Bellaire Bed & Breakfast: House of Seven Gardens

First-time guests might check into the historic Bellaire B&B for its proximity to a variety of Northern Michigan attractions. But they return, again and again, for the Victorian ambiance and serene gardens. Past Owners aptly called the property Breezy Hill, a name that still seems especially appropriate in the spring when the scent of lily of the valley and French lilacs drifts across the front porch.

This article was featured in the April 2017 issue of Northern Home & Cottage. Subscribe for stunning home ideas delivered to your door. 

“I blame our friends,” Jim Walker says with a laugh when asked why, in 1997, he and partner Dave Schulz decided to open a bed and breakfast in the sweet, riverside village of Bellaire—close to the beautiful 14-lake Chain of Lakes and within walking distance of the hip and hopping Short’s microbrew pub. “Over the years, coworkers and friends would stay with us, and they’d all leave saying, ‘You’re such wonderful hosts – you should open a B&B,” he remembers. Eventually, Jim and Dave took the hint. The result is the rambling, lemon yellow Victorian Bellaire B&B—a place that exudes charm, serenity and hospitality.

Beautiful grounds are key to the B&B’s magic. Jim is a landscape design instructor for the Michigan State University Nursery and Design program extension in Traverse City. Additionally, he has his own firm, J.K. Walker Landscape Consulting. His talents are evident in the 2 1⁄2-acre grounds surrounding the inn, built in 1879. While the house was in solid shape when the pair purchased it, the interior and grounds needed updating.

By midsummer, the plants in the sunken garden (shown here) will fill out and turn it into a secret garden.

The couple has done the work in stages, redoing the gardens and maintaining the 100-year-old sugar maple allée near the drive just over a dozen years ago. Today, the grounds include seven gardens that Jim tends patiently between innkeeper duties. Highlights include a sunken garden that was a favorite of Jim’s late mother, who enjoyed sitting nearby with a cup of tea, and a partial shade garden, sheltered by a Korean Kousa Dogwood that Jim planted 18 years ago. Behind the house a stonewall is filled with “planting pockets” Jim designed after seeing a similar idea in a Scottish garden. Sedums, Creeping Jenny and other plants are tucked into small beds at different levels to add visual interest.

Jim thinks there might have been the makings of one of his grandma’s strawberry rhubarb pies in the potage garden when this photo was shot!

Jim’s potage (French for soup) garden is tucked behind the house. The garden’s entrance is marked by Japanese anemone and a fragrant Seven Sisters old climbing rose bush—a sentimental favorite. “My grandma had them in her garden,” Jim reminisces. The garden itself is a lush medley of edibles that includes grapes, asparagus, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, peppers, heirloom potatoes and a wide variety of herbs.

The old garden shed.

A secret garden surrounds a charming 19th-century outbuilding once used as a playhouse by the five daughters of the home’s original owners. “It’s the only surviving outbuilding,” Jim says, estimating that it dates to approximately 1880. The couple found vintage magazine pages from old Harper’s Bazaar magazines papering the interior walls. The sunken-style garden in front of the former playhouse has a cozy seating area and includes the early blooming Lemon Lily daylilies (they really smell like lemon, Jim says), and a Japanese fountain designed to keep visiting deer away.

While the gardens are lush and lovely, they are designed to be low maintenance, Jim says, and are full of ideas that even brown thumbs can copy. “We are busiest in the summer, which limits my time in the garden. If I spend an hour a week in the summer I’m doing well. Most of what I do is deadheading.”

Guests are encouraged to wander the grounds, and many end up on the spacious front porch for the inn’s afternoon social hour. Nearby are ostrich fern plumes, juniper, and both Endless Summer and Annabelle hydrangea. Jim is happy to share his gardening secrets with guests, many of whom sign up for one of his popular spring landscaping seminars.

Even if a seminar isn’t scheduled, Jim can often be found leading gardening discussions and tours of the grounds.

The Eastlake room is the original master bedroom of the main house.

Caring for plants has made Jim a better innkeeper. Guests and gardens, he maintains, aren’t that different. “You have to be sensitive to individual needs,” he points out. “Some people and plants just need a little more attention than others.”

The cherry-wood paneled library is a favorite gathering spot for guests.

Khristi Sigurdson Zimmeth is an award-winning travel and home writer.
Photography is by Dave Speckman.

This article first appeared in the April edition of Northern Home and Cottage.
Your copy is available here.

2017 Gardening Seminars:

Celebrate spring in Northern Michigan with a gardening seminar taught by one of the area’s top plant professionals. Classes are $50 per person and include lunch and 25 percent off rooms at the B&B.

May 6, Going Native:
Seminar covers use of native plants and strategies to attract desirable animals and birds.

May 13, Paint By Numbers:
Create a colorful garden that blooms all season long using an easy five-step method.

May 20, A is for Aster:
Basics of perennial garden design and maintenance.

May 27, A View From the Hammock:
Strategies and tips for creating great spaces that require minimal work.


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