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 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
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
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.
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
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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.
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.
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By Dan Heims, president, Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
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