Having spent the past 60 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.
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 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.