By Rod King
Editor’s Note: Rod King is the author of a monthly column “Great Escapes” that will take readers to various locations throughout the country.
One of the leading cultural destinations in the Midwest is just a few hours away in Grand Rapids, Mich. It’s the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park that includes a botanical garden, a Japanese garden, children’s garden, a sculpture park, natural wetlands and an amphitheater that hosts concerts featuring major artists.
While exploring the sculpture collection, visitors will come across works by the likes of Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Roxy Paine and many more. In fact, the collection has works of more than 200 internationally acclaimed artists. But Meijer Gardens is not just for art and plant lovers. It’s a place for family fun, as well.
Sculptures of a couple of huge bears greet visitors to the Children’s Garden. Here there are a number of specific areas on different subjects, ranging from the Great Lakes Garden to a winding sculpture walk that promotes curiosity and exploration. It’s dotted with animal sculptures and works made of bicycle parts that look like animals. They even provide live entertainment spring, summer and fall.
Another great stop is Michigan’s Farm Garden, complete with a 1930s-era farmhouse, barn, windmill, sugar shack and, of course, flower and vegetable gardens.
One of the most outstanding venues is the 8-acre Japanese Garden that effectively uses space to highlight contrasts between still and rushing water, quietly intimate and expansive open spaces and manicured and natural areas. Contemporary sculptures are placed throughout the garden. Some of the plants, like bamboo and Japanese maple, are from Japan. Most, however, are native Michigan species.
Inside, the 15,000-square-foot, five-story Tropical Conservatory features a rock landscape with waterfall and flowing creek and a variety of exotic plants from around the world. Next to it is the arid/desert garden, carnivorous plant house and a greenhouse that changes its flower displays with the seasons. March and April is a great time to escape the cold and mingle with more than 7,000 butterflies fluttering freely in the Tropical Conservatory.
A brand new, 60,000-square-foot welcome center is presently under construction and is expected to be open in mid-2021. It’s all part of a $115 million expansion and renovation project that includes a transportation center, learning center and rooftop sculpture garden.
Meijer Gardens is open year-round and goes all out on its holiday decorations. Brightly lit and beautifully decorated trees celebrating traditions of countries from around the world turn it into a magical place. Visitors will find an amazingly intricate model railroad display 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 2 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. Sunday. There’s no charge to park.
There’s something for everyone at this 158-acre cultural attraction. Plan to spend between two and three hours taking in the unique art and the beautiful flower displays. And while there, have an enjoyable lunch in the café under an extensive Dale Chihuly glass sculpture on the ceiling. The gardens are closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
For more information, visit meijergardens.org.