Family fun at Fernwood Botanical Gardens

Published 11:39 am Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ice carving at Fernwood. Submitted photo

Ice carving at Fernwood. Submitted photo

The lake effect snows have started blowing in on the northwesterly winds, but that doesn’t mean that residents and visitors to Michiana will be left out in the cold when it comes to staying connected to nature this winter.

“A lot of people don’t know that we are open in the winter,” said Jan Ferris, special projects coordinator at Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve.  “We have a lot more than just a botanical garden. If people don’t want to go outside to walk, we have indoor features, too.”

Fernwood has a full calendar of holiday events scheduled, with activities designed for both children and adults.

“The family stuff really kicks off on the 14th and 15th. And, then there’s more on the 21st and the 22nd [of December]. We’ll have free activities that kids can do for Christmas from 1 to 4 in the afternoon, and then the ice carving demonstrations are going to be the 14th and 15th as well. So, those are good family things to do. And then, on the 21st and 22nd, that’s when Santa will be here, both days, from 1 to 4. We’ll have children’s activities again. There’ll be music in the gallery, and we’ll have a storyteller,” Ferris said.

“If families are interested in something they can do with their kids, we have a gingerbread house contest and exhibit this year,” Ferris said. “People can work on it as a family. There are three categories: children, adult amateur, and professional. People have to bring them here by December 7th, and we will have them here on display.”

“We also have our garden train. We bring that inside in the wintertime, and that’s all put into the [fern] conservatory inside. So kids can see the trains,” Ferris said.

“For adults, we have this great candlelight holiday dinner. Chef Tim Carrigan does that on Wednesday, Dec. 18th. He always has a really nice meal there, and then we’re going to have dessert in the gallery and adult beverages, which will be like hot spiced cider and coffee drinks with liqueurs, and then we’ll have music in the gallery as well,” Ferris said. “If people can’t make it at 6 o’clock for the dinner, you can just come at 7 for dessert and music in the gallery.”

The café also serves lunch throughout the winter.

There will be more holiday-themed events as Valentine’s Day approaches. These include another adult dinner and a contest for the “Most Decadent Chocolate Dessert in Southwest Michigan.”

But, holiday events are just a small part of the winter offerings at Fernwood. Gallery exhibits, bird counts and a variety of classes will also be taking place.

“In December in the gallery, we have these beautiful silk scarves, hand-made and hand-painted by Irina Dorofeeva. And then, Jan. 9th through Feb. 10th, students from Brandywine, Niles and Buchanan Community Schools are going to be doing an exhibition,” Ferris said. “So, there’s always something going on in our gallery.”

“Our Nature Center is always open, and they have a bird-viewing area,” Ferris said. “The backyard bird count is Feb. 15. This one is just 1 to 4 p.m.,” Ferris said. “That would probably be the best one for a beginner. Our naturalist, Wendy [Jones] will talk about feeding the birds and identifying them, and you can help count them.”

“We have a lot of crafts and arts, horticulture, culinary classes, kids classes — all kinds of stuff. Because we are a botanical garden, we try to highlight the horticulture,” Ferris said. “Something that is really popular throughout the winter is our Sunday Journeys program. …We will be having yoga classes in January and February. We have some gardening classes in December, and we have some craft classes. …We also have a really cool program on pearl buttons and shells coming up.”

Fernwood also accommodates visitors who want to experience the beauty and tranquility of Michigan in the winter. Walking and snowshoeing are both encouraged, but skiing is not possible due to the slope that leads down to the river.

“Outside, we keep our paved trails in the garden area plowed and cleared off so that people can just walk through the garden if they want. If you bundle up and wear your boots or snowshoes, you can go out into the Preserve area,” Ferris said. “It is very beautiful  in the winter with all of the snow in our trees.”

Fernwood Botanical Garden is located on 105 acres at 13988 Range Line Road, Niles, Mich. More information about their upcoming events and programs can be obtained by calling (269) 695-6491 or by visiting their website at

Many of their activities are free for members or with paid general admission. Membership fees start at $25, and Fernwood has a reciprocal membership agreement with many other botanical gardens.

Memberships can also be purchased as holiday gifts. Through Jan. 3, Fernwood has a holiday gift membership promotion available.

“If you buy a gift membership for someone, you’ll get a special ornament designed just for Fernwood” by tile-artist Scott Weaver, Ferris said. “It’s a gift that keeps on giving.”