Love gardens? So does Linda Mueller, the Castle’s current owner. Linda loves gardens so much that when she decided to tackle a new garden project in 2009, she made a special trip to Europe just to do the research.
“I like being thorough,” Linda said. “After I got the castle, I started studying gardens. I started way back with the Egyptians, then the Mesopotamians, and read my way up. There are a lot of great books on garden history. I made up a notebook and put my notes in it, so I could remember. When I travel, I scout out any public gardens along the way. Every so often, a garden feature will jump out at me, and I will have just the right spot to incorporate it into the Castle property.”
That’s exactly what happened in the fall of 2009 when Linda and her daughter Kathy visited France. Linda had been studying the French gardens of Louis XIV for years. She’d been to his castle of Chambord a number of years before, so she was excited to tour it again with Kathy. “Pictures don’t explain it at all,” Linda said. “There’s nothing like being there and seeing it for real.”
Linda found herself fascinated by one particular section of the Chambord gardens. The area, fashioned by Louis XIV and André Lenôtre, his landscape designer, featured a horseshoe shaped sidewalk with a row of trees on either side, and a sidewalk straight up the middle. “I can do that,” Linda remembers thinking. “I’ve already got the sidewalk up the middle, and I have the space.” After making a few pencil sketches to remind herself of what she hoped to accomplish, Linda returned home to Michigan, where her landscape crew quickly got to work.
Ground broke on the King’s Grand Courtyard Garden in late autumn 2009. Linda’s team managed to put in the berm and rock retaining wall before winter arrived. Linda didn’t have many plans to go on. “But neither did King Louie and André,” she points out. “I have a feeling that they just walked around and said, ‘Let’s do this, and this, and this,’ and then they did it. They (the Chambord castle archives) have a few small drawings, just sketched quickly. There was no Master Plan, no vision for any particular area. They (the gardens of Chambord) simply evolved.”
If it was good enough for King Louis XIV, it was good enough for her, Linda reasoned. In spring of 2010, work restarted on the new garden. Roses were planted at the top of the fence. Unlike with most of the other Castle roses (which are nearly thornless), Linda purposely planted roses with thorns so as to deter kids from climbing the steep retaining wall and falling from the top. A sidewalk was poured, with trees lining it to replicate Chambord’s horseshoe-shape design. Two varieties were used, in case one died from disease. Amalanchor are native Michigan plants. “Northern Michigan winters can be hard on plants,” said Linda. “I try and find plants that are very hardy. I put two of them (amalanchor) down at the ends, and they came through winter just fine. The tall ones (trees) are European hornbeam. They have very small leaves and very tight branches. They’re the ones that the French cut into rectangular shape. I’m never going to do like they do, with the flat row across the top. I’m going to let the garden be more natural, a little more 21st century. Using native plants when you can means a lot less trouble, because they’re suited to the environment.”
For the past few years, Linda has been concentrating on using focal points in the various Castle gardens. The French often use fountains as focal points for formal settings. Linda’s crew had already poured the garden’s sidewalk when her husband Richard suggested building a fountain as the garden’s focal point. “Richard is the inspiration behind the fountains,” said Linda. “Originally, he wanted a big tall fountain.” But Linda didn’t want to rip up the sidewalk that had already been poured. “I was willing to do anything to work with what I had, which is the way I was brought up. I was going to put a little fountain in there, with a flower bed around it, but Richard said my fountain wasn’t big enough, and that I needed to do it right. So, little’s good, but bigger is better.” Eventually the two compromised. The sidewalk was torn up, and Richard got his big fountain, with a 30 foot high jet of water going up the middle. Meanwhile, Linda talked him into a big flat fountain base. “In France, it would be a reflecting pool at ground level,” she said. “For safety, it would be higher and better, plus you could sit on the ledge.
The King’s Grand Courtyard Garden was completed in 2011. Four dazzling stone maidens portraying the four seasons grace the courtyard, greeting Castle guests as they make a grand promenade through the splendid parterre which features a multi-terraced vista. “The French love vistas,” Linda muses. “I’ve always loved to sit at the top of the hill and look out, even before there was nothing. I’d walk up the berm and sit on the top. Sometimes I’d have a chair. Sometimes I wouldn’t. The panorama is so sweeping and lovely.”
Now the King’s Grand Courtyard Garden is finished, Linda often can be found sitting on the bench at the top of the hill, taking in the view. She calls it her ‘all-time favorite spot’ at the Castle, and she’s very pleased with the stunning French garden. “After 9/11, France wasn’t very popular with the U.S.A. First they were our friends, and then they weren’t. But people are always people, and they want the same thing. They want to live their lives, love their children, and have their families.” And whatever nationality people claim, they also want time to relax. “Formal gardens typically are very peaceful, stable, and orderly,” said Linda. “ A lot of people don’t have that in their lives: stability, order and peace. It’s nice just to get a breather, to get a little beauty and peace in your soul.” Linda’s King’s Grand Courtyard Garden gives people a place to do just that. Consider this your personal invitation from Linda herself to visit the Castle gardens today and refresh your soul.