Looking for a great day trip this summer? Just a two and a half hour drive from the Toledo area is a hidden treasure tucked into the rolling campus of Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Mich.
A Tudor revival style mansion, Meadowbrook Hall and its surrounding gardens are a refreshing escape to an earlier time of gracious, country living.
Meadow Brook Hall was built between 1926 and 1929, and was the home of Matilda Dodge Wilson, widow of auto pioneer John F. Dodge. Matilda lived in the 110-room mansion with her second husband, Alfred Wilson, and her children. An American castle, Meadow Brook is the fourth largest historic home museum in the U.S., and it still retains most of the original artwork, furnishings, décor and personal possessions of the Dodge-Wilson family. Meticulously maintained, it is not difficult to imagine the gracious, yet family-oriented, atmosphere of this grand estate.
Surrounding the great Hall are beautiful gardens originally inspired by the work of English landscape designer Arthur Davidson. In 1928, Davidson created a plan for the Meadow Brook landscape and the gardens today reflect the style and charm of gracious country living. Color, symmetry and tastefulness are all reflected in the gardens – from the more simplistic sitting areas to the sumptuous Rose and English Walled gardens.
A pleasant stroll through the grounds of Meadow Brook affords visitors a chance to visit the various gardens and scenic areas that surround the mansion. A great place to start is the English Walled garden. Planted against a brick garden wall are a profusion of charming flowers and plants chosen to reflect the taste of English gardeners in an earlier era. Peonies, hollyhocks, foxglove, lilies, etc. give continuous color throughout the growing season and, flanked by its flagstone walkway, the flowering bed is reminiscent of that “secret garden” atmosphere.
Another “not-to-be-missed” garden is the Rock Garden. Built into the hillside of the woodland area, the Rock Garden is constructed of sandstone “shelves” carefully placed into the hillside to provide planting niches and pockets. A wonderful variety of succulents, miniatures, alpines, perennials, and delightful, small, shrubs and dwarf evergreens fill the spaces between the rock outcroppings in this gorgeous garden. This garden was definitely one of my personal favorites.
Above the Rock and Walled Gardens, at the edge of the woodland, is a shady hillside terrace and gazebo where visitors can relax, have a snack or drink and enjoy the view of the Walled Garden, Rock Garden and west wing of Meadow Brook Hall.
The east wing of the Hall boasts several graciously appointed garden areas and some very fine sculptural features. The Breakfast Garden borders a charming flagstone patio where the Dodge-Wilson family could dine during the warm seasons. A protective brick wall also flanks this area and shelters an elegant sculpture called The Golden Fleece. Plantings of lilac and pink, bordered by scaled shrubbery add soft color to this garden area. Following the flagstone walkway from the Breakfast Garden leads visitors to the Pegasus Fountain Garden where the Colt Pegasus sculpture rises above a sparkling fountain and its adjoining beds. Stone benches and shady recesses in this garden are an inviting place to relax and take pictures of the fountain, flowers and terraces that surround this quiet garden.
Connecting to this cool, restful garden is the colonnaded Rose Garden, which was added to the Meadow Brook landscape in the 1940s. It is a “sunken garden” and is interlaced with curving brick pathways that edge the central boxwood-edged rose area and outer perennial beds, lush with color and perennial varieties.
Along with these gardens, visitors can also tour the Woodland Garden, Herb Garden, Patio Garden (which overlooks the Meadowbrook golf course), and others. Also, be sure to see, Knole Cottage and the children’s Tudor-style playhouse and its gardens, which are on the grounds of Meadow Brook.
If you have a free day this summer or fall, make Meadow Brook Hall and Gardens a “must see” on your “day trippin” calendar. You’ll be so glad you did.
Garden tours are free and self-guided. For more information on the home tours or for directions to Meadow Brook Hall, call 248-364-6200 or visit www.meadowbrookhall.org.
If you have garden questions or tips for other gardeners, send them in to
A profusion of charming flowers and plants chosen to reflect the taste of English gardeners in an earlier era line the English Walled Garden at Meadow Brook Hall.