring, organizers expect to see the results of their labor last fall, when 75 volunteers planted shrubs, perennials, trees and 1,500 bulbs.

Detroit Eastern Market
Detroit Eastern Market // Photography Courtesy of Thinkstock

“We thought there has to be something right away,” shares Karen Matte Schmidt, chair of the botanic garden. “That’s why early-blooming bulbs were so important to us.”

The group, she adds, can hardly wait to see the landscape designed by internationally-known Warren Byrd of Nelson/Landscape Architects spring to life.

“This doesn’t start with the much abused and over-used expression of a desire to have a ‘world-class’ garden,” Byrd observes. “Instead it comes from a more heartfelt, perhaps more modest vision of a garden that is of its time and locale.”

Uncover more about both projects at and

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