This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor, Michigan. If like me you enjoy taking photographs of flowers and/or nature, this is a wonderful place to visit.
Matthaei has several options to fit everyone’s needs or desires. There are several trails that are open sunrise to sunset seven days a week, plus the conservatory, garden store, lobby and display gardens are open from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. Admission is free; they do have a donation box inside the conservatory, and there is a reasonable parking fee of only $1.50 per hour or a maximum of $5.00 per day. With the size of the venue I opted to pay the daily rate immediately.
I arrived at 8:30 am. It was quiet, with only a few people quietly walking out onto some of the trails. I grabbed my camera and tripod and decided to walk the Sue Reichert Discovery Trail, which circles Willow Pond. This trail is only 4/10 of a mile, which they estimate to be a ten minute walk. I meandered slowly, taking pictures and stretched it into almost an hour, taking time to sit down a couple times on benches that were available.
The difference in time is whether you walk like the average person or walk like a nature photographer, skimming the area for possible subjects to photograph. Doing so can make a fast walk take quite a while and is why I prefer to partake in such places either alone or with other photographers who understand the time frame needed to fully enjoy the area.
I decided to do the outside gardens first, and in looking over the map not only did I not go up into the Children’s Garden, but I also missed the Perenial Garden, Grower’s Garden, MiSo House and Bonsai and Penjing Garden. I started in the Gateway Garden, a relaxing spot with benches, rocking chairs and fountains. I took photographs of flowers there, in the Marie Azary Bock Garden and in the Sitting Gardens before meandering down the Commons, which are bordered by two other gardens on the east and bench seating on the west.
The commons leads you into the Alexandra Hicks Herb Knot Garden. Here you will find chipmunks scampering back and forth amongst the plants and sometimes climbing up on them as well, but trying to capture them in a photo is difficult. They are quick little guys! Once I completed my photo rounds of the herb garden I strolled between that and the perennial garden and went through a vine/plant covered tunnel which led to the opening of the children’s garden. I had the option of going up into the children’s garden or taking a nature trail around the children’s garden. What I opted to do was take a short trail not shown on the map into the Oak Openings Garden.
There was nothing to attract my photographer’s eye in the Oak Openings Garden with the exception of wild strawberry plants that had begun bearing fruit. It was the bright red of the fruit that grabbed my eye as I looked down to scan the ground for photo subjects. I followed the trail through the Upland Woodland Garden and across into the Wet Woodland Garden. Unfortunately the hot weather we had been having left nothing wet, it was, on that day, better termed a dry woodland. Nothing caught my eye for photographs, so I proceeded into the Great Lakes Garden, which led me into one end of the Prairie Gardens, then the Coastal Gardens and back up where I started in the Gateway Garden. Unfortunately a group was there partaking in the rocking chairs or I would have grabbed one for a nice relaxing break.
By now I had been wandering for a few hours and decided to take a snack break before visiting the Conservatory. One thing to keep in mind, the conservatory does not sell meals, only a limited selection of snack food, candy and beverages. If you plan to be at Matthaei Botanical Gardens for several hours you may want to consider packing a cooler with beverages and lunch or snack food. I had not planned that far in advance, so I purchased a small trail mix and flavored water. There are one or two small tables where you can sit inside to consume your snack, and there are also tables available outside on the deck. Food and beverages are not allowed inside the conservatory.
The Conservatory has three main areas, the Tropical House, the Temperate House and the Desert House. Here you will find many plants and blooms to view and/or photograph. On this day there was a water Lilly in full bloom, Cocoa trees, pineapples growing, sausage trees with their “fruit” hanging in abundance, and numerous other flowers and plants. The Desert House has the majority of their cactus growing in raised display beds, making it easy to enjoy and photograph the wide variety. I’m sure this was also done to preserve the fingers of little ones who may be touring with their parents. Some of those cactus spines are pretty long and wicked looking!
I spent about five hours touring the trail, gardens and conservatory, and I didn’t see it all. Keep in mind I was walking slow, took several rest breaks on the numerous benches that are available throughout the property, and was taking photographs. The average person might tour it at a much faster pace.
I would like to go back and walk some of the trails I chose to skip, plus with anything growing outside the gardens and trails are a constantly changing canvas with growing seasons and weather. If going they do recommend appropriate footwear for walking the natural areas and that you stay on paths due to poisonous plants such as poison sumac and poison ivy growing in natural areas. The Massauga rattlesnake also inhabits the area. I did not encounter any slithering reptiles, but did enjoy the “music” of unseen frogs as I walked around the pond.
If you are in the Ann Arbor area I highly recommend a visit to University of Michigan’s Mattaei Botanical Gardens.