GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2006 show10
GardenSMART Newsletter Signup
Visit our Sponsors! Southern Living Dramm
Visit our Sponsors and win.
Past Shows:

Show #10

This week we're in Grand Rapids, Michigan visiting the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. What makes this park unique is the way they mix art and horticulture. One of the latest trends in landscape design is to introduce art into the garden. The principles of balance, proportion, scale and symmetry are key elements to making a landscape plan look great. Art and horticulture do work great together to enhance the landscape. Many of the lessons they apply here can be utilized in our own landscapes.

Brent Dennis, the Executive Director of the Gardens, introduces us to Meijer Gardens. The Lena Meijer Conservatory is the landmark facility. It is the largest tropical conservatory in the state of Michigan and it houses a lot of really beautiful, special exhibitions throughout the course of the year. They're probably best known for their Butterfly Exhibit, the largest in the nation, that welcomes 150,000 or so visitors during its 8 week run which occurs in the spring. The Gardens are starting their second 10 years and the first 10 years have seen a lot of rapid growth. This facility sits on 125 acres and has a lot of outstanding gardens. Brent attributes a lot of what's happened here to its namesake, Fred and his wife Lena. They have been not only visionary but also quite generous in helping in a leadership way to create everything that's happened here. Fred's passion is sculpture and Brent feels they have one of the most outstanding contemporary sculpture collections in the midwest, if not the nation. On the other side of the marriage, Lena loves gardening and, in particular, loves kids, thus it's appropriate to see the conservatory named after her but additionally one of the real fun learning landscapes, the Lena Meijer's Children's Garden. Brent invites all in the audience to visit, he's confident that you'll leave not only impressed but with some great memories and hopefully a bit more inspired to enjoy the wonders of gardening.

Rob McCartney is the Director of Horticulture. Rob came from Ohio and has a Masters degree in landscape horticulture from Ohio State University. Previously he was working for Sea World of Ohio where the focus was developing picturesque, interactive gardens that people relate to. He knew that his next job needed to be dynamic and what he found here was a harmonious blend between an art museum and a botanical garden and all the beautiful dynamics that are created with that. Rob likens these Gardens to a 3 legged stool, with three major disciplines - sculpture, horticulture and education. Horticulture may have their idea about how something should look, sculpture has their ideas about how to present the sculpture but when the education department comes in and says - now to help people better understand this, or if we do this or create this type of learning guide or class that focuses around this, people will appreciate the horticulture and art much more. At that point it all comes together.

A good example of that philosophy is the work of art by the German sculpture, Deitrich Klinge. He's influenced by the earth, trees and wood. His sculptures are usually wood although in this instance it is bronze. What inspired him in this situation was how bulbs break out of the earth and rip up through the blackened earth, emerge on the top and sprawl out with petals and flowers. That's what he recreated in this work. Normally one would see sculptures like this on a pedestal or marble stand but Klinge said put it right onto the lawn. That's something of a horticultural challenge, but it's worth it, because it compliments the piece.

The Victorian Garden Parlor which is a good place to start and has a lot of significance. The sculptures here mark the start of the Victorian age. They have in this collection some of the greatest masters in history, for example they have a Rodin and a Degas. It's a good marriage with horticulture and important because the really successful collection of botanical specimens began in the Victorian era. At that time Queen Victoria would send out explorations that went to the tropics and all the remote islands and would bring back plants that were for the most part pressed or dried. How effective was that? But that era marked some new discoveries and one was the Wardian Case. The Wardian Case is simply what we know today as a terrarium. But it allowed them to enclose in glass unique specimen plants and carry them all the way from the tropics, from whatever island, to Great Britain and France, then Germany and others. For example in this room is a banana tree, giant tree ferns, figs and citrus fruits, palms and a unique plant called Pelican Flower. The Pelican Flower has a strong Victorian resemblance, in color and pattern. They used it in decorating, in pattern making. It marked a new era in how homes could be decorated and how collections of botanical specimens could be assembled.

We next visit the Carnivorous Plant House. Rob is told it's one of the finest in the country. In this area the conditions change, it's cooler and above we notice window shades and hear water. The effect is subliminal but tells one they're in a special place. This area is particularly of interest to children. When you tell kids that a plant has the ability to move, it gets their attention. To learn that plants have evolved and developed characteristics that allow them to attract food is interesting. These plants attract food with sticky residue or in the case of the Venus Fly Trap, with horns almost like eyelashes. They can hang on to a critter like a gnat or fly and capture food. By triggering the little hairs the trap closes and captures whatever is inside. That interests kids. This can often be a start for kids who've never been fascinated with plants. But when they learn that in this room 100% of the plants are carnivorous, they're meat eaters, they like it, they listen, they look a little closer. Another mechanism that plants have developed in order to catch it's prey is a pitfall trap. The Pitcher plants are an example. These plants are found from Canada to Florida and they use a sticky residue that smells and tastes like honey around the rim. That attracts certain flies and bugs, even cockroaches, they come to the top, are enhanced to move closer, then tumble down into it. Once inside they become bug soup.

Rob thinks the Tropical Conservatory is their masterpiece. There are a lot of wonderful conservatories around the U.S. but what makes this unique is that it is in Michigan. When one looks through the windows and there is 18 inches of snow piled up, a blizzard going on and it's 72 degrees inside it's truly special. It's even neater when they gear up for their Butterfly Exhibit and butterflies flutter by. They have plants in here especially for butterflies. There is Penta, which is a good pollinator, a good plant to attract butterflies. Butterflies love the pollen. Here again if you look closely you'll see sculptures, they're subtle, inconspicuous, whether it's turtles on a log , a baboon family or even a frog leaping out from the path. It's a nice effect and adds an element of surprise.

Inside was great, we now go outside. One of Rob's favorites is a sculpture called the Beast. The sculpture staff in describing the artwork said imagine a nasty critter. So, how do you compliment a piece of artwork like that? Rob didn't go with anything traditional, they went with nasty Barberries. Barberries with thorns help promote the theme and make a subliminal effect that if you lean too close, you get poked. Another piece that exemplifies the marriage between horticulture and sculpture is a piece called Cabin Creek. Cabin Creek looks like a collection of driftwood, assembled into a horse. It too needed its own space and what they were looking for was a southwestern, even a range, maybe Wyoming, effect where the range grasses are growing and there's nothing pretty as far as lawns or anything else. So they used tall grasses around the sculpture. Speaking of horses, probably the one they're most famous for is what they call The American Horse. It's obviously inspired by the da Vinci horse. It's 25 feet tall, a massive bronze sculpture. How do you landscape around this? It's not easy, it needs its own space, when you consider the size and scale. Here there is nothing around, it's wide open, no trees, flowers, not even shrubs. You want people to flow around it, to walk underneath, crawl up the hooves, roll down, take pictures, paint, whatever they want to do. The marriage of art and landscape here is effective.

Eric Johnson shares his weekly tip. There are so many flowering plants in the garden that are great to bring inside and cheer up any living space. One of my favorites is Hydrangea Macrophylla which is one we do not often think about in flower arrangements. Next, Eric shows us some vases that he uses for the arrangement. I have some really nice even tone vases that will not distract from the beauty of the blooms. Eric has several other plants that he likes to bring inside. Some other plants that I like are Forsythia, Red Bud, and flowering Cherry's, when you cut these plants back it encourages additional bloom. So as your looking out in your garden give some thought to wonderful plants you can bring inside and cheer up your living spaces.

We look at the conservatory from the outside, it is one of the most prominent structures, what Rob calls the masterpiece. The roof-line is unique. Most aren't domed but square. This is a tribute to the greenhouse or hothouse industry, one of the most prominent industries in Michigan. There are greenhouses all over the state of Michigan. Next to this is the amphitheater which has a unique roof - a leaf motif. The amphitheater has been effective at bringing in people who would not normally visit a botanical garden or art museum. So while they're listening to a performer, it's a great opportunity to sell the gardens. They park the tram in front before the show and people take tram rides and get to see the gardens.

We next look at an incredible arch. It's by Andy Goldsworthy and is truly remarkable. It's made from quarried stone from Scotland, was shipped here and put in place. There is no mortar, it's a feat of physics when stacked up.

The next garden was incorporated because Fred was approached by some friends from rural areas who pointed out that the heritage of agriculture, the part rural agriculture plays in our lives was being lost. We have a whole generation of kids that have no idea where bacon and butter, vegetables or fruit come from. So they worked with Fred and recreated a farm garden. They decided to build a replica of the farm Lena grew up on, right down to the paint color of the house. This is the last era in American history where a family was self sufficient. The farm took care of their needs, everything from food to wool to firewood, even their sugar source, which was either honey or maple syrup. In the heirloom garden they have selected heirloom seeds. Jan is planting some heirloom tomatoes - Mortgage Lifter, Mr. Stripey, Yellow Pear, Isis Candy, Cherry, these are all great flavored tomatoes. And are from an era where flavor was still valued. Over the years because of harvesting, storage and shipping concerns much of the flavor has been bred out of our vegetables.

Children are important to Lena and the impetus to create their Children's Garden. Children when given the opportunity to touch, smell, taste and to hear elements in the garden, remember it. It becomes a meaningful experience. The texture garden provides an opportunity to touch the vine texture, the fescue, in contrast to the coarse texture of the bark of the Paperbark Maple, or the broad leaf effect of the Chinese Rhubarb. They have a neat plant called Pigs Feet. When kids rub it it squeaks, it sounds like a pig. On of Rob's favorites is Fritillaria, also called Crown Imperial. It comes up the same time as tulips but comes up bigger and bolder and holds its color longer. It's a great plant. The guests here said water is important in a children's garden. So, rather than introduce a pool they've recreated the Great Lakes. Kids come here in the summer, splash and have a ball. Another area of this garden is called The Quarry Garden. Here are placed fossils for the kids to unearth when they dig through the sand. In keeping with everything else here this is complimented with appropriate horticulture. Dawn Redwoods from the Cretaceous Period and Ferns and all kinds of plants that compliment that historic era are present. Along that line they researched what was native in Michigan thousands of years ago. Was it the T-Rex? No, it was the Sabertooth Cat and six foot beavers. So they recreated the six foot beaver in a topiary. It looks real and is situated in the wetlands. Wetlands are important because they're a great laboratory for outdoor learning. They conduct a lot of classes here, thus this area is important to their message.

It is important in this garden to get a sense of diversity when going from garden to garden. When one walks from the Children's Garden filled with 500 to 1000 children, not 5 minutes away one enters the Shade Garden. Here there are squirrels, birds and maybe one other person. People need that tranquil getaway and it is that. Joe is impressed with the fact that there is a lot of color here. One reason is the hardwoods haven't fully leafed out yet but there will be plenty of color afterwards. There are great trees perfectly selected for this area - Redbud, it flowers then leafs out. The Dogwoods and Magnolias and the Forsythias are great and brighten up a shady spot. There is also a great selection of plants. Hostas are starting to emerge. They're a great plant for shade. They have Lungwort or Pulmonaria, a great foliage plant which has a great flower on top, it is vivid. Bleeding Heart, the Dicentra is colorful as well. There is plenty of color in this Shade garden. And for the past 30 days bulbs have been coming up. Everything from Tulips to Daffodils to Hyacinth, even Woodland Wildflowers which have been in this area for, maybe, a thousand years are here as well. It's beautiful.

Joe thanks Rob. He's been helpful and really shown us a lot today. Fredrik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is unique, beautiful and truly a place to visit. Thanks Rob.

Links ::

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Holiday Inn Express, Grand Rapids

Back to Top

GardenSMART Featured Article

By Dan Heims, president, Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.

So many perennials have faded, lost their verve, stopped blooming. Enter the coneflower! In the opinion of Dan, the author, of this article Terra Nova has created, in form and function, the best coneflowers on earth. To learn more click here for an informative article.

  Click here to sign up for our monthly NEWSLETTER packed with great articles and helpful tips for your home, garden and pets!  
Copyright © 1998-2012 GSPC. All Rights Reserved.