News Column

Fernwood celebrates 50 years as public garden

August 17, 2014

South Bend Tribune, Ind.

Aug. 17--BUCHANAN -- Little did Kay Boydston know when she celebrated her birthday in southwest Michigan on Oct. 12, 1938, that she would begin a journey that would consume the rest of her life and result in Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve.

Following a picnic at Bear Cave near Buchanan, Kay and her husband, Walter, had a Realtor show them some properties.

After seeing the 12.5 acres on the St. Joseph River, the Boydston's would dream about it and visit in every season until they finally decided to purchase it in July 1941. To further confirm it was meant to be, the property would have become a Girl Scout camp had the Boydstons been one hour later in putting down a deposit.

Kay would later write in her book, Reflections, "After thirty months of waiting, watching, hoping, and planning, we had first possession by just one hour! Do you wonder that we felt we were truly meant to live here?"

The Boydstons intended to use the property as a vacation home, but the war and job situation found them moving here from Glen Ellyn, Ill., by April 1942. Kay loved ferns, but it was Walter who suggested the name Fernwood, which they put to a vote among friends and family.

The name stuck. Although there weren't many ferns found on the property when they bought it, Kay tirelessly planted ferns, wildflowers, cultivated flowers, shrubs and trees.

Fernwood not only was a vacation respite for family and friends in those days, but Kay led garden tours and taught classes on gardening and the craft arts. She shared her love of nature, horticulture, and the arts and crafts with her new neighbors and friends. She was an amateur horticulturist and a highly regarded fern expert in addition to a weaver, silversmith, printmaker, dyer, miniaturist and writer. In those early days, Kay wrote countless letters to colleagues in search of new plants for Fernwood. Accounts have stated that she could get by on very little sleep, so she would plant into the night by the headlights of her car.

In 1964, Kay and Walter were retired and facing the

reality of caring for their now 16 acres. Larry and Mary Plym, civic leaders and philanthropists from Niles, bought Fernwood in August 1964. Later that month, papers were signed and Fernwood became Fernwood, Incorporated. Kay was installed as director, and Fernwood's life as a public garden began. Buildings were added and adjoining properties were purchased, bringing the total acreage to its current 105.

As Fernwood celebrates 50 years as a public garden, visitors will notice a purposeful focus on Fernwood's history -- and its future direction -- in programming, events, and exhibits.

In April, noted artist Patrick Dougherty installed a huge stick sculpture on the grounds to honor the occasion. Historical Fernwood artifacts and special treasures are coming out of storage for an exhibit in the gallery through Sept. 14. The annual Garden Party in June was a special celebration with 300 Fernwood members and supporters in attendance, as well as past and present staff, interns, and directors on the board. Many of Fernwood's programs this year are offered free with paid Fernwood admission, and a family free day is offered each month throughout the summer.

In honor of Kay's weaving and spinning interests, the Niles Handweavers Guild has been presenting weaving and spinning demonstrations throughout the summer. A vibrant Post-it note mural designed by Tracy Dippo and Hayden Regina is taking shape in the Visitors Center, with visitors posting their colorful Fernwood thoughts and memories to reveal a special image.

"Fernwood remains today a special place for people to visit every month of the year," Executive Director Carol Line said.

"I do think Kay would smile to see people winding down the hill to see spring wildflowers and school buses with children entering our property to learn about the natural world, and to know that Fernwood is still the place where art and nature and horticulture come together and where the water wheel still spins."


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Source: South Bend Tribune (IN)

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