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Konnichi Wa, Grand Rapids!

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    Five miles east of Grand Rapids lie the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, a rare jewel in the crown of West Michigan’s already diverse regional offering of activities, entertainment, and the great outdoors. This particular venue combines these three categories. Named for the late founder of the eponymous supermarket chain, the gardens host 132 acres of green houses, flower displays, and a truly amazing outdoor sculpture park.

    Water lilies decorate the pond surface.
    Water lilies decorate the pond surface.

    Nature paths take visitors alongside a marsh to see natural wildlife, a children’s garden with fun activities, and a gift shop and cafe. The Gardens were founded in April of 1995, since which time it has hosted millions of visitors, and the park has since grown greatly to include over 200 masterpieces by artists from all over the world. The Sculpture Park, which features prominently in the ArtPrize events that I wriote about includes the works of dozens of artists from around the world, ranging from oldie-but-goodie Auguste Rodin to the more contemporary Anish Kapoor.

    The newest addition to the garden, which opened on June 13th, 2015, is The Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden. This 8-acre garden features two large ponds surrounded by many winding paths and bridges that allow visitors to be taken away into a peaceful Japanese setting. Japanese designer Hoichi Kurisu is well known in both Japan and the United States as an experienced designer of gardens, including the likes of Rockford’s Anderson Japanese Gardens and the Dubuque Arboretum. Kurisu uses the natural flow and elemental qualities of each piece of the garden to form a dynamic space. You can either follow the visitor map or, if you’re feeling adventurous as I was, just allow yourself to wander along the paths and move wherever nature takes you.

    Do not enter, Japanese Garden style
    No placard, not taped off, but still “do not enter,” Japanese Garden style

    There were no details left out in the Japanese garden. Even the areas that were blocked off from visitors were artfully crafted, and there are many Japanese trees and plants labeled along the paths that provide learning opportunities for amateur horticulturalists and the more seasoned nature-lovers alike.

    There are also wonderful pieces of artwork that were chosen to match the Japanese style. My favorite work was created by Jenny Holzer, titled For the Garden. It consists of thirteen boulders placed all around the garden, each with a quote carved into its face. Some of these are short and simple while others are more complex and difficult to understand. They are scattered all around the garden for visitors to stumble upon and discover. If you aren’t about the hunt, the location of each boulder is marked on the visitor map.

    There are also multiple waterfalls, a tea house with ceramics demonstrations, a bonsai tree garden, and even the iconic zen garden. This dry rock garden was created as a representation of land and water, the large boulders being the earth and the pebbles, the water. The designs of the small pebbles are reset every week with expert designers scraping along with special rakes to create the patterns. Zen gardens are places for quiet thinking and reflection. At the Meijer Gardens there is also a children’s zen garden, sponsored by PNC Bank,  located inside the main building with creative activities for the whole family.

    Visitors get in for a reasonable $12 (for adults, or $9 with a student ID) and can enjoy the Japanese Garden as well as the many other wonders offered by the park.

    Have you been to The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park? Comment below with your favorite sculpture, feature, or exhibit!

    All photos by Alison Mosher.

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