In 1902 the decline in Francis health led to a decision to seek
treatment in Alma, Michigan. It was reputed that King sought treatment
for alcoholism, a specialty of the Alma sanitarium. Whatever his
disease, by 1903 he was cured. Mrs. King, never particularly comfortable
living in an urban setting, seems to have been very pleased by the
family's decision to remain in rural Alma. The couple purchased a
half-square city block, about two acres, on Alma's most desirable street
and ordered the large, red brick house then on the property removed.
In its place was constructed a Tudor Manor House similar to the
one the family had left behind in Elmhurst. Louisa was careful to
locate "Orchard House," as the couple came to name it, on the northern
edge of the property, leaving considerable room for the garden taking
form in her mind.
As she was formulating her ideas for a garden in Alma, Mrs.
King read two books which she credited with greatly influencing her. Elizabeth and her German Garden, published in 1898 by Annette Beauchamp and Helena Rutherfurd Ely's 1903 volume A Woman's Hardy Garden
both caused considerable comment. Mrs. King wrote that "The former
created the desire to garden; the latter gave practical advice towards
the garden's making." The basic design for the new garden was drawn by
English horticulturist William Consabel. By 1907, with the help of
full-time gardener Frank Ankney, the garden started to take clear shape.
In the garden, brick walks crossed at a center pool. The
resulting four sections were each divided into eight flower beds,
divided by sod paths. Although this early plan was never fundamentally
altered, Mrs. King soon became dissatisfied with it. She concluded it
was too open a design and began to include elements within the garden
that would create smaller, more private areas. She added hedges, garden
gates, high wooden fences, and a gazebo.
King's philosophy was that somewhere in the garden flowers
would be in bloom all year round and no soil was to show. King was
driven in her desire to achieve the maximum possible effect. She toured
widely to see examples in other gardens of plantings that she might
She also maintained a small, but concealed, experimental
plot in her own garden where she planted four specimens of a potential
addition to the garden and noted carefully its characteristics over a
growing season. Only after this "trial" did she decide whether or not
to introduce the species into her "real" garden. Each Sunday morning
she toured the full garden with a specially designed notebook, carefully
recording what was in bloom and taking other notes. Based on her
notes, each fall adjustments were made among the perennials to ensure
her goal of continual color would be met.
|The garden in mid-summer
The result of this constant attention was plain to see. The
snow would be barely off the ground when King's scilla bulbs burst
forth. Crocus followed. Mrs. King did not plant a bulb here and there.
She thought in terms of mass blooms involving hundreds and thousands
of bulbs. Tulips came next, supporting then giving way to lilac. By
mid-summer shasta daisies and roses had taken center stage, backed by
foxglove and the tall spikes of larkspur and delphinium. So it
continued until autumn's frost brought an end to mid-Michigan's growing
King's garden was the background for several important flower events
in th 1920s. In the spring an annual flower festival featured her
tulip bulbs and seventy variety of lilac. The event drew visitors from
throughout the midwest in part because Louisa King herself played a role
in the festival. Each year she delivered well attended lectures
eagerly anticipated by gardeners such as Mrs. Henry Ford. In the summer
Orchard House's south lawn served as backdrop for an equally colorful,
but more local, annual flower show. Local people from throughout
mid-Michigan swarmed over the lawn to see the best their neighbors had