Lakeside Garden Oasis

Enchanted flower garden overlooks Lake Erie

Story by Caitlin Taylor
Photos by Tom Hawley

Imagine stepping into a mystical enchanted forest. There’s the plethora of flowers, the nearby oasis of crystal clear water and exotic, yet friendly, creatures roaming the grounds.

Now picture that scene in your backyard.

That vision isn’t merely a fairytale for a LaSalle-based couple. Between a vast garden and views from Lake Erie, that’s the sight Christel Britts and Werner Barteck wake up to each morning. And they often invite their loved ones – sometimes as many as 160 at a time – to enjoy the views with them.

With a lakefront home in the 1200 block of Lakeshore Dr. in Grandview Beach, Britts and Barteck have turned their beachy space into a jaw-dropping garden featuring plants from all over the world, several bars for entertaining guests and even a bright blue peacock guarding the space.

From the pyramid of petunias to succulents growing from an old pair of shoes, plant life surrounds visitors from the moment they walk from the home’s wooded gateway. All different heights and sizes, the flowers create a kaleidoscope of colors to guide guests from one seating area to another.

Nearby chimes hum when winds pass through the yard filling the space with smells of mingling blossoms.

“We love flowers,” Britts said. “At night time – instead of watching TV – we come outside, have a drink, and talk about what we will do next.”

Britts and Barteck have been partners for 23 years. Both widows, the two met at a local German club.

Both were born in Germany, with Britts’ family coming from Harz Mountains and Barteck from what was once Konigsberg, but is now Kaliningrad, Russia.

Before moving to Barteck’s home in Grandview Beach, Britts previously lived on five acres of farmland in Temperance where she kept several flower gardens.

“When I met Werner, I came here and I said, ‘What am I going to do here all day?’” Britts said. “He said, ‘You can do whatever it is you want to.’”

That’s when the couple’s creation began.

Britts took her green thumb from Temperance to LaSalle, taking on the role of the property’s gardener and decorator while Barteck is the builder.

“Flowers, I don’t know nothing about it,” said Barteck who is more of a handyman. “But we love gardening.”

Since they’re both retired – Britts as a dental assistant and Barteck as a project manager for Modern Tools – the two spend a majority of their days maintaining the yard and deciding what they can create next.

When Britts has a vision, she either plants it or asks Barteck to build it.

“He’s a keeper – that’s what I told him,” Britts said.

The couple’s yard opens with what they call “the pyramid.” It’s a triangle-shaped archway filled with pink petunias, which mark the home’s rear entrance. It’s also the yard’s newest creative addition.

More petunias welcome guests to the sanctuary, spilling out of large brown barrels which the couple calls “the waterfall.”

As visitors move onward through the yard, they’re met with bunches of additional flowers – all arranged at different heights with varying colors. That’s to add depth and dimension to the design, Britts said, which hopefully draws the eyes of onlookers.

“I like things that are moving,” Britts said. “It’s not good to have everything the same height.”

The garden features plants from all over the world, including Hawaiian plumeria, German edelweiss and the red leaf Japanese maple tree. The couple knows the history and origin of each of the plants, not afraid to sing The Sound of Music’s “Edelweiss” song when describing the German mountain flower.

The landscaping is rounded out by child-high orange and yellow lilies, impatiens and marigolds for Barteck. Britts’ favorite is her hibiscus plant. Additional perennials also are planted throughout the landscape so the couple doesn’t have to start from scratch each year.

According to Britts, it takes about 2 ½ hours to water the garden each day.

“The biggest work is that that doesn’t show,” said Barteck who mentioned the couple has to do a lot of weeding to maintain the landscape.

The sanctuary of flowers isn’t the only draw for visitors at the Barteck-Britts home. The couple likes to use the space for entertaining.

Between the front and back yards, the home has four unique outdoor bars to host guests – along with two additional bars inside. Each space has a dedicated theme and accompanying décor to transport guests to a new place with just a few steps.

Just like many of the home’s flower arrangements, the couple gave each bar its own name to identify it. The bamboo, tiki, Caribbean and Picasso bars are outside.
The bamboo bar was handcrafted by Barteck to display bamboo-like chutes and has beach fringe decoration hanging from the bar’s roof.

The tiki and Caribbean bars, although detached from the home, are completely insulated – making them great spots to spend time even during the colder months. The tiki bar is sure to be playing the World Cup on TV during soccer season, and the Caribbean bar features a beach mural with real-life photos in it.

“I wanted to put pictures so everyone can see themselves here,” Britts said of the beach scene which includes photos of her loved ones.

Then there’s the Picasso bar which is located in the home’s front yard which faces Lake Erie. The multi-colored bar must be hand painted each year to maintain its vibrancy.

Near the bar are several tables, some that seat up to 16 people, for the couple to host its many frequent guests.

“Werner is so good at all of this,” Britts said. “He built all of this.”

The African and disco bars are located inside and are themed as such.

Just as each bar has its unique theme, each features its own menu as well. There are framed menus behind most counters to remind visitors what’s available.

For what the couple calls “the best margaritas in town,” guests must stop by the bamboo bar.

Barteck created his own margarita recipe, and has about 17 jugs of it on hand for thirsty visitors. Guests also can “order” a long island iced tea, black Russian, Manhattan, stinger, cosmopolitan, hurricane or gin or vodka tonic.

Even more famous than the couple’s margaritas are its “So Schmeckt Deutschland” shots – or German flag shots. The three-layer shot mimics the flag with a black, red and gold layer. Barteck created the specialty drink about four years ago.

The shots almost are exclusive to the home’s tiki bar, although Barteck – who enjoys pouring the drink for guests – can be persuaded to serve his creation elsewhere.

The couple often makes the shots for special events and sells them in souvenir shot glasses.

More common drinks like beer can be found in most of the couple’s bars with the exception of wine which is exclusive to the African bar.

The best part of it all? Barteck said it’s that there are always free refills.