By Rod King
Editor’s Note: Rod King is the author of a monthly “Great Escapes” column that will take readers to various locations across the country.
One of the Midwest’s top cultural destinations is just hours from Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park which includes a botanical garden, a Japanese garden, a children’s garden, a sculpture park, natural wetlands and an amphitheater which hosts concerts by major artists.
While exploring the sculpture collection, visitors will discover works by Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Roxy Paine and many more. In fact, the collection has works by more than 200 internationally renowned artists. But Meijer Gardens is not just for art and plant lovers. It is also a place for family fun.
Sculptures of a couple of huge bears welcome visitors to the children’s garden. Here there are a number of specific areas on different topics, ranging from the Great Lakes Garden to a winding sculpture walk that encourages curiosity and exploration. It is dotted with animal sculptures and artwork made from animal-like bicycle parts. They even offer live shows in the spring, summer, and fall.
Another interesting stop is Michigan’s Farm Garden, with a 1930s farmhouse, barn, windmill, sugar shack and, of course, flower and vegetable gardens.
One of the standout spots is the 8-acre Japanese Garden which makes effective use of space to highlight the contrasts between calm and flowing water, the quietly intimate and expansive open spaces and the natural and maintained. Contemporary sculptures are placed throughout the garden. Some plants, such as bamboo and Japanese maple, come from Japan. Most, however, are species native to Michigan.
Inside, the five-story, 15,000 square foot tropical conservatory features a rocky landscape with a waterfall and flowing stream and a variety of exotic plants from around the world. Next to it is the arid/desert garden, the house of carnivorous plants and a greenhouse that changes its flower arrangements with the seasons. March and April are the perfect time to escape the cold and mingle with over 7,000 butterflies fluttering freely in the tropical conservatory.
A brand new 60,000 square foot visitor center is currently under construction and is expected to open in mid-2021. It’s all part of a $115 million expansion and renovation project that includes a transportation hub, learning center and rooftop sculpture garden.
Meijer Gardens is open all year round and goes all out with its holiday decorations. Bright and beautifully decorated trees celebrating the traditions of countries around the world make this a magical place. Visitors will find an incredibly intricate model railway exhibit and they can bundle up and take a tram ride through a winter wonderland.
Admission is $13.50 for seniors (65+), $18 for adults (14-64), $8.50 for children (3-13) and free for children under 2 years and under. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Parking is free.
There’s something for everyone at this 158-acre cultural attraction. Plan to spend between two and three hours admiring the unique art and beautiful flower beds. And while you’re there, have a pleasant lunch in the cafe under a vast glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly on the ceiling. The gardens are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
For more information, visit meijergardens.org.