A Blooming Joy and a Tribute to Indiana’s Outdoors

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Featured, Home & Garden

Published on September 05, 2012 with No Comments

Brincka-Cross Gardens one of Porter County Parks’ hidden delights

Brincka Cross Gardens

Flowers explode in many colors in Brincka-Cross Gardens

The 26-acre Brincka-Cross Gardens in Pine Township is a world apart. Visitors and other participants know it is one of the Porter County Parks Department’s best-kept secrets.

The gardens are a tribute to the duo who started them. The late William Brincka worked as a buyer for the Chicago Arts Society. He taught design at the Art Institute of Chicago. The late Basil Cross was an antique buyer for the former Marshall Field and Co. and also headed the store’s interior design gallery.

Brinck-Cross House

Brincka-Cross House

The decorative and well-established gardens are connected by walkways. The gardens have 400 different types of hostas, 450 varieties of daffodils, 25 kinds of crab apple trees, 40 cultivars of ornamental grasses and 25 varieties of forsythias.

Matt Brown is the county’s horticulturist.  He sees the gardens as a living work of art.

“It is a quite a creation,” Brown said. “The guys who originally planted the stuff used color and texture and form and things that make good art.”

This is Brown’s first full season at the gardens for the county parks system. He is a grateful curator.

“Spent a long time landscaping,” he said. “Then a few more years in a greenhouse as a grower.”

Brown appreciates the variety he now gets to oversee.

Mossy enclaves in Brincka-Cross Gardens add a sense of solitude.

“There are many plants here that are unique for this area, at least when they were first planted,” he said. “We have a great climate, near the lake. But these were still unique for this (climate) zone. As an example, there are many dogwood trees, which are not usually a northern zone tree.

“We have so many American Hollies and different types of irises,” he said. “And 50-some magnolia trees, super-big cypress.”

The exciting part is the collection still expands even as the established gardens flourish. “We have a master plan,” said Brown. That includes guided tours on tap by next year.

Brincka-Cross Snake

Even a harmless snake can coil in peace in Brinck-Cross Gardens

“We have the universally-accessible paths, but in the 25 acres we also have woodland trails. So, if you want to hike, you can. Or just enjoy the gardens,” he said.

As an example, a natural grass path weaves through a stand of rhododendron leading to a quiet enclave.

There are benches for a quick contemplative rest. One of the features is the “Tickle Garden,” with a maze through tall native grasses which seem to reach out–at least wave–to visitors.

A natural brick walkway circles the house. There are tri-colored beech trees, peonies, and redwoods from the west coast. One of the flourishing hosta gardens can be viewed from the screened tea room.

Former Porter County Park Superintendent Ed Melendez called the site “a gem” from the time the county acquired it. He predicted its success.  Professional horticulturists and students have come to experience and study the layout. Melendez had a background in arboretums and had applied his knowledge to the Brincka-Cross Gardens.

The gardens came to the parks department as part of Cross’ final wishes. The county was able to obtain it when the state and federal parks declined the opportunity.

The focal point of the gardens may well be the house that serves as a gathering place.  Once the owners’ residence, the parks department regularly schedules art classes, yoga classes and other contemplative meetings here.

The house was built in 1969, with a country estate feel. As might be expected, large windows give plenty of viewing to the surrounding gardens. Many of them have an attached bench. Features include vaulted wood-planked ceilings, an open staircase with wood slats on both sides, teak floors, recessed and spot lighting, a large built-in bookcase. There are walls of every description, including some with built-in pebbles. A slate blue tile makes up the flooring.

The department knows what the original plans were, as the owners/builders took photos as the work progressed.  The photos are now part of the house’s history.

The gardens are located at 427 E. Furness Road, south of U.S. 20 in Furnessville. For more information, call 219-548-0219. For more information on the Porter County Parks Department, call 219 465-3586.



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About Mike Siroky

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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