Friendship Botanic Gardens (a volunteer-based, not-for-profit organization) is a community treasure and an oasis of formal gardens and wooded nature trails tucked in an old-growth forest surrounding Trail Creek in Michigan City, Indiana. It is one of the most beautiful settings in Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan for weddings and special events, and it is becoming a major destination point for our community in addition to surrounding counties.
The Gardens are hosting many educational and family-fun activities that include our Easter Bunny Hop, Reptile Romp, Bug Safari, Butterfly Bonanza, Opera in the Gardens, Haunted Trails & Family Fall Fest and Gobble Gobble Turkey Walk. Please refer to our calendar of events page for additional information.
In addition to our events, we are currently booking wedding ceremonies and receptions for 2021 and 2022!
In the past year, we have made several additions that have furthered the beauty of the Gardens. In the ArcelorMittal Children’s Garden, children and families can experience the Garden of Senses, which includes raised beds of plants and other flowers that appeal to the senses of touch, sight, taste, sound, and smell. There is also an area labeled “Tools for Investigation” in which children are invited to measure, examine, and learn about nature in the Gardens! We have also recently installed is a Whimsical Cabin in which children can play in.
Another new garden includes the Healthcare Foundation of La Porte Health & Wellness Garden which includes 13 cardiovascular aerobic and anaerobic exercise machines overlooking the peaceful Trail Creek.
Most importantly, you’ll want to see the Celebration Pavilion, which is the first major structure built in the Gardens in almost 100 years. The pavilion, which sits along the edge of the Persian Rose Garden and Lake Lucerne, can seat up to 250 people for dinner, hors d’oeuvre, business meetings, weddings, community gatherings, musical events, and more.
With the help from a grant given to us by the Healthcare Foundation of La Porte, we have asphalted walking trails!
Thanks to the Barker Welfare Foundation, our Lake Lucerne is now home to a beautiful, color-changing fountain, adding to the beauty of the Gardens.
We can’t do this alone! We need individuals invested in the future of our community and in the Gardens to bring our vision to life.
Please join us and become an integral part of a legacy within our community. Help us continue to bloom and grow!
“To create a nature-filled sanctuary for all people, as we enrich our community through cultural, educational and social events.”
“We seek to shape the future of our community by fostering stewardship of our unique natural environment.”
History of Friendship Botanic Gardens
Still in the throes of the Great Depression, the Century of Progress International Exposition held in Chicago in 1933-34 was future-oriented with science as its theme. It was a mixture of carnival, science exhibits, famous personages, and beautiful gardens strewn along the Lake Michigan coastline between 12th St. and 39th St. Millions of people around the world attended.
Tucked in this array of attractions was a small garden originally dubbed ‘An Old Mill Garden.’ It was developed by the three Stauffer brothers, Virgil, Joe, and Clarence from Wakarusa, Ind., who had a nursery in Hammond, Ind. The garden concept was changed to become the International Friendship Gardens.
Among the visitors at the fair were Dr. and Mrs. Frank Warren, developers of Pottawatomie Park, and Warren Clinic in Michigan City, Indiana (about an hour’s drive east of Chicago). They were so impressed with the garden and theme, “Peace and Friendship to all Nations” that they made an offer of a site near their home if the brothers would consent to create an International Friendship Garden at that site.
The brothers were a gifted trio who grew up on a farm. Virgil was an opera singer; Joe, an engineer, and Clarence was a banker, developer, and inventor. They accepted the offer to come to Michigan City.
In 1936, International Friendship Gardens opened to the public, consisting of 14 ethnic gardens, the Symphony Theater and the unique Theater of Nations.
The Theater built on an island with natural seating for an audience on an adjacent hillside and was the scene of ballet, drama, and concerts, which brought thousands each week to enjoy “music under the stars.”
Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands donated 200,000 tulips. The King of England sent plants and a Royal Gardener to make an English Garden. The King of Persia sent roses for the first Rose Garden. Other governments responded with seeds, plants, and statuary. A Peace Bell ended its travel to each State following WWII, and other bells donated locally can be seen or heard on the grounds.
The mission of the International Friendship Gardens struck a responsive chord in the world as well as in local leaders; kings and presidents have visited the Gardens.
From 1945 to the early 1960’s, the 106 acres constituted an unsurpassed visual treat with Trail Creek winding through it and Lake Lucerne, with the island Theater of Nations, and its many floral and arboreal displays as well as its varied terrain.
Virgil and Joe died in 1956. Their sister, Sadie Ehret, assumed the operations of the Gardens until her death in the early 1960’s. Clarence and his wife, Frances, returned and continued the brother’s dream.
Mrs. Jean Houck, an avid lover of nature and a community activist, became assistant to Clarence in 1970. In 1986, Clarence died at the age of 100. He asked Jean and her husband, Richard, to continue the Gardens. By then, the Gardens were neglected and overgrown, and in a sad state of decline.
It was through the determination of Mrs. Houck that a Board of Directors was formed. The Gardens attracted volunteers who shared her passion to keep the Gardens open to the public.
In 1995, the Gardens became a public non-profit organization.
In 2002, the Gardens suffered two major arsons destroying the Alaskan Cabin (which contained historical works and statuary) and the Service Building, burning all tools and much machinery. The decision was made to go forward in continuing to maintain and develop the Gardens.
In 2014, John Leinweber, a new Board Member at the time, began spearheading a serious plan to rejuvenate the Gardens and actively recruited new Board Members to assist in these efforts. Through his leadership, the Gardens have had hundreds of thousands of dollars of capital improvements in the past 5 years, have employed over 10 individuals and have recruited several volunteers who are dedicated to the Gardens.
In 2015, our name changed to Friendship Botanic Gardens. We are proud of our many achievements as our new Board undertakes a major rejuvenation by working with local government, community businesses and community leaders to make the Gardens a premier destination point.