The Fords wanted a setting for their home that provided both wide-open and intimate outdoor spaces, with special places for sports, relaxation, nature and gatherings.
Jens Jensen, one of America's foremost landscape designers and conservationists, designed the Ford House garden landscape between 1926 - 1932. Known as the master of the naturalistic approach to landscaping, Jensen's design style combines woodlands, meadows and wetlands in such a natural way that guests are usually not conscious of any man-made design. Jensen was known for his use of native plants, the sense of vast open space, the play of light and shadow and the element of time and season's change.
His approach to landscape architecture sought to engage all five human senses- the sight of many colors and shapes, the sound of water running, the smell of flowers in bloom, the taste of berries, and the feeling of being surrounded by nature.
Stretching from the House to the Gate Lodge, The Meadow was one of the most carefully considered aspects of Jensen's plan. It runs east to west and beautifully captures the rising and setting sun in its grassy slope, punctuated by the shadows of bordering trees, bright daffodils and wildflowers. Jensen's design, which creates the impression of limitless space, used plantings to draw the eye so that the land seems to continue far beyond its actual boundary.
The Peninsula/Bird Island
When Native Americans visited this site many years ago, they would not have seen the peninsula or "Bird Island," which was created from a sandbar in Lake St. Clair. Jensen created a peninsula of land roughly parallel to a portion of the north shoreline to provide a protective cove for Mr. Ford's numerous boats. Jensen planted the peninsula with seed-bearing herbaceous shrubs, which were left to mature naturally, in order to attract the songbirds that Mr. Ford delighted in watching. Today, Bird Island is an ideal place to look for wildflowers and birds.
Flower Lane was designed by Jensen to display cultivated perennial flowers and shrubs in a natural setting bordered by overhanging, flowering trees. Using irregular shape of the borders, the lane is oriented in an east-west direction to which light and shadows again add interesting effects on the flowers that have been planted in masses. In this area of the grounds Mr. and Mrs. Ford chose the various varieties of flowers and shrubs. White, yellow and blue colors dominate the plantings, which include delphiniums, lupines, veronica, shasta daisies and daylilies. These soft colors are often found in nature.
This area was termed the New Garden when it was redesigned in 1939. Jensen had retired, so his son-in-law and assistant, Marshall Johnson, created the actual design. This garden has straight lines and sheared yew hedges and achieves great contrast with Jensen's more naturalistic work. The garden is laid out with a reflection pool in the center to mirror the surrounding trees.
Jensen designed the Rose Garden at the request of Eleanor Ford. It is not typical of Jensen's design, as roses require many hours of maintenance. The garden contains hundreds of roses in various pastel shades. The corners are planted with blue lilacs, which Jensen often used.
The Rose Garden is significant because it exemplifies one of the ingredients in large estates designed during the Golden Age of American Gardening, which flourished between 1880 and 1940.
The area of the swimming pool and the lagoon offers a quiet, woodsy feeling. The shape of the swimming pool, located in the middle of two birch woods, was meant to resemble a natural, free form, spring-fed pool one might come upon in Michigan's northern woods. Jensen's rock garden also serves as a privacy screen from neighboring property and the waterfall allowed the swimming pool water to overflow into the Lagoon. In late April and May, this area is a showplace for wildflowers.
The Lagoon was originally open to Lake St. Clair and was used by the Ford family for a boat landing. For privacy and security it was closed and now serves as a storm water catch basin.
The House is located on Gaukler Point to take full advantage of the lake view and is also oriented to the path of the sun. The sun rises over the lake, lighting the Dining Room and Morning Room and sets at the opposite end of the property.