Deemed the world’s largest summer hotel with an accompanying world’s largest summer porch, the Grand Hotel is an historic landmark and crown jewel of Mackinac Island on Lake Huron. It is also renowned for its epic and enchanting landscapes, first created at its groundbreaking in 1887.
Behold the hotel’s acclaimed landscape features: The Front Porch, The Tea Garden, The Jewel, The Labryrinth, The Fountain, The Red Phone Booth. They’re all grand and unique in their own right, beginning with definite article “The” in each of their names.
Here’s a rundown of the incredible landscaping stats outlining what’s planted in a single growing season: 2,500 geraniums in 260 planting boxes with 7 tons of potting soil on The Front Porch; 2,700 additional geraniums outside of The Front Porch; 150 hanging pots; 25,000 tulip bulbs; 15,000 daffodil bulbs; 1 ton of annual flowering bulbs; 125,000 bedding plants in 300 flats representing 150 varieties; all in 15 separate garden areas.
Who is responsible for this monstrous task of seasonal planting, not to mention ongoing grounds maintenance on the 100 acres and The Jewel 18-hole golf course? It’s a surprising lean and mean 22-person landscaping crew.
The landscaping management team for 2013 consisted of Superintendent of Golf and Grounds Drew Butterfield. He has been with the Grand Hotel for six years. Prior to working at the hotel, he assisted at The Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Traverse City, Mich., and earned a degree in turfgrass management from The Ohio State University. Head Gardener Matt Williams and Assistant Golf Course Superintendent William Surdock both hold degrees from Michigan State in turfgrass management and horticulture, respectively. Rounding out the management team is Assistant Gardener Arturo Rodriguez. 2013 was the first year that the management team had been without a female member for the past decade or more.
“Our management team meets daily basis to discuss the day’s events and any future events requiring preparation weeks in advance,” says Butterfield. “Our crew is split with nine working on the golf course, eight on the lawn and gardens and one on The Front Porch’s planting boxes.”
The garden and lawn crew works mostly with low-tech tools and equipment, partly a reflection of the island’s anti-motor laws that includes the absence of automobiles. The equipment is predominately hand tools with quiet humming string trimmers, backpack blowers, hedge trimmers, a few push mowers and a New Holland 1510 tractor purchased new two years ago.
The equipment used on the golf course, though, is a different story, mostly Toro and John Deere units.
More than 25,000 tulips and 15,000 daffodils greet spring guests to the Grand Hotel. Each season the property, in 15 different gardens, comes alive with 125,000 bedding plants
Plenty to do
“We have an amazing grounds crew who begin working when the sun comes up each day and maintain the thousands of square feet of gardens around the hotel,” says Julie Rogers, marketing manager. “Even when everything is planted, between watering and deadheading and weeding, it’s amazing how they keep up with 15 separate flowering areas and hundreds of hanging pots and planting boxes.”
The crew’s attention starts each day with The Tea Garden, the hotel’s expansive front lawn that has been the center of hotel guests’ recreational activities for more than 100 years. The lawn’s blend of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass withstands countless rounds of croquet, bocci ball, a children’s carnival, outdoor jazz performances and weddings. It is mowed every Tuesday and Friday to 2.25 inches. The mower alternates between two directions to leave a distinctive diamond pattern visible from the front porch. For the past several years, efforts have been made to limit pesticides with only a few spot herbicide applications for broadleaf weeds coupled with a single dormant fertilizer application when the last hotel guests leave.
The Tea Garden’s centerpiece is The Fountain, a 20-foot-wide Haddonstone original shipped in from England. For the 2013 season, the gardens on each side of the fountain consist of a mix of dahlias, marigolds, alyssum, petunias, rudbeckia, ornamental peppers, snapdragons, dianthus, zinnias celosia and giant amarathus crimson. “The annual flower varieties generally don’t change from year to year, but the design and colors used change from season to season,” says Williams. “These annuals are meticulously deadheaded all summer long.”
Each season the Grand Hotel’s grounds crew puts out more than 5,000 red geraniums on planting boxes on the hotel’s front porch and also in beds in front of the front porch.
In addition to The Fountain, The Labyrinth and The Red Phone Booth complete the hotel’s pivotal outdoor landscaping elements. The medieval spiraling design of The Labyrinth was laid out using native stone with pea stone serving as the pathways. Between the pathways a mix of plants include Scotch moss, sweet woodruff and vinca. Carolton Varney, a famous landscape designer, placed the functional Red Phone Booth on the Grand Hotel grounds. It’s not uncommon for groups of tourists to cram into the phone booth for photographs.
The Grand Hotel’s famous 660-foot front porch is renowned for its collection of 2,500 red potted geraniums in 260 planting boxes. The geraniums have been a hotel feature since the 1920s. There’s quite a fine science involved with the placement of the signature-white geranium planting boxes every season. At first glance, the finished flower boxes appear to be all the same shape and size; however, closer inspection shows that each box has a number on it. This tells the grounds crew exactly where the boxes are to be placed on the porch and in front of the hotel. Because the porch curves and the boxes must fit between the columns, the boxes vary in sizes and shapes. This takes some fairly precise measurement and knowledge of how to fit each box. There’s only one man on earth that can figure all this out. His name is Don “Duck” Andress, the master craftsman responsible for the flower boxes who has perfected this procedure for many years. He works throughout the winter repairing the old and crafting the new boxes.
The Grand Hotel has always led other historic inns in environmental consciousness with extensive new practices adopted over the past five seasons. This includes the complete elimination of phosphorous from all fertilizers and eliminating insecticides entirely on the golf course. The gardening crew creates all the soil for the planters and signature flowerbeds. It maintains its own composting area created by the plant material from the gardens, coffee grounds from guests and limed manure from the carriage horses. There is a “three-pile” system in the composting area where the pile from the previous year is turned five times a season.
“Any soil that you see on the grounds is composed of dirt we created ourselves,” says Williams. “Every single grass clipping, every weed, every flower taken from the ground when the growing season is over goes into the compost pile.”
One of the last official duties of the Grand Hotel’s landscaping crew in the late fall, after all the bedding flowers have been dug up and mulched, is to plant 25,000 tulip bulbs. The bulbs are hand planted by color in an artful pattern and lie dormant in about 6 inches of soil through the long northern Michigan winter. Then, the grounds crew can take a long rest, except for Andress who tends the flower boxes all winter for the next season.