Located in Grand Rapids in western Michigan, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is a 158-acre combination botanical garden, outdoor sculpture park, and art museum. The art and sculpture feature important works of contemporary and modern art. The park combines Frederik Meijer’s love of sculptures with his wife Lena’s love of gardens, creating a significant art museum.
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.
Before you go, here’s what you need to know about visiting Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.
The Welcome Center
The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park shouts sculpture from the minute you walk through the doors. The recently-renovated 69,000-square-foot Welcome Center showcases the work of Spanish artist Jaume Plensa in a sculpture piece, Utopia, that surrounds all four walls of the center’s Garden Pavilion. Created in Barcelona from white marble sourced in Vietnam, each of the 19-by-86-foot walls features a different face. Predominantly a figurative artist, Plensa’s work celebrates the similarities among seemingly diverse cultures.
If you enjoy this sculpture, you’ll find more of his work in the outdoor garden, where they have a three-figure grouping entitled I, you, she or he. The artist also has a similar piece in downtown Grand Rapids, across from the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.
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 (PDF) 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.
The Mobility Center offers complimentary wheelchairs and electric carts on a first come, first served basis to help traverse the massive grounds.
Meijer Gardens is open 362 days a year, closed only on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years’ Day. While Sundays are 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.
Spring Brings Blooms And Butterflies
Every spring, the indoor garden 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.
Summer At The Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheater
Ivy grows up the stage with various flora decorating the front at Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheater. Take some lawn chairs for added comfort to the tiered lawn seating where the Fifth-Third Bank Outdoor Summer Concert Series hosts artists such as Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, and Willie Nelson. A visit to the garden culminating with a concert in the evening makes for a perfect day.
Fall Features Chrysanthemums & More
The autumn celebration of Chrysanthemums & More in the garden adds color and life as the summer flowers fade. The colors explode into an entire wall of chrysanthemums in the Grace Jarecki Seasonal Display Greenhouse while others line the walks in the outdoor gardens. Other fun events include Fall Family Day, the Fall Bonsai Show, and Hallowee-Ones.
Celebrate Winter With The Christmas & Holiday Traditions
You might think winter isn’t the best time to visit a garden in Michigan, but with more than 350,000 lights, the holidays are bright in the gardens. They offer more than 45 displays representing the holidays, past and present, folklore, and fact. New this year is an immersive light experience at the outdoor theater. Our family has model train enthusiasts, so we always enjoy the Railway Garden during the holidays.
Pro Tip: Tickets aren’t sold in advance online. Admission for adults ages 14–64 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.
The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden
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 the 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. At this indoor garden, you’ll find 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.
Kenneth E. Nelson Carnivorous Plant House
Another favorite plant category, especially with the grandkids, is the carnivorous plants. The Carnivorous Plant House features all types of meat-eating plants. The Venus fly traps are relatively common, but you’ll also see butterworts, pitcher plants, and sundews. Be sure to visit this exhibit with the grandkids and you’ll become known as the “cool” grandparent.
If you have more time, consider one of these other gorgeous gardens around Michigan as well. Love sculpture parks? Consider these: