If your schedule’s tight, and you have time for only one attraction in Midland , make it the Dow Gardens (1809 Eastman Ave., 800/362-4874, www.dowgardens.org , 9 a.m.–8:30 p.m. daily mid-Apr.–Labor Day, 9 a.m.–6:30 p.m. daily Labor Day–Oct., 9 a.m.–4:15 p.m. daily Nov.–mid-Apr., $5 adults, $1 children 6–17) and the buildings designed by Alden B. Dow, Herbert’s son. Alden Dow was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s original Taliesin fellows, and he had a long and distinguished architectural career. Like Wright, he tried to merge architecture and nature, insisting that “gardens never end and buildings never begin.”
Developed by Herbert and Alden Dow over the course of more than 70 years, the garden’s lovely landscape began as Herbert Dow’s extended 10-acre backyard. When he arrived in Midland, the town was a barren landscape of sad stumps left behind by the lumber industry.
In 1899, Dow began to landscape the space around his house to show his fellow townsfolk what they could do with their yards. He took his hobby seriously, and corresponded with Luther Burbank and other leading horticulturists of his era. During his lifetime, Dow planted 5,000 fruit trees, including 40 varieties of plums.
Unlike other historic American gardens, which owe a design debt to the formal gardens of Europe, the Dow Gardens are original, an unusual place of unfolding environments often likened to Japanese or Oriental styles. Always an enthusiastic traveler, Dow traveled to Japan frequently and became friends with a noted designer of Tokyo parks.
Texture, form, and contrast are as important here as more obvious displays of blooms. The gardens were renovated in the 1970s by Alden Dow as a retirement project, and more than a thousand trees and shrubs were added. Fantasy environments, including a jungle walk and a yew maze, reveal Dow’s gentle, playful spirit. Don’t miss the wheelchair-accessible sensory trail, the herb garden, and the extensive garden of perennials.
The Midland Center for the Arts (1801 W. St. Andrews Rd., 989/631-5930, www.mcfta.org , hours and prices vary daily) is another Alden Dow building. Inside the anthropomorphic, Guggenheim-style structure is a wide range of art and science displays, including a hands-on Hall of Ideas and a ferocious-looking mastodon that’s especially popular with kids.