I have visited the Fair Lane Estate multiple times the past few years. While walking through the woodsy area of the Rouge Gateway Trail, if one stays on the Trail, then veers left, there is easy access to view and/or stroll Fair Lane’s extensive grounds. Ongoing renovations to the entire Estate began in 2014, but inside renovations were curtailed in 2020 due to the pandemic and have resumed with no stated date for completion.
Last Monday’s post focused on the grounds of the Estate, including the Manor; the Fords moved into their home in 1915 and lived there until their respective deaths in 1947 (Henry) and 1950 (Clara). You can click here if you missed that post.
Clara Ford loved flowers and the 17 acres of gardens which are part of the Ford Estate would be the envy of any gardener, both back in its heyday and even now. There are many perennial and wildflower gardens, plus a courtyard filled with roses … thousands of roses. In its heyday, Clara could stand at the copper-roofed Tea House and gaze upon 10,000 different rose bushes, some 350 rose varieties, which lined up along the perimeter of the courtyard and surround the courtyard’s fountain.
Although the many birdhouses at the Estate are long gone, at one time there were 500 large and rather ornate birdhouses placed around the grounds, on tall poles or hung from trees. That was Henry Ford’s doing, as he was an ornithophile (bird lover) and enjoyed watching his feathered friends.
The facts and figures about the gardens and birdhouse tell you why a contingent of 26 full-time gardeners were needed to maintain the property.
This post is going to focus on the passions of the Fords … Clara’s flowers and Henry’s birds. I visited the Persian Lilac walkway in May 2021 [click here if you missed that post] and returned mid-Summer 2021 to see the roses in bloom. They were exquisite. I am sure you will agree. I’ll bet they were even more beautiful during the 30 years the couple resided at Fair Lane Estate.
“Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.” ~Walter Hagen
The original garden featured tea roses, roses with a single bud, often prone to disease, but later all the roses were replaced with sturdier and disease-resistant shrub roses. Well I can identify with this swapping of roses as I did the same thing. My original rose gardens similarly were tea roses, but waiting forever for one bloom, then a rain or windstorm might scatter the petals was frustrating, so I replaced my original rose bushes with hardy Home Run Shrub Roses a few years later.
So come along through this wooden gate and take a look at Clara Ford’s rose garden. I wish I could create a panoramic view of the garden, but had to do various shots instead.
In 1930, Clara and Henry Ford visited England where they toured an old estate and admired the iron gate. Clara asked Henry if he thought the estate would sell it to them for her garden. Henry said he doubted they would part with it, so Clara forgot about the gate. Two weeks later when they returned from their trip abroad, Clara went out to check her gardens and discovered the same iron gate separating the perennial garden from her rose garden.
I found a few vintage photos and want to include them in this post. Unlike the photos that are featured around the Estate which were okay to photograph, I’m not about to tread on anyone’s toes regarding copyright issues, so I’ll include the links to three vintage photos from the Henry Ford Organization digital archives,in this post.
The first photo is Clara and Henry Ford standing at the above-mentioned gate and you can access it by clicking here.
The Tea House is located at the other end of the rose garden.
The life-sized bronze sculpture of Clara and Henry Ford was installed near the Tea House in 2018. The sculpture, which took 25 people and 18 months to complete was created by world-renowned Brooklyn-based StudioEIS and gifted to the Estate by Lynn Ford Alandt, the great-granddaughter of Henry and Clara. The life-sized bronze likenesses feature the couple with the Power House in the background. Henry Ford, at 5 feet 10 inches tall with a top hat in his right hand, rests his left hand on Clara’s lower back as she sits in her garden hat gazing toward her rose garden.
Clara was an avid gardener, so there were several gardens on the Estate,the most famous being the rose garden and English-style gardens, but back in the day her peony and rock gardens were also renowned as you see in these vintage pictures which I photographed at the Estate.
Henry Ford loved nature and wildlife.
Henry Ford, a brilliant inventor, had a soft spot in his heart for wildlife, which he said began when the four-year-old Henry watched, alongside his brother, as their parents pointed out a Sparrow’s nest containing four eggs in a fallen tree. This event fostered Henry’s life-long fascination with birds. Henry hired an artist to document many scenes revolving around his workshops, inventions and life at Fair Lane, so Henry commissioned this artist, Irvin Bacon, to recreate that fond scene in a painting for him.
Please click here to see the painting of young Henry Ford and his family circa 1867 from the Henry Ford Organization digital archives.
Fair Lane had over 500 birdhouses and an equal number of bird baths which were heated in the cold weather for his fine-feathered friends. Henry’s love of birds extended way past the grounds of Fair Lane as he used his influence to ensure passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, the first national legislation geared to protect migrating birds and prohibit poaching.
Also, in looking through the Henry Ford Organization digital archives, I discovered this photo of Henry with a telescope enjoying the many birds that lived on the Estate. Click here to view that photo.
Below is a quote about Henry’s vast collection of birds:
“About ten years ago we imported a great number of birds from abroad – yellow-hammers, chaffinches, green finches, red pales, twits, bullfinches, jays, linnets, larks – some five hundred of them. They stayed around for a while, but where they are now I do not know. I shall not import any more. Birds are entitled to live where they want to live.” – Henry Ford
After I published the first post last Monday, several of you asked if I saw any birds around the Estate and were surprised to learn I did not. I only saw bees and butterflies enjoying the many flowers. I didn’t see any of the birdhouses or birdbaths and I wonder if they will once again fill the grounds once the renovations are complete? Perhaps I’ll poke around and see if I can get an answer to that question. Currently, you must be a member/donor at this organization to learn the status of the ongoing renovations.
In visiting Fair Lane Estate and its grounds, plus wading through significant online history to complete these posts, I think that Fair Lane was more than simply another jewel acquired by the Fords. Can you really call a 56-room mansion and extensive grounds a “home” in the sense that you and I define a home? Well, perhaps on a much-grander scale, but I like that the Fords not only enjoyed the opulence of their home in a manner befitting an automobile magnate and his wife, but they also used Fair Lane to fuel their respective passions: Henry for his brilliant ideas and forward thinking more than a century ago and, because the Fords enjoyed nature, Henry had his birds and Clara had her flowers – most of all they had each other, a beautiful love story that lasted until Henry’s passing in 1947.