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Beyond the beach in Porter County takes visitors to gardens

Well-used garden sink juts from a wall adorned by Cymbalaria at the Brincka Cross House and Garden in Valparaiso, Ind. . (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A lot of people know about Lake Michigan’s beaches in northwest Indiana, but what about gardens?

One of the youngest arboretums in the country is in Valparaiso, founded in 1997 by Damien and Rita Gabis, whose private property adjoins the 360-acre park.

Taltree Arboretum and Gardens opened with softly rolling hills and several stands of towering oaks and other woodland assets. Since then, Taltree has blossomed with wetlands, formal gardens, prairie plantings and a Monarch Waystation. At least 80 species of birds live at Taltree, including bobolinks and green herons, and where many warblers can be seen during migrations.

Taltree Arboretum and Gardens featues a 2 1/2-acre train garden. Photo courtesy Taltree.

Taltree became firmly rooted on the list of go-to places with its 2 ½-acre Railway Garden, which opened in 2011. The model railroad travels through vignettes depicting mining, forestry, farming and shipping.

Not far from Mount Baldy and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is the Brincka Cross House and Gardens, which is experiencing a renaissance after at least five years of neglect.

New management in Porter County Parks and Recreation has recognized the assets of this property, which was developed in the 1960s by the late William Brincka, a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago, and his late partner, Basil Cross

The contemporary home sits amid some of the largest rhododendrons in Indiana. The 25-acre property, five of which are cultivated, also features more than 400 hostas, 40 varieties of magnolias and 40 crabapple trees. Dotting the landscape are small, rectangular houses drilled with holes for mason bees, one of nature’s best pollinators.

Mason bee house at Brincka Cross Gardens in Valparaiso. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A parking lot is being developed across the road and the parks department has applied for a grant to make Brincka Cross part of an Indiana Department of Natural Resources trail, said Matt Brown, the department’s horticulturist who oversees the property.

Brincka Cross is open sunrise to sunset and admission is free.

Red barn at Brincka Cross Gardens. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp