Every summer, we return to Bliss, my dad’s cottage in Lewiston, Michigan–a tiny town in the northeastern corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula, home to 1,392 full-time residents (not counting the summer lake cottage “trunk slammers”) and a handful of picturesque lakes (nearly a third of Lewiston’s geography is water).
My dad and Gary live in Lewiston for half the year (Florida during the rest) and have expanded a 670 square foot cottage there to include a 192 square foot bunk house (where we usually stay) and half an acre of outdoor living space, the “garden living room” where we spend most of our time during the day.
The outdoor space includes a chicken coop, a butterfly house, a fish pond, a bonfire area, a hot tub and numerous landscaped paths and gardens.
Gary’s family’s cabin is one door down from Bliss, and they graciously extend their space when it’s available which provides a few more beds when more family visits. Together, this little corner of Michigan holds so many memories for us and has become the setting in which my kids write their summer stories every year.
My photos and Instagram stories have prompted so many questions about the property and gardens, I thought it would be fun to do a full Bliss tour here on the blog with input from my dad and Gary on how they created this space and the inspiration behind it.
Gary is a horticulturist with years of experience in landscaping design and nurseries, so he plans most of the outside space while my dad is behind most of the inspiration inside (they redesigned the inside of the little cabin to fit two full bathrooms and a laundry space!).
It’s cozy and efficient and works really well, especially considering most everyone spends their time outside all day (but, Lord have mercy, how cozy it is watching movies in this sweet little space when it rains!).
The kitchen has just the right amount of counter space for a grandkid to sit during a chocolate milk making session.
And I love this little gift on their fireplace from a friend of theirs–two Dutch boys kissing.
The bunk house (Bit o’ Bliss) is actually an insulated shed, built onsite and constructed taller than the usual shed to make room for the upper loft. It’s so perfect and cozy, efficiently furnished so that our entire family made it our home without any problems (no bathroom, but just a few steps from my dad’s cabin if we needed one). An armoir and a cedar trunk at the end of the bed hold all of our clothes, a small refrigerator keeps drinks and snacks, and I love the wall wine rack which stores bottles and glasses for a cozy evening.
The ladder leads to the hideaway loft which is just big enough for two twin beds and a small night stand.
Now for the best part, the gardens. One of my favorite things about Bliss is that the outdoor space was created with others’ enjoyment in mind. There’s a sign in front of the welcome arch that says, “You are welcome to walk around our gardens. They were made for everyone’s enjoyment,” and it is not unusual for other lake residents to stop by for a morning walk through them, bringing food scraps for the chickens or baked goods for my dad and Gary.
I asked my dad and Gary some questions about their inspiration behind the design and some of our favorite things about Bliss.
What are all the plants that make up Bliss?
The plants are all shade-loving varieties of hosta, astilbe, ferns, coral bells, bleeding hearts, hydrangeas with bright begonias and impatiens planted to add color. Gary wanted varieties that echoed the natural woodland vibe going here. The hosta provide a variety of texture and hue with rippled, rubbed and smooth leaf, some large and broad and some, like the variety “Curly Fries,” long and slender.
What’s your advice to someone who has the land space and dreams of Bliss gardens but doesn’t know where to start?
Dad: Our gardens didn’t begin with a master plan. Every year we added more path which defined new garden beds. Gary always plants in threes and fives. Single plants end up looking like specimens and disrupt the cohesive flow of a vibrant garden.
Gary: Start with an irrigation system so you can spend time planting an maintaining and not watering.
What in Bliss was the biggest project?
Gary: The gravel pathways.
Dad: The Butterfly House was probably the biggest, but self energizing as it fueled, in its development, our desire to see it finished. Our goal was that it appeared melded into the gardens and not an obtuse structure sitting there. We think we achieved that.
How did you build the butterfly house and how do you get the butterflies there?
We chose the size we wanted. We did 8 feet x 24 feet, 8 feet tall. We buit the framework, stained it all black. Gary ordered an 8 ft. wide roll of screening–we calked sides and roof and added a screen door. I hauled a boat load of dirt to make the floor level, and we put bark mulch down. We planted things that support the butterfly life cycle. I added a water feature and a small pond nestled into plants and rocks to appear natural. Every fall, we remove the screen from the roof and replace it in the spring to avoid damage by snow weight.caterpillars to get it started. As far as the butterflies themselves, it’s really a self-contained cycle. We have a friend who starts us off by giving us caterpillars every summer. We give them milkweed and search for eggs every day. We bring the eggs inside and store them in a small netted butterfly cage to protect them from predators, and that’s where they form their chrysalis. Once the butterfly hatches, we release them in the big house outside where they have everything they need.
Speaking of winter, what do you have to do every year to get Bliss back to what it looks like now?
We pay to have all the leaves raked, blown and carried away, before the gardens awaken. We put pieces back that were stored away. We fertilize, and I plant more annuals for color. I put the Fairy Garden back in place, refill the fish pond and get new fish. Gary gets our chickens (we sell the chickens to an area farmer when we head to Florida). We power wash the deck and put the outside furniture back in place. We turn the bird bath bowls upright and fill them. We then sit back and watch the daily theatre of plants opening and growing right before our eyes.
What are your favorite things at Bliss?
I love the whimsy of the Fairy Garden and all the hardscape elements of benches and bird baths and statuary to find (there are 14 cement bunnies, 9 frogs and 5 angels, and the kids love making people search for them).
The fairy garden is my favorite too.
What was most important to you as you created Bliss?
Dad: I wanted it to connect–the cottages to the gardens, the gardens to the surroundings. I wanted to maintain the integrity of northern woods. Too many people buy property, then clear it to resemble their subdivision life downstate. We didn’t want that.
Gary: Creating a garden that others as well as ourselves would enjoy.
(these wine bottle paths though!)
This though…this is the best corner of Bliss.
This is where all the stories are told and the marshmallows are roasted and the memories are made. Until next year!