Lush Summer Displays Show Work of Grand Groundskeepers
To the average home gardener, the numbers are impressive: 18,000 tulip bulbs, 5,000 geraniums, and 2,500 flats containing 150 varieties of annual flowers. Along with the extensive summer blooms is a landscaped 18 holes of golf with ponds. Combined, they make a spectacular sight at Grand Hotel, earning praise every summer from guests, visitors, and residents on Mackinac Island.
Creating the beautiful landscape are three key people and 17 others who make up the grounds crew. They use both traditional and little-used methods to keep photographers busy snapping photographs of the garden views and golfers sometimes distracted by the breathtaking vistas.
Mary Stancik, superintendent of golf and grounds, has been with the hotel for about six years and is responsible for care and maintenance of the grounds, including flowers and golf courses. She has a degree in turf management from Michigan State University and spends her winters in Grand Haven.
Looking out over the golf course and the Straits of Mackinac, she said, “This is why I like my job. We get to see this every day.”
Since taking over the head position two years ago, Ms. Stancik was faced with one big challenge — finding a way to discourage Canadian geese from taking over the course. They were making some holes unplayable.
The seventh green, which is pretty much surrounded by water, was a challenge. There were several mornings, she recalls, when the hole was unplayable because of the goose droppings.
“We had to go clean them up with a snow shovel,” she said.
That spurred her to research friendly and economical ways to discourage the geese from landing, and she came up with decoy swans.
She got six of the plastic replicas, anchored four in a pond, and put two on the edge of the pond to make it look like they were nesting.
Within a couple of days, the geese had moved out.
“If they circle to come in to land and they see them, they just keep going,” she said. “It was a pretty inexpensive solution. They are really effective and I’m pretty happy with them.”
The swans have movable heads, so every few days crews readjust them to make it look like the birds have moved so the geese do not get used to them.
She hasn’t heard any comments from golfers about the decoys, but she has heard comments from those walking on the sidewalk along Grand Hill. People will point out the swans to others with them, she said. They think they are real.
“It’s kind of fun to hear,” said Ms. Stancik.
Golf Course Superintendent Drew Butterfield is responsible for the daily work on the golf courses and he, too, has come up with an economical way to deter the geese.
Most evenings after work he brings his border collie, Laney, to the course and, on command, she chases the geese away.
Sharing a golf cart, Mr. Butterfield and Laney travel the grounds looking for flocks of geese. Laney knows the routine well. Once a flock is spotted and no golfers are nearby, Mr. Butterfield will remove her leash and Laney awaits his command, “Go get ’em.”
“She won’t budge off the cart until I tell her,” he said. “Then she goes airborne from the cart.”
Landing a few yards from the cart, she races across the turf toward the geese. They yell, scatter, and fly away. She has been trained not to bother the ducks.
Nine crew members take care of The Jewel golf course, which includes the Grand nine next to the hotel and the Woods nine at Stonecliffe. Greens are mowed daily, and tees and fairways are mowed three days a week. To mow the rough takes four to five days, so once they have finished, they start over again.
“We pretty much have one person dedicated to that,” Ms. Stancik said.
With all the rain this year, the golf course turf suffered from too much water, and with cooler than normal temperatures, the crew saw diseases in the summer normally seen in the fall.
Fall work begins with leaf removal, and about 90% of the leaves are mulched.
In late fall, the greens are sprayed to prevent pink snow mold from forming under the snow.
“That can do a lot of damage on greens,” she said, “if they are not treated to prevent it.”
The hotel’s gardens draw a great deal of attention, from the large flower beds at the top of Grand Hill to the front porch geraniums.
Head gardener Julia Viel of Big Rapids designs the gardens and handles daily garden work with her staff of eight. She has a degree in horticulture and biology from Ferris State University and has been working at the Grand for six years, the last two head gardener.
The garden crew is responsible for 60 to 100 flowerpots, 20 large flower beds, front porch flower boxes, and smaller blooming beds.
“There are a lot of plants on our grounds,” she said. “We have flowers everywhere. Pretty much everywhere you look, you will see a flower that has been placed by us.”
Every flower bed is different in design and color from season to season, she said.
“Nothing is ever the same here,” said Ms. Viel. “If you see six pots up by the front porch and you go down to the pool, you will not see anything the same. It is a palette of color. Like an artist uses paint, I use flowers.”
The 2,500 geraniums that fill the flower boxes along the famous 660-foot front porch have become a symbol for the hotel. The plants are cared for daily and about 200 extra geraniums are kept on hand in the greenhouse and used when needed through the season. Geraniums inside the hotel do not fare as well and are rotated to other places about every three days.
Right now she is planning next year’s gardens, a project that takes her about two months. From pots at The Gate House, flower boxes at Woods restaurant, to window boxes at some of the hotel’s housing units, they are all planned and designed by October.
“Down to the last hanging basket, I have to know what’s going in it by October,” she said. “I pretty much take a piece of paper and draw the shape [of the garden], and then I figure out the colors that go in afterwards. Once I’m happy with the design, I kind of picture it in my head.”
The reason for the October deadline is to place orders with growers who need to purchase seeds and get everything started so the plants are ready for the hotel in April. No plants are started at the hotel.
The greenhouse that sits below the hotel and past the pool is for storage of flowers and pots.
“Everything that we plant are annuals, so we have to re-do everything every year,” she said.
She makes a list of every garden area and every pot that gets flowers. Each pot is labeled, like “Chinese pot on front porch” or “pool deck pot.”
“If there is a pot next to a big flower bed, I try not to do the same colors. So if a flower bed is pinks, yellows, and oranges, I’ll do something completely opposite to the pot that is next to it, which is maybe dark purples or blues or whites, just so there is a contrast.”
“We try to push our flower beds as long as we can,” said Ms. Viel. By the first of October, crews start to remove the annual plants, although flowers in hotel boxes will remain until the hotel closes for the season.
“A lot of people think we change our flowers out,” she said. “We don’t. What’s in the ground in May is there to stay until October.”
If a patch of flowers dies, like zinnias did this year, there still are back-up flats in the greenhouse that are used to fill in the open patch. The zinnias, she said, did not like all the rain and cold weather this summer.
The tulip display has to be planned in July so bulbs arrive in time for fall planting. The 18,000 bulbs are planted in late October, after the summer flowers have been removed from the beds. The tulips flower in May, and when they are done blooming, the bulbs are dug out and thrown into the compost pile. Only about two-thirds of them would blossom again the next year.
“Also, because our plants are annuals, we would plant right on top of the tulips and the chance of us cutting them in half or damaging them is very highly likely, so we just throw them in the compost,” she said. “Then believe it or not, 18,000 tulip bulbs will be gone in two or three days.”
They are collected by guests and Island residents, who plant them in their yards.
For tulips, Ms. Viel tries to plant all of the same variety to get the same height and bloom time from the flowers.
“I can pick the colors I like, for the most part, and I like bright colors, eye-popping colors.”
The golf and grounds crew remains on the Island about 10 days after the hotel closes for the season, storing garden items and finishing fall clean-up. This year, they will be done working by Friday, November 6.