FOPCON Blog: Exploring Indiana Gardens with The Friends

In October 2023 my husband and I drove to southwest Michigan to enjoy some fall color and pick apples at our favorite orchard. From there we drove to Mishawaka, IN to visit friends. The next day, before heading back to Chicago, we took a little detour to explore two botanical gardens, one in Elkhart and one in Michigan City, Indiana.  We knew that both gardens offer free admission to FOPCON members as part of the American Horticultural Society’s reciprocal membership program. 

The Wellfield Botanical Garden, pictured above, in Elkhart is the larger of the two. It has stunning water features everywhere you look, including working pumps and wells that are integrated into the garden. We learned that the water pumps and wells serve a very practical purpose. Wellfields Garden sits upon land owned by the City of Elkhart and it is still an active well site for the city’s water. Nearly 70% of Elkhart’s drinking water comes from the well field. Nonprofit Wellfields Botanic Gardens leases the property from the city in order to operate its not-for-profit botanic garden.  We enjoyed the beautiful Japanese garden, which sits on three separate islands, and the Children’s Garden. Currently, there is construction around the entrance to the garden because they are building a new Visitors Center. Entry is through the small Visitors Cottage. 

From Elkhart, we drove to Friendship Botanic Gardens in Michigan City. This garden is a lot smaller than the Wellfield Garden, but it has lovely paved walking paths, a children’s garden, and a spring-fed lake. Being history buffs, we were intrigued by the signs along the paths with the names of 14 countries. Our handout explained that the garden was inspired by the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. Three brothers who owned an Indiana nursery designed a small garden at the fair with the theme “Peace and friendship to all nations.” A wealthy couple from Michigan City who came to the fair loved the garden and its theme and commissioned the brothers to create a similar garden in Michigan City. They donated 100 acres of land for the project.

When the Michigan City International Friendship Garden opened in 1936, the news quickly spread around the world. Many countries sent support, including China, Persia, France, Italy, Scotland, England, and Greece. England sent a Royal Gardener to design the English garden. The King of Persia sent roses for the first Rose Garden. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands sent 200,000 tulip bulbs. Even Benito Mussolini contributed to the Italian garden! The garden was well-visited for decades, but after the 1970’s, it fell into disrepair. For the past ten years, local community fundraisers have been working to restore the garden to its former glory. We enjoyed reading the displays about the histories of the countries that sponsored the original mini-gardens (see Lithuania above).

On our ride home, we agreed that these garden gems were well worth a short visit. Our FOPCON membership provided the motivation. 

To join FOPCON visit our membership page.

By Kathy FioRito, FOPCON Membership Co-chair

Upcoming Events

Recent Posts