Nancy Stark’s garden flourishes with greenery, art

Midland resident Nancy Stark began her garden over 30 years ago, using her expertise and experience with cultivating plants. The garden has flourished under her care and is among the stops featured in this year’s GardenWalk.

The Reece Endeavor’s 19th annual GardenWalk is set for 2-7 p.m. Tuesday, July 12 – rain or shine – at six gardens around Midland. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at any of the participating gardens; admission includes a map to the gardens.

Stark grew up on her family’s farm in Indiana, which gave her an appreciation for plant husbandry. Today, she is an advanced master gardener, environmental and gardening consultant, and former president of Michigan Garden Clubs.

Stark’s garden has slowly evolved over the decades. When she first moved into her home, at 1801 Sylvan Lane, the backyard was little more than grass and a tree or two.

“I like to see the success that comes from the expectations of blooms,” Stark said. “It’s such a wonderful reward to see something that you’ve planted continue to thrive and grow.”

Stark explained that she doesn’t plan or design what her yard will look like. Instead, she buys plants that she likes and finds a place for them once she brings them home. As a result, her garden beds have expanded and widened as Stark has added more plants. Now, it contains 26 varieties of plants in the front and side yards and over 54 varieties in the backyard, most of which are perennials.

“I don’t plan my garden,” Stark stated. “It just is what it is. I never draw out a plan of what I want to plant where.”

As guests enter Stark’s garden, one of the first things they see will be a mural painted by Midland artist Elise Malkowski.

In addition to the Stark Garden, five other locations will be featured during the Reece Endeavor’s 19th annual GardenWalk.

The Parker Garden, 2500 Swede Ave., was a 2021 City of Midland Beautification Award winner. The homeowners enjoy many hours in the glider watching the birds and admiring the various flowering plants. Planters made by Mr. Parker and the lighting along the fence, deck, and pergola further add to the ambiance.

The Zabik Garden, 4222 Concord St., is a space that is both lovely and low-maintenance. A patio and lush lawn provide a backdrop for self-watering pots filled with bright annuals that contribute added color with minimal effort. The firepit area is an ideal place to enjoy the serenity this garden offers.

The Lane Garden, 2111 Luhring St., is based on the homeowner’s travels to other gardens in the neighborhood as well as in China and Japan; he built this garden as part of his healing process while recovering from a major illness. Stroll down the stone paths and relax while enjoying nature highlighted by hostas, Japanese maples, spruce trees and pines. The homeowner will also exhibit his restored antique cars.

The Hayes/Mirto Garden, 1505 W. St. Andrews Road, includes organic curves and a collection of metal sculptures designed to complement the architecture of Alden B. Dow’s first unit block home. The homeowners’ collection of heirloom perennials was passed down through generations of family. This garden is supplemented with annuals and dahlias from Dahlia Hill, where the homeowners volunteer.

Dow Gardens, 1809 Eastman Ave., will be open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Guests can enjoy annuals and perennials punctuated by distinctive bridges and rock structures, an award-winning children’s garden, towering pines, water features and the nation’s longest ADA-accessible canopy walk in the adjacent Whiting Forest.

Dow Gardens will provide a complimentary refreshment to GardenWalk visitors and has restrooms available. It is also the site of the silent auction.

Stark’s house is built into the side of a hill, with the house at the top of the incline and the garden at the bottom. The back of the house includes a small alcove, where Stark enjoys sitting and relaxing during the warmer months. During the GardenWalk, the railing on the back porch will be covered in quilts that her daughter, Lisa Fales, made.

Another painting, of an Aztec sun, can be found at the base of the steps, created by Stark’s granddaughter, Allison Fales.

The backyard is a sea of green, with pops of color provided by a handful of plants – including Dusty Miller and celosia – and six red metal sculptures created by Dan Taylor. The plants can be accessed by an array of paths, from pavestones and steppingstones to grassy avenues.

Other features of the garden include Nancy’s She Shed, built in 2003 by Stark’s late husband. The shed functions as a storage area for gardening tools as well as a work bench and sitting area for Stark.

“I have sat in here many times, with the fan cooling me off when I’m not gardening,” Stark said.

The Reece Endeavor has been asking Stark to have her garden in the GardenWalk for many years. Stark was worried about accessibility, as the backyard is only accessible by steps or a steep path up the incline. Organizers assured her that there would be volunteers to help, which helped put her mind at ease.

“I started last year working on the garden,” Stark said. “It takes at least a year to plan to be on the GardenWalk.”

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