Michiana Water Garden Tour benefits Healthwin

Published 2:23 pm Monday, July 9, 2007

By By TRICIA PETERS / Niles Daily Star
NILES – Just five miles outside of Niles you can turn into "Agape' Hidden Valley" and follow the long winding drive into what seems like another world. The home of Jack and Jo Flock is a place of breath-taking beauty full of ponds, waterfalls, antique farm equipment, dragonflys and hundreds of wildflowers. Their home is just one of the 28 homes featured on the 2007 Michiana Water Garden Tour. "The tour is great because people want to see what others are doing and get ideas for their own pond," says Jo Flock.
The tour will take place on Saturday, July 14 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, July 15 from noon to 5 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at God's Green Earth 2824 S. U.S.-33, Niles or Healthwin Specialized Care Facility, 20531 Darden Road, South Bend, Ind.
The cost is $10 per ticket and this includes a brochure describing the locations on the tour, maps for each location, as well as a $10 God's Green Earth coupon. Patrons are welcome to take the tour in any order and at any time during the specified hours.
The tour includes 12 water gardens in Niles as well as gardens in Buchanan, Baroda and Benton Harbor in Michigan and South Bend and Granger in Indiana. God's Green Earth and Healthwin are both included along the tour. A picnic-style lunch ranging from $3-$4 will be available at Healthwin on Saturday afternoon.
God's Green Earth is once again sponsoring the tour to benefit Healthwin, a local not-for-profit community-based long term care facility for the elderly. The partnership between God's Green Earth and Healthwin began in 2004 after a tornado devastated Healthwin's grounds. This once tornado-ravaged area is now home to two ponds, walking paths, a playground for children as well as a large pavilion for residents and their families, partly due to the generosity of Tim Polega, owner of God's Green Earth and the success of the annual tour.
In 1986, the Flocks bought the land that has now become Agape' Hidden Valley a name that translates to "God's Love." They started their pond in 1993, originally as a small swimming hole for their grandchildren. Then they decided that any good swimming hole should have a fish pond as well. The fish pond, complete with koi, bass and bluegill that eat out of the Flocks' hand, is now a three-acre pond complete with covered bridge, bog area, and replicated mine shaft with water flowing overhead.
Jo Flock often travels around the area in her canoe relishing in the magnificent beauty around her. "You don't have to travel far to see spectacular beauty, you can have it right in your own backyard," said Flock. "We used to travel a lot, but now there is no need to be anywhere else," she added.
The Flocks have participated for eight out of the 10 years that God's Green Earth has been sponsoring the Water Garden Tour. "Ponds take less upkeep than a garden does," says Flock. She loves the sound of running water and believes there is no better therapy. She also likes to swing and has five swings on her property. Tim Polega, not only owner of God's Green Earth, but also the Flocks' son, called her on the first warm day of spring and she told him, "(I've tested them out and) all the swings are in working order!."
The Flocks' land is a haven to deer, fox, blue heron, and even mink, chickens, a rooster and a horse named Sarah – all who make their home there. According to Flock, Sarah is a miniature draft horse known as a Haflinger and has a prestigious history of her own. The Flocks' purchased her at auction and discovered that she was the first Haflinger brought to the United States from Austria for the purpose of participating in the well-known Reigns of Life program. When Sarah first arrived in the U.S. she was even given a reception at the Austrian Embassy in Washington D.C. Now that she is retired, Sarah enjoys a leisurely life at the Flocks' home often being hand-fed apples by one of the Flocks' 17 grandchildren.
What is even more amazing, when you take in the view on the Flocks' property, is to realize that all the area was once only pasture. "Everything here has been planted or grown up on its own," Flock said.
Now there are tamarisk and bald cypress trees complete with birds that call the area home. Four sets of baby birds and three sets of swallows have hatched so far this summer. It's hearing the little facts like that from Flock that only enhance the feeling that you are in a very special place when visiting Agape' Hidden Valley.
Whether you are a water garden owner, or just an admirer of nature, do not miss out on the chance to take this tour. It is not only an enjoyable way to spend your weekend, but a chance to benefit a wonderful facility within your own community.