Day 35: Meijer Gardens

Sculpture of people made out of metal letters. Photo by Chad Cramblet.

[box size=”large” border=”full”]Why it’s awesome: The Meijer Gardens boast a blend of natural beauty and incredible sculpture, making it a prime location to bring your children for an afternoon outside or to bring someone special for a romantic evening.[/box]

The name of Frederik Meijer is very well known throughout the state, due in large part to the Michigan based grocery store chain bearing his name. While it certainly can be fun to wander through the aisles of your neighborhood Meijer, perusing the hundreds of kinds of cereals and comparing the prices of name-brand goods with those of Meijer brand, the store is meant to be appreciated merely as a purveyor of goods. However, if you prefer to wander for hours looking at art and beautiful scenery, Mr. Meijer has something else up his sleeve: the Frederik Meijer Gardens.

Sculpture of Frederik Meijer and wife on bench. Photo by Chad Cramblet.

Located on the Beltline in Grand Rapids, Frederik Meijer Gardens is something of an oasis of art and natural beauty. With a permanent collection of outdoor sculptures that are scattered throughout the outdoor Sculpture Park, there is always something beautiful to look at. The Sculpture Park provides visitors with over 30 acres of beautifully landscaped terrain on which to meander, looking at the art of 30 renowned artists, including Auguste Rodin, Aristide Maillol, Jacques Lipchitz, Henry Moore, Louise Nevelson, Mark di Suvero, Magdalena Abakanowicz, and George Rickey. If none of those names sound familiar, that is all the more reason to attend!

Perhaps the most striking piece of art in the gardens is the American Horse –a 24 foot tall, bronze sculpture of a horse by Nina Akamu. The sculpture, modeled after plans by Leonardo da Vinci that never came to fruition, is likely the most popular sculpture in the gardens, providing a wonderful photo opportunity. After all, a photo with a giant horse who looks as though he is about to step on your head is the perfect Facebook profile picture!

Art of the garden flower. Photo by Chad Cramblet.

Another constant feature of Meijer Gardens is the indoor gardens, which give visitors the ability to examine the plants of various regions that are foreign to many Michiganders. The Tropical Conservatory is a six-story building providing 15,000 square feet of tropical paradise, with an array of plants from various countries. Fig trees from India, orchids from Central and South America, and bamboo/banana trees from Asia can all be found in the conservatory. The Gardens also boast the nation’s most comprehensive house of carnivorous plants.

While there are plenty of things to see and do on a regular basis, there are also constantly other things happening. Every April and May, the Meijer Gardens play host to “Butterflies are Blooming,” the largest temporary tropical butterfly exhibit in the nation. Featuring more than 6,000 tropical butterflies from more than 50 species, over 150,000 people visit the exhibit each year. If you’ve ever dreamed of a day when the skies were overflowing with butterflies, you should certainly pencil this into your calendar.

Ampitheater. Photo by Chad Cramblet.

Aside from the nearly 200 permanent sculptures on the premises, the gardens also host three additional temporary exhibits each year. These exhibits make use of the 4,000 square feet of indoor gallery space available and are often accompanied by sculptures placed outdoors in the gardens. Currently featured in the galleries is the exhibit “Actual, Factual Fables” by Laura Ford. Utilizing an array of materials and found objects, “Ford presents creatures that initially disarm or charm the viewer with humor and warmth, but are ultimately poignant reminders of the frailties of human condition or the inequities of social order,” according to the Meijer Gardens’ website. While adults might appreciate the social commentary, children will be drawn to the cute animals and delightful imagery present in the sculptures. But be careful to make sure your children don’t touch the sculptures or the uniformed security officer will frown at you!

The Summer Concert Series is another fixture of the Meijer Gardens as they play host to a wide array of local and nationally known bands. Hosting concerts in their beautiful outdoor amphitheater, the gardens have welcomed acts such as B.B. King, Art Garfunkel, and Willie Nelson. This year, headliners include Steve Martin, Jeff Daniels (a Michigan native!), Bright Eyes, and many more.

Art of the Gardens horticulture submissions. Photo by Chad Cramblet.

Also being featured this weekend is “Art of the Gardens,” the biannual flower show sponsored by the Kent County Gardening Society. In one of the ballrooms, several tables featuring the pride and joy of many local gardeners are waiting to be judged by you! Each person who enters is given a ballot and is given the opportunity to vote for both their favorite display and their favorite piece of horticulture. (Just a tip: the horticulture section is made up of branches and flowers that are supposed to be near perfect. Apparently symmetry is something that is treasured in such competitions, so bare that in mind!) Each of the displays is inspired by a sculpture present at the Meijer Gardens.

The Frederik Meijer Gardens may not have 17 different kinds of canned beans or dozens of flavors of potato chips, but it more than makes up for it. Aside from the aforementioned permanent sculptures and cycling exhibits, there is also a children’s garden, many informational classes, and a plethora of seasonal events. The gardens are open year round and make for a fun, and classy, alternative to a day at Chuck E. Cheese or a date night out to a movie. ~Chad Cramblet, Regional Director.

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The Awesome Mitten was born when I moved back to Michigan from Nashville, TN in September 2010. Almost immediately, I became frustrated. I couldn’t figure out why there weren’t more Michigan residents singing our states praises! I was so irritated, I wrote a Letter to the Editor. Three weeks later, I had started a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a landing page for the website, determined to do something to make Michigan residents aware of all the cool things going on in their own state. Email me: alex@awesomemitten.com