Garden Photo of the Day

Gardening Up North

Making a garden on the shores of Lake Michigan

close up of blue bigleaf hydrangea

Today we’re visiting Chris Cloutier’s garden in northern Michigan.

I have been gardening for almost 50 years. I started with indoor plants—lots and lots of them in a very small studio apartment in downtown Detroit. Then I moved into a home built in 1948 just outside of Detroit with a yard that was totally unkempt. I was very much a beginner but was so lucky to have the darkest, richest soil that I have ever had. Everything, including corn, grew amazingly. Then, after seven years, we moved again into a new subdivision that had been an apple orchard, but the soil was completely stripped. I had solid, stinky, sticky clay. I used raised beds, made lots of compost, and did everything I could think of to enrich the earth. I had a lovely English-type garden and learned over time what could thrive in clay and what couldn’t. After 32 years we left the clay and moved to the Leelanau Peninsula, just outside of Traverse City. We bought another home where absolutely no gardening had ever been done. The house is surrounded by Lake Michigan sand dunes filled with wild raspberries that were about to take over the house. Besides pure sand, I also garden in dense shade with only some morning sun. But I’ve been gardening here for 11 years, and despite still pulling a few raspberries every spring, and having a couple of slips down the sandy hills, I have a beautiful, peaceful garden.

large blue bigleaf hydrangeaA huge bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla, Zones 5–10) is loaded down with beautiful blue flowers.

close up of blue bigleaf hydrangeaThat color is just incredible.

shady garden bed with hostas and impatiensIn a shady corner, a basket of impatiens (Impatiens walleriana, annual) join some hostas (Hosta hybrids, Zones 3–9).

edge of woodland gardenAt the edge of the woodland, thriving in the sandy soil, is a mix of annuals and perennials in warm shades of red and yellow.

ferns planted next to a homeA mix of different ferns, with the silvery fronds of Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum, Zones 3–8) taking center stage.

New Guinea impatiens and black-eyed susansA hanging basket of New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri, annual) brings a pop of intense red color next to the black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida, Zones 3–10).


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View Comments


  1. User avater
    treasuresmom 07/13/2021

    Wow! Love how you display the impatiens.

  2. gardendevas 07/13/2021

    What a range of gardening experiences, Chris! Would be nice to see photos of your other gardens after hearing about how you met their challenges.
    I also began my gardening experience in southeastern Michigan, in that gorgeous rich dark soil, which I have heard is among the richest soil in the US.

  3. btucker9675 07/13/2021

    Love that you have dealt with just about every soil condition - your garden now is so pretty! I'm dealing with red clay here in NC after gardening in nice soil in northern NJ (although it was very rocky). Gardeners never stop learning!!

  4. wittyone 07/13/2021

    You have had a lot opportunities for figuring out totally different types of growing conditions. Now you need to move to a desert area and you will be ready for absolutely anything!

    That blue hydrangea is just gorgeous. We live in an area with lots of limestone and getting hydrangeas to go blue is an ongoing project. I know that they need an acidic situation and have read that supplements need to be added to the soil "when the buds are forming". Unfortunately these experts never tell you just WHEN the buds do form. Might you happen to know?

    My husband grew up in Wisconsin and says that in some areas the top soil is 6 feet deep. I can only wish for dirt like that!

  5. User avater
    simplesue 07/13/2021

    I love the hydrangea in your garden with the woodland setting...I've never seen a hydrangea look so natural and placed so perfectly....what a great shade of pastel blue!
    And wow- Leelanau Peninsula on Lake Michigan what a great location!

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