Located in Grand Rapids on the west side of Michigan’s lower peninsula, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is a 158-acre combination botanical garden, outdoor sculpture park, and art museum. The art and sculpture feature significant works of contemporary and modern art.
The sculpture park alone contains 30-acres of sculpture by 30 world-renowned artists, including Auguste Rodin, Edgar Degas, and Ai Weiwei. Judged to be one of the most comprehensive collections of outdoor sculptures in the Midwest, the sculptures are connected by trails, pathways, waterways, and walkways and showcased in a botanical garden setting.
At the beginning of 2021, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park opened a new 69,000-square-foot Welcome Center that showcases contemporary sculpture and horticulture components throughout the space. Before you go, here’s what you need to know about visiting Meijer Gardens.
Ways To Experience
At 158 acres, it can be a lot of walking, even just to see the highlights. Fortunately, the Guided Tram Tours function with a complete schedule from May 1 through September 30. Be aware the Tram Tours aren’t offered in January or February. The garden also provides adult-guided walking tours at specific dates and times on its website. Or use one of their maps to explore the gardens and sculpture park on your own. The venue has many nooks and trails that you won’t see through the tram tour. You can print a map to plan your route ahead of time.
If you bring along the grandkids, be aware of the Children’s Tram Tour that starts in front of the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden (more on this below) and takes them through a docent-led tour with singing at some significant sculptures. The tour takes art and relates it to a variety of children’s songs. For example, Are You Sleeping? is the song they sing in front of Sean Henry’s sculpture, Lying Man.
Meijer Gardens is open 362 days a year, closed only on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years’ Day. While Sundays they’re open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., the rest of the week they’re available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Tuesdays, they stay open until 7 p.m. I enjoy visiting in late summer or early fall, but the garden remains open year-round with something special for visitors every season.
Tickets aren’t sold in advance online. Admission for adults ages 14 to 64 is currently $14.50, and adults 65 and older pay only $11. Parking is free.
James And Shirley Balk Cafe
Even if you’re not hungry, stop by the James and Shirley Balk Cafe, or you’ll miss Dale Chihuly’s alluring glass ceiling sculpture. Named Lena’s Garden, the sculpture created from dozens of individual pieces of blown glass spans the ceiling in a rainbow of colors from cool greens to bright reds.
If you need sustenance during your hours in the garden, the cafe provides a selection of sandwiches and salads that run about $11. Kid’s meals are about $5.75. If you want something more substantial, you’ll also find several versions of macaroni and cheese that range from $6.95 to $8.95.
You’re also allowed to bring a picnic lunch and eat it in the garden; however, you cannot bring outside food and drink into the cafe.
Leonardo Di Vinci’s Horse
Animal sculptor Nina Akamu, inspired in part by Leonardo da Vinci’s late 15th-century plan, created a 24-foot bronze sculpture named American Horse. While da Vinci’s sculpture for the Duke of Milan never materialized, American sculptor Akamu created two models based on da Vinci’s drawings, one in the Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park and the other now in Milan, Italy. Today, Meijer Garden also features a miniature version modeled after the 8- and 24-foot sculptures. Akamu created the replica after the larger ones for the visually impaired.
Lena Meijer Children’s Garden
Lena Meijer Children’s Garden, a five-acre children’s garden inside the more extensive garden, offers various interactive, hands-on activities. I thought the fact that the kids can enter through their own small door and are greeted by a giant mouse sculpture was a fun touch.
You might be worried that a botanical garden and sculpture park will leave the grandkids pleading for an early exit, but that won’t happen here. The garden offers lots of activities for the kids — mazes and paths for exploring, tree houses and various other climbing structures, and an array of water features so they’ll never be bored. My grandkids and I especially liked the five senses gardens that offered large sculptures of body parts representing the senses and some accompanying plants, like a giant hand and a soft lamb’s ear plant. It’s so much fun; it may even be challenging to get them to leave at the end of the day.
Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park contains an 8-acre Japanese garden, which features a traditional Japanese garden landscape design. It’s a simple, minimalist setting intended to inspire meditation and reflection.
You’ll find four waterfalls within the Japanese garden. More than just a visual element, waterfalls also add to the sensual experience with sound. Nearby, Meijer Gardens’ acclaimed bonsai collection is thoughtfully displayed.
The Cherry Tree Promenade features Japanese flowering cherries, Japan’s national flower. In the spring, even the falling petals are pretty. In fall, Japanese maples offer a variety of leaf shapes and colors.
Editor’s Note: For more on the cultural significance of cherry blossoms, read up on Cherry Blossom Season In Japan: 10 Things to Know.
Bamboo, which symbolizes flexibility and strength, grows wild in Japan. I was surprised that some bamboo types are hardy enough to withstand Michigan winters. I always believed bamboo was a more tropical plant. I particularly enjoyed the scent of the Incense Bamboo, which smells similar to sandalwood.
An authentic Japanese teahouse is the garden’s highlight, where they offer traditional Japanese tea ceremonies through the Education department. Skilled Japanese artisans built the teahouse in Japan; then, it was dismantled, shipped to Meijer Gardens, and reassembled using traditional tools and techniques.
Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory
The five-story-tall, 15,000 square-foot Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory is the largest of its kind in Michigan, featuring over 500 flora species from five continents. You’ll find indoor tropical waterfalls and verdant vegetation. I particularly enjoyed the Conservatory’s Orchid Wall with a constantly changing 3,500-piece orchid collection. In addition to the plants and flowers, the Tropical Conservatory has tropical native birds raised in captivity. Some bird species living in the Conservatory include the Turquoise Tanager, the Bishop’s Weaver, and the Red-legged Honeycreeper, to name a few.
Spring Brings Blooms And Butterflies
Every spring brings Butterflies Are Blooming, the nation’s largest temporary butterfly exhibit featuring over 7,000 tropical butterflies flying freely throughout the space. You’ll find 60 different species in the five-story, 15,000 square-foot Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory. They set the Conservatory’s temperature at 85 degrees with 70 percent humidity. It’s the perfect environment to view a butterfly’s entire life cycle from caterpillar to butterfly. The colorful insects come from far-off places, including Kenya, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and the Philippines. Also in bloom during the exhibit are flowers like bleeding-heart vines, Jatropha, and orange plume flowers. The gardens typically have extended hours during April for this exhibit.
Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheater
The Amphitheater has a 1,900-person capacity in tiered lawn seating. This venue hosts the Fifth-Third Bank Outdoor Summer Concert Series. The stage has featured such artists as Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, the Steve Miller Band, and Willie Nelson. A visit to the garden culminating with a concert in the evening makes for a perfect day.
Michigan is a car state, and the garden isn’t located in downtown Grand Rapids, but rather a few miles away, so it’s best to have a car to reach the Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park easily. If you have more time, consider one of these other gorgeous gardens around Michigan as well. Or, love sculpture parks? Consider