Having spent the past 63 years developing and adding on to Hamstra Gardens, Wilbert and Peggy Hamstra started with about one acre and has expanded to 6 ½ acres of formally landscaped garden.
Wilbert was raised on a farm, playing in the dirt. As he grew up and got married to Peggy, his desire was always to have a formal garden. After being married about two years, he built the house where Hamstra Gardens is located. You can hardly tell the house is there because it is covered with so much landscaping
When Wilb started the garden, it was a cornfield. They dug the pond, and transformed a field into a garden. In fact, the Chicago Magazine called Hamstra Gardens, “Eden in a Cornfield,” in an article some years ago.
“My passion is developing and working in our garden. I don’t go out in the garden without shears, trimmers, and saws, to do things that make the garden better.”
Hamstra Gardens was developed in phases, but the first big change was done by Landscape Architect Lawrence Hoyle.
The pond was dug during the fall of 1975 and the gravel edge was installed early spring of 1976.
One brick patio was constructed near the bridge, and the second across the pond.
Grass and Gravel
Grass and gravel mulch design with plants being installed.
Relocating Existing Tree
An existing tree has been hand dug and burlapped and rope tied ready for relocating to another location on the site.
The barn in this picture was located in the middle of the largest area of the new lake. It had to moved before the lake could be dug.
Added Plants & Waterfall
Picture was taken in 1978. Plants continued to be added. The big rock area at the end of the lake is a water fall. The pump for the water fall was installed in the lake just below the falls.
Continued Plant Growth
This picture was taken in 1981 showing the plant growth that had taken place since the beginning.
Bridge & Gazebo
A bridge and gazebo were built. The brownish area just above the water is Purpleleaf Wintercreeper. A ground cover used to cover the large areas of gravel around the lake edge.
Years later, after perennials became more popular several different varieties were incorporated into the design.
This picture was taken in 1996.
Trees and Shrubs
The trees and shrubs are reaching maturity. This pond area is 10 feet deep. There is a floating planter in the middle of the water.
Path Around the Gardens
There is a grass path which continues around the entire property. As you walk the path, your view of the pond and the property is ever changing.
East of the House in 1978
This area is east of the house and the kitchen window looks out on to this area. This picture was taken in 1978.
East of the House in 2004
This the same area in 2004, 26 years later.
Japanese Garden Fence
In 1977, this fence was built between the house area in a new Japanese Garden being installed to the left in this picture.
Japanese Garden Beginning
This is the beginning of the Japanese garden area. A dry creek was installed and the walk over bridge.
Japanese Garden 1996
This shows the Japanese Garden in 1996. Notice the bridge now is complete and the plants have grown to make a great area to visit and relax.
The screened in porch, built in 1974, included a complete outdoor kitchen years before outdoor kitchens became popular.
This is a photo of the pool area behind the house.
Pool Garden Structure
The beams that are part of this garden structure run through the house and across the driveway entrance to the garage.
Fly Over View
This a fly over view of the entire property which includes 6 1/2 acres. This picture was taken in 2008.
At that time, the garden was maintained by Wilb and his four children. They took care of the property, and did all of the mowing, trimming, weeding, etc. until they got moved out and got married.
The search for a trained and experienced person to take over full-time began. Wilbert found a woman from Wheatfield named Joyce Bierma-Thomason who was a graduate of Purdue University with a horticulture degree. Joyce used her knowledge to develop the garden, with much more detail, and helped transform the garden into what it is today.
“I told Joyce that I was a person that tries to encourage long-term employer-employee relationships. She came into my office a little more than a year ago and said she was going to retire. I told her, “Joyce, you promised me long term and it’s only been 37 years so what’s the rush?” All joking aside, she did an excellent job researching and finding plants that would work in our area with a wide range of color, texture of foliage and flowers.”
Wilb was also privileged to hire Jeff Scheurich, who was a groundskeeper at a regional golf course. He has been at Hamstra Gardens for almost 30 years. “Jeff has been a big help and inspiration in what we do. He is self-motivated and has a great personality and I enjoy being around him very much.” – Wilbert Hamstra
Around 2010 there was a major storm that came through that destroyed 75 large trees. Those have been replaced with 150 new trees, some of them are quite large.
With Wilb being in the construction business, several hardscapes, or structures on the site, were added to Hamstra Gardens over the years. It began with an arbor by the tennis court. The outside of a ruins of a temple was also replicated from a temple, which Hamstra Gardens calls The Abbey, which is a chapel in England. Around 2015 a treehouse was built inside of a large Ash tree which looks over the entire garden.
Hamstra Gardens has a baseball diamond, which looks like part of the garden. The backstop is called The Fort, which represents a part of a fort’s doors to match the area.
Wilbert Hamstra drew inspiration from gardens and architecture located all over the world.
“For every house has a builder, but the one who built everything is God.”
“I like to travel and started looking at gardens in the Midwest like the Chicago Arboretum as well as many other gardens. Visiting other gardens helped me learn what to do and really appreciate gardens. I visited an extended family member in Lancaster, PA and that helped me with different ideas for our garden because of all of the gardens I visited in that area. I heard about Longwood Gardens that was developed by the DuPont Family which is probably the most marvelous garden I visited and that really inspired me. I learned about a lot of different plants there and we used some of those in our garden. I visited there 2 or 3 times over a couple week period.”
Wilb and Peg also took a trip to Bali, Indonesia and Dubai and visited gardens and structures. After looking at so many spectacular gardens and structures, Wilb got some marvelous landscaping ideas. After returning, a wall and gate were built called the Uluwatu Gate which was replicated from the original in Bali.
Wilb continues to add replicas of different architectural structures that he finds interesting.
Hamstra Gardens Usage
Hamstra Gardens is open to the public, but by appointment only. Request an appointment on the Visit page.
Hamstra Gardens is visited by approximately 2,000-3,000 people per year. It is a very popular spot for photo shoots. In the spring there are many people that come to take their prom pictures. In fact, in 2019, there were two local high schools that had their prom on the same day, and there were over 2,000 students and family members at Hamstra Gardens taking prom pictures. The day of the KV prom is the only day appointments are not required.
Although there are some family weddings hosted, Hamstra Gardens is not a wedding venue at this time. Feel free to request an appointment to take your wedding pictures at the gardens!
A lot of work and effort goes into the gardens and we want to share it with the community. Several churches host an outdoor service and/or picnic each summer.