Hidden Lake Gardens was donated to Michigan State University (then Michigan State College) in 1945 by Harry A. Fee, an Adrian businessman. He had always dreamed of owning a lake, and, upon his retirement in 1926, he purchased Hidden Lake along with 200 acres of land surrounding it. He repaired and refurbished the old farmhouse, built a greenhouse, and began farming. He soon realized that the land was not suitable to conventional farming or raising livestock and so he began to grow nursery stock. Not wanting to compete with local nurseries during the depression he planted the stock on his own land in an effort to create a "series of pictures," a philosophy that we continue to strive for today. Mr. Fee described Hidden Lake Gardens as a "dream as you go development". He built a road in from Hwy. 50 and landscaped it with a shrub and perennial border. The lake was cleaned out and the small pond and rock garden were constructed.
"...I determined to build a road which would make the several beautiful views to be had from various places on the property accessible..." This road was built around the lake and later extended to the top of what Mr. Fee called Juniper Hill, which is what we call it today. Much later, small parking areas were added at these vistas to allow the public to pause and enjoy the views.
"When the idea that I was making a series of beautiful scenic pictures available to the Public and just when I decided to dedicate the Gardens to public service I do not remember...all subsequent work has been and should be continued with the prime object of its being for the Benefit of the Public..." Mr. Fee donated Hidden Lake Gardens to Michigan State University (then Michigan State College) in 1945 and his wish that the Gardens be for the benefit and education of the public has continued through the years. He was actively involved in decision making at the Gardens until his death in 1955. With his generous endowment under the direction of MSU's Horticulture Department, the Division of Campus Parks and Planning and presently Land Management, the Gardens has continued to develop with land acquisitions, construction of buildings, and the establishment of educational programs. The original 200 acres have grown to 755 acres! This includes a 120 acre arboretum that was begun in 1962 and consists of plant groups such as crabapples, lilacs, maples, evergreens, and shrubs.
Another benefactor of the Gardens, the Herrick family of Tecumseh, donated funds for many of the buildings. The Visitor Center building was built in 1965 and the conservatory was added in 1968. The service building, replacing the old barns was constructed in 1973. A picnic area was added in 1971.
Year-round educational programs for all ages are offered in our Visitor Center which also houses a library, exhibits, auditorium, meeting rooms and a gift shop. The Conservatory includes tropical plants, arid plants, and a variety of flowering houseplants. A picnic area with shelter is available without reservations.
Plant collections at the Gardens continue to grow. In 1981, Justin C. Harper gave the Gardens a major gift of over 350 dwarf and rare conifers (cone-bearing plants) which now comprise the Harper Collection. These plants were transported from Mr. Harper's home in E. Moline, Illinois to Hidden Lake Gardens by the Davey Tree Company of Ohio. The design for the Collection was done by Sam Lovall of Campus Parks and Planning, MSU. The Michigan Hosta Society has donated plants and their labor. A hosta garden, called Hosta Hillside, came to be where Mr. Fee's original rock garden was. Both of these collections are now supported by separate endowments, the Harper Endowment and the Herb & Dorothy Benedict Hosta Hillside Endowment.
Another new addition is a perennial garden planted in 1991 with donated plants and volunteer help. A raised bed garden near the conservatory and a wheelchair accessible trail within the existing trail system were built with funds from the Kellogg Foundation.
Hidden Lake Gardens is owned and operated by Michigan State University under the division of Land Management, but supported through admission fees, endowments, gifts and the "Friends of Hidden Lake Gardens" membership program. The Gardens is open 362 days of the year with an admission fee of $3 per person. Guided tours, requested at least two weeks in advance, are available for $3 per person. In addition to more than 6 miles of one-way paved drives, there are nearly 10 miles of hiking trails to allow the visitor a closer look at the beauty the Gardens provides.