Susan Martin is a lifelong gardener and the Director of Marketing for Walters Gardens in Zeeland.


Private Estate Embraces Nature’s Creative Edge
by Susan Martin - posted 07/09/14

Nature’s Creative Edge host and floral designer Bob Friese, AIFD, relaxes in his woodland garden.

Nestled back in the woods of Fruitport, is a truly hidden gem unlike anything you’ve seen. Catch a glimpse just once and you’re sure to remember the experience. It’s called Nature’s Creative Edge, an outdoor exhibit of magical works of floral art woven through 5 acres of groomed woodlands.

The Nature’s Creative Edge event is held at the private, 100-acre estate of Bob Friese, once a prominent Chicago floral designer and professor of floral design. With world-renowned floral designer Hitomi Gilliam, they have taught budding designers how to create one-of-a-kind works of art using only things found in nature.

Dozens of floral designers and mixed media artists from Michigan to as far away as New Mexico make their way to Friese’s estate to assemble and exhibit their natural-made creations every year on the third weekend of September. In 2012, more than 1,000 event goers made their way into the woods to check out the artists’ work.

Each year brings a new theme for the artists, most of whom are members of the prestigious American Institute of Floral Design (AIFD). Past themes have included music, recycled materials, countries and last year’s theme of “Storybooks and Fairytales.” The 2013 theme was “Architectural Expressions,” floral designers’ concepts of a particular form of architecture, an architectural feature or a representation of a particular structure.

Artist Laura Parker, AIFD, interprets Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, including Max’s bedroom, sailboat and a “wild thing” swimming up the creek. 

The artists’ creations come alive in the evening when they are lit by candlelight. This interpretation of Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater is by Natalie, Anna and Eileen Carmolli. 

The floral artists are given the freedom to interpret the theme however they see fit using only all-natural materials, including all kinds of flowers, tropicals, vegetables, mosses, twigs, stones and more. The diversity among the artists is fascinating. In 2012, although some took a literal approach to the storybooks and fairytales theme, others chose to create more abstract works, which required onlookers to view more creatively to understand.

The Nature’s Creative Edge event is strategically open only from late afternoon through evening so the public will view the floral masterpieces as they were designed to be seen. Be sure to arrive while it is still light out and stay as evening falls to watch the exhibit in the woods come to life as thousands of candles are lit along the pathways and scattered amidst the works of art. The setting takes on an entirely different feel from day to night and you won’t want to miss either.

Longtime participant Debbie Strand, AIFD, interprets Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax using colorful mosses and tropical plants.

Arriving in late afternoon will also give you a chance to take a peek at Friese’s woodland garden, which he has been cultivating for the past decade. Enter through the pair of weeping blue junipers (Juniperus scopulorum ‘Tolleson’s Blue Weeping’) near the front porch. Note the healthy Korean dogwoods (Cornus kousa) skirted by hostas and hellebones(Helleborus spp.). Don’t miss Friese’s prize Koi pond, raised vegetable beds and rustic potting shed made from pieces of a disassembled barn. 

You might assume that deer would be a challenge for this woodland gardener, but Friese actually feeds the deer and not with his hostas. He finds that they prefer to stay down by the creek where wild vegetation and water is plentiful. “My philosophy is that if they don’t eat my plants, I won’t eat them,” says Friese. So far, deer have not been on the menu at the Friese household.

The seven dwarfs look on as Snow White faces off with her wicked stepmother in this floral translation by designer Debi Dawson, AIFD.

Nature’s Creative Edge is run by an all-volunteer staff who personify the 2012 event’s theme “Storybooks and Fairytales.” Pictured here is artist Bobbie Eckert (left) and Alice Waterous, AIFD, a Grand Haven, Mich., floral designer. 

Rapunzel, Rapunzel lets down her hair made of individually strung yellow rose petals in this dramatic interpretation by Susie Kostick, AIFD.

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue IV. Photos by Susan Martin.


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