There’s no place like home, and for us that’s Michigan, a beautiful state with a ravaged economy.

Hoping to help improve that painful situation, we’re introducing our readers to some of our Michigan friends and their awesome products, from ergonomic garden tools to crime novels and beer.

For other topics, or to subscribe to our FREE email newsletter, please see our main Newsletter Archives page.

A New Beer for the New Year (with a Crocus on the Label)

Josh came to work last month with a bottle of beer in his hand. “Check this out,” he said. “There’s a crocus on the label.” Sure enough, a purple-and-white striped crocus bloomed against a stormy background on the eye-catching label for Closure, a beer from Michigan’s Greenbush Brewery. “When one door closes . . . ,” the mysterious tagline read, and “Ready to put the past behind you and reach for something new?” It all made sense when I went to the Greenbush website and learned that they use a different hop variety every time they brew Closure, which means that every batch is, in effect, a new beer. I liked the one I drank, and I’ll look forward to sampling new ones in the future. If you live in Michigan, Indiana, or Illinois, you can find Greenbush beer at these locations. Elsewhere you’re out of luck, at least for now — sorry! (Jan. 2014)

Michigan Certifies First Bicentennial Farm

Like many states, Michigan has a Centennial Farm program that recognizes farms owned by the same family for a century or more. Recently the Historical Society of Michigan congratulated Abigail Roy-Jacobson and Katrina Roy Schumacher for being “the first farmers in the state to receive bicentennial certification for their agricultural property, Westview Orchards. Westview was established in 1813, as a fruit farm, and still focuses on fruit as well as corn, hay, pumpkins, squash, and gourds on 188 acres” just 35 miles north of downtown Detroit.

Michigan’s oldest farm is actually the de Beausset farm located on Grosse Ile, an island in the Detroit River. Now operated as a nursery called Westcroft Gardens, the land first came into Denise de Beausset’s family when two of her great-great-great-great-grandfathers purchased it from the Pottawatomie in 1776. (Oct. 2013)

Staff Picks: Our Favorite Michigan Vacation Spots

You can’t spend ALL of your time in the garden, so your friends here at Old House Gardens have prepared this very personal summer travel guide for you. Our state tourism board says that Michigan is “a vacation heritage worth exploring,” and we hope you will!

Josh: “My favorite place is Isle Royale National Park. It’s one of the last bastions of ‘Pure Michigan,’ an untouched wilderness where all the animals seem to exist without fear of humans. I have many great memories of hiking there, exploring the island’s swamps, forests, rocky cliffs, and beaches. If I could live there, I would.”

sheila: “The Traverse City area is a great combo of nature, wildlife, and all things outdoors paired with a thriving city culture of arts, dining, and nightlife. All in one day I can canoe down the river, enjoy a wine tour, lay on the beach watching the sailboats in the bay, and enjoy a fine meal at a five-star restaurant.”

Derick: “Frankenmuth is a family-friendly ‘Little Bavaria’. There’s great food at the Bavarian Inn and lots of wonderful small shops, as well as Bronner’s, the world’s largest Christmas store. I’ll always remember visiting Santa there as a child and thinking that I was really at the North Pole. Now I go back every year.”

Kathy: “There’s something for everyone at Silver Lake Sand Dunes. Hike or drive your ORV through almost 2000 acres of dunes, boat and swim in Silver Lake and Lake Michigan, climb to the top of the lighthouse, enjoy gorgeous sunsets, and relax around a campfire. Dan and I spent our honeymoon there, and we spend every anniversary there as well!”

Vanessa: Cranbrook Gardens is a can’t-miss gardening destination in metro Detroit. My favorite parts include the brick-walled sunken garden, the historic greenhouses, and the many sculptures scattered throughout the 40 acres. Cranbrook House is impressive, too. Designed by Albert Kahn, it’s one of the finest Arts and Crafts-style houses in the country.”

Mike: “Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a great place for camping, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and just enjoying the beautiful scenery, forest, waterfalls, and Lake Superior beaches. My Scout leader grew up in the UP [aka Michigan’s Upper Peninsula], so he was always taking us to cool places up there, and Pictured Rocks was the best. Be sure to bring your camera!”

Donna: “The Huron River is long, lovely, and full of Nature’s finest: birds, turtles, dragonflies, and flowers. My favorite stretch winds from Dexter to Ypsilanti, going from slow to rapids to peace on earth. Grab a kayak or canoe and get out on the river with someone you love! You can get a great workout or just float lazily along. Either way, it’s perfect.”

Rick: “Harbor Springs is a quaint lakeside town with a lot to offer. There’s a great farmer’s market, lots of flower gardens, a wine festival, excellent golf, beautiful fall foliage (don’t miss the Tunnel of Trees on M-119), and Michigan’s best skiing. The harbor is the Great Lakes’ deepest, and Little Traverse Bay is one of the most beautiful bays I’ve ever sailed.”

Kelly: “At Sleeping Bear Dunes I love running (falling) down the dunes, playing in the waves of Lake Michigan, and swimming in the clearest water I’ve ever seen at Crystal Lake. My family vacationed there when I was a kid, and I thought it was paradise. Not trusting my memories, I had to check it out as an adult. My kid-self was right, it is paradise.”

so there you go. Have fun! (June 2013)

Transcendent Crime Fiction by Elmore Leonard

Although the economy here in Michigan isn’t exactly booming, it’s gotten a lot better since we started this occasional series highlighting some of our favorite Michigan-made products. Unemployment, for example, has dropped from a national high of 14.2% to a much less painful 9.3%. So we’ll keep writing!

And speaking of writing, in a couple of weeks the National Book Foundation will honor Detroit’s Elmore Leonard with its lifetime achievement award, placing him in the elite company of writers such as Arthur Miller, Eudora Welty, John Updike, Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison, and Ray Bradbury. (Learn more here.) The 87-year-old Leonard recently published his 45th novel, and I’ve read and enjoyed most of them. He got his start in the 1950s writing Western short stories for pulp magazines, and in 1961 his novel Hombre was chosen as one of the best westerns ever by the Western Writers of America. Before long Leonard moved on to crime fiction where his main characters — such as Raylan Givens in the award-winning FX series Justified — are often a lot like his cowboy heroes: gritty individualists with a strong code of ethics in a world where the lines between good, bad, and evil are blurred. His breakout bestseller Glitz in 1985 led to a Newsweek cover story and a growing appreciation for his writing as more than just good crime fiction. Several of Leonard’s books have been made into movies, including Get Shorty and his favorite, Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown which is based on his Rum Punch.

Leonard writes in a spare style that recalls Hemingway (but with a sense of humor, he likes to point out), and he has a gifted ear for dialogue. In his brief Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing he advises would-be authors to “try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip” and says his most important rule is “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” My favorite Leonard novel may be Killshot where the federal agents are more of a problem than a help, the bad guys range from bad to horrifying (with the worst ending up disconcertingly sympathetic), and the heroes are an ordinary married couple who have to save themselves. You can pick up a paperback copy of it and many of Leonard’s other novels for less than a dollar at Amazon — and I highly recommend that you do. (Nov. 2012)

Gladiolus for All

Although most cut-flowers today come from overseas, the next time you pick up a luscious bundle of glads at the supermarket you’ll probably be supporting a forward-looking Michigan farm family. Here’s their story, as told by Lynn and Jo Mayer when they were inducted into the Michigan Farmer’s Hall of Fame in 2010.

“In 1971, we bought our first farm and still reside there today. As young farmers, we worked full-time raising grain crops with a few acres of gladiolus…. At that time, gladiolus were known as funeral and wedding flowers and had limited uses.... We knew we would have to develop a new market if we were going to succeed.

“In the 1970s, floral sales in supermarkets were just getting started. That’s when we decided to attempt to mass merchandize gladiolus floral bouquets in supermarkets to be enjoyed as a cash-and-carry item. We knew this would be a challenge but gave it a try anyway….

“Today, we are the single largest producer of gladiolus cut flowers in the United States, producing, packaging, shipping and marketing nearly 400,000 glad stems per day from June 20 through October 20 each year. As a result, Michigan is the leading producer of gladiolus cut flowers in this country. We service nearly every major supermarket chain across the U.S. and Canada. We provide employment for approximately 200 people to produce and market nearly 1000 acres of hand-harvested cut flowers….

“In 2000, we transferred the farm to our four children…. We hope they are able to continue this family farm tradition, keeping Michigan on the map as the largest producer of gladiolus cut flowers in the U.S.”

Continuing to innovate, the Mayers are now supplying cut-flower peonies and sunflowers to supermarkets as well, so go ahead and treat yourself to a bundle of those the next time you see them, too — and thanks for helping to rebuild Michigan’s economy! (July 2012)

Save 15% on Cool Ergonomic Garden Tools

Although it’s hard to prove a direct correlation, our home state’s battered economy has continued to improve ever since we started introducing you to some of our favorite Michigan-made products. To thank you — and to encourage even more “micro-investment” in Michigan’s rebirth — we’ve teamed up with our neighbors at Radius Garden Tools to offer you a special 15% discount.

Radius’s promise to make gardening easier on my body wasn’t what first drew me to their tools. I just thought they looked cool, cool enough to belong in the Museum of Modern Art. Their hand tools came first, with dramatically arched handles that reduce wrist strain while making them look like they were meant for gardening on the moon. They now offer equally distinctive shovels, rakes, pruners, and other tools, all scientifically designed to help you “Garden more; hurt less.” They’ve expanded their color choices, too, from spring-green to a jewel-box palette of pink, purple, yellow, orange, and turquoise.

One of my favorite tools is the Radius Transplanter, a narrow trowel of brushed aluminum that’s light but strong — and did I mention cool? It’s also a great deal at $9.99, and an even better deal with your 15% “Friends of Old House Gardens” discount. To claim this special discount, simply enter OHG as the “coupon code” on the Payment Information page of the Radius order form. For Mother’s Day or your own garden toolbox, we hope you’ll give our friends at Radius a try! (April 2012)

Good Morning America’s Most Beautiful Place

This is the fifth in our ongoing series introducing you to some of our favorite Michigan products in an attempt to boost our home state’s battered economy. (Michigan’s unemployment rate is now tied with South Carolina’s for the country’s third worst at 10.9%, but that’s down from 13% and second worst last year so our plan seems to be working.)

Michigan is rich in natural beauty, and every year millions of vacationers come here to enjoy it. Two weeks ago Good Morning America named a spectacular natural area that’s been one of our favorites since we were kids — Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore — the “Most Beautiful Place in America.” Read the complete story here, and then start planning your visit! (Aug. 2011)

Hospital Grows Its Own Vegetables (and Our Dahlias)

We’ve introduced you to some of our favorite Michigan-made products here, in an attempt to boost our home state’s hard-hit economy. But this month we’re spotlighting an innovative Michigan-made idea instead.

Not long ago the staff at our local St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital decided it wasn’t enough to just talk to their patients about the importance of healthy food — they should serve them healthy food, too. So last year, in a ground-breaking effort to help make that a reality, they hired a young farmer and turned 15 acres of their sprawling medical campus into The Farm at St. Joe’s. Today patients are served vegetables grown in fields and hoop houses they can see from their rooms, and once a week there’s a small but lively farmers market in the hospital lobby. Learn more here.

When we heard the Farm was also growing a few cut-flowers, we offered to donate some of our bulbs. Farmer Dan Bair responded enthusiastically, and next week he’ll be planting two 100-foot rows of our heirloom dahlias — healthy food for the soul. (May 2011)

Historic Pewabic Pottery

This is the third in our ongoing series introducing you to some of our favorite Michigan businesses. We hope you’ll love their products, tell your friends, and help give our home state’s battered economy a boost. (Though Michigan’s unemployment rate is still the country’s second worst at 13.1%, since May it’s dropped .1% — hooray!)

One of the iconic potteries of the Arts and Crafts era, Detroit’s Pewabic Pottery was founded in 1903 by a young artist named Mary Chase Stratton. It soon gained acclaim for its simple designs and earthy, often iridescent glazes. Today, skilled artisans are still turning clay into small, affordable works of art in Pewabic’s 1907 studio, now a National Historic Landmark. Among our favorites are the graceful daffodil tile in Pewabic blue, the replica of Stratton’s 1903 Snowdrop Vase, and the irresistible little frog paperweight for just $19.95 — but there are many, many more to choose from. We hope you’ll be inspired to add one to your Christmas list! (Oct. 2010)

Oberon, the Perfect Summer Beer

Last month, in the hopes of helping our home state work its way out of the economic sub-basement, we launched our "Made in Michigan" series — and we already have good news to report. In May, Michigan’s unemployment rate dropped to 13.2%, making it — for the first time in four years — NOT the country’s highest. (Sorry, Nevada!) Although that happened a month before we started plugging our favorite Michigan-made products, we’re still feeling encouraged.

so how about a drink? Though I’ve never lost my childhood taste for water straight from the hose, these days after a hot afternoon in the garden I’d rather have a nice cold beer. And as beer drinkers all across the Midwest will tell you, for a refreshing summer brew, you can’t beat Oberon Ale. A sunshine-colored wheat beer with a big happy sun on its orange and blue label, Oberon comes from Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, the oldest craft-brewer east of Colorado. "This isn’t a dangerous beer," writes Matt at, "but it’s also no slouch." He calls it "smooth and creamy" with "floral and citrusy-orange pulses" and sums up by saying, "No wonder Oberon has such a following."

Oberon is sold in nineteen lucky states — AL, AZ, DC, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KY, MI, MN, MO, NC, ND, OH, PA, SC, VA, WI — and you can order it online. Other award-winning beers from Bell’s range from their flagship Amber Ale to the "bitter, tongue-bruising" Hopslam. Why not try them all? Cheers! (July 2010)

Garden Bells from Harmony Hollow

First up: the hand-cast garden bells of our hometown’s Harmony Hollow Bell Works. With a 350-year guarantee, these sturdy bronze bells are made to be heirlooms. Jane and I got a set for our wedding 28 years ago, and we’ve enjoyed them ever since. Harmony Hollow was founded in 1969 by Jeffrey Cross who, in the spirit of those heady times, taught himself how to design, mold, and cast bells. Today his brother Bradley carries on the family tradition.

Made by the ancient technique of pouring molten bronze into sand molds, the bells ring with beautiful, clear tones, and each comes with a small card offering a bit of special meaning, like this for the Gardener’s Bell: “Bells have forever driven away bad spirits and called upon good ones. By attracting the spirits of air (a soft breeze), of fire (warm sunlight), of water (rain plus a little help from the watering can), and of earth (rich soil), its pleasant vibrations are conducive to growing healthy plants. Moreover; this bell’s melodic ringing puts anyone aspiring to a green thumb directly in touch with the natural rhythms of Mother Nature.” (June 2010)

For articles on other topics, see our main Newsletter Archives page.