As summer approaches, you’ll want to dust off the winter doldrums and get outside. Michigan summers reveal beautiful public gardens overflowing with colorful blooms. Each of these gardens features something more than gorgeous flowers; you’ll find everything from windmills to railroads in these Michigan gardens. Here are seven Michigan gardens you won’t want to miss.
1. Dow Gardens
Located in Midland, Dow Gardens is a year-round venue with over 1,700 plants. While this 110-acre garden requires extensive walking, you can take a self-guided tour using an interactive GIS map. I enjoyed a guided tour via a golf cart, but you need to call ahead to reserve the golf cart tour, for which they charge a small fee. The excursion provides a good overview of the garden and its history. Plan to spend about two hours at Dow Gardens. Be sure to take a minute and get your picture taken in front of the pond feed waterfall.
The Conservatory is a glass-walled building that is home to orchids, bonsai, and begonias. In winter, they add a 13-foot poinsettia tree, and in spring, it becomes a butterfly house and houses up to 3,000 butterflies.
Within Dow Gardens, you’ll find Herbert H. Dow’s home, The Pines, built in 1899. Today The Pines is a National Historic Landmark, where historical interpreters lead tours of the house. It’s still furnished with the Dow family’s furniture and decor and provides a look into their life.
Dow Garden’s Whiting Forest showcases 54 acres of woodlands that include the longest canopy walk in the United States at 1,400 feet long; it rockets up to 40 feet off the ground.
Pro Tip: You’ll find one and a half miles of ADA-accessible hard-surface paths within the Whiting forest area of Dow Gardens.
2. Windmill Island Garden
Located on the edge of downtown Holland, Windmill Island Gardens features over 100,000 tulips that bloom in late April or early May annually. In summer, the tulips give way to a variety of annual flowers and verdant plants.
The 250-year-old working Dutch windmill, named De Zwaan, meaning graceful bird or swan, was brought to Windmill Island Garden from the Netherlands in 1964. It’s believed to be the last windmill allowed out of the Netherlands.
West Michigan farmers grow the soft white winter wheat that the windmill grinds into flour, and they sell to tourists and the community from the Molenwinkel Shop in the windmill. The windmill is 125 feet tall from the ground to the top of the blades and you can take a self-guided tour while it is open.
The garden is a seasonal park, opening in April of every year and closing in October. With more than 30 acres and many attractions to explore, you’ll want to allow a minimum of two hours for your visit. You should plan three hours during Tulip Time due to the increased number of people.
Pro Tip: Visit during Tulip Time, which begins the first Saturday in May and runs through the week, finishing on Sunday. Typically, this is when the most tulips bloom, and the festival offers dozens of Dutch-themed activities to add to the fun.
Editor’s Note: Love tulips? Don’t miss The 8 Best Tulip Festivals In The U.S.
3. Hidden Lake Gardens
Situated in Michigan’s Irish Hills region in Tipton, Michigan State University owns and operates Hidden Lake Gardens. You’ll want to be sure to put on your comfortable hiking boots when you explore this 755-acre paradise that includes a 120-acre arboretum featuring maples, lilacs, crabapples, and evergreens. Within the 12 miles of hiking trails, the year-round gardens include Hosta Hillside, the Dwarf and Rare Conifers, and rhododendrons. With six miles of paved driving trails, those with limited mobility can enjoy the sights and sound of the gardens, too. The trail system also features a wheelchair-accessible path.
Their dual-domed Conservatory displays tropical plants like cacao and papaya, those from arid climates like cactus, and flowering houseplants, such as orchids. Stop by the Visitor’s Center for an orientation to the grounds, where you’ll also find a library, some exhibits, and a gift shop. Their building also includes a picnic shelter, where reservations aren’t required.
Pro Tips: They do have guided tours available but call ahead to request them. Hidden Lake Garden welcomes well-behaved pets that adhere to their guidelines.
4. Fernwood Botanical Garden
Along the scenic St. Joseph River Valley in southwest Michigan, you’ll find Fernwood Botanical Garden between Niles and Buchanan. The 105-acre Fernwood sits at the intersection of nature, people, and plants. It was a pleasant surprise to see young deer and other wildlife casually wandering through the gardens during my visit.
Bird watchers will enjoy the over 177 bird species spotted throughout the garden’s diverse habitats. While you’re likely to spot common birds like wild turkeys and blue herons, you also may catch a glimpse of rarer birds such as the bald eagle and the threatened common loon. Check their website as they offer a variety of classes at their Education Center.
Fernwood Botanical Garden features the four-level Outdoor Railway Garden with detailed miniature gardens. Each level features a train for a total of 510 feet of track making its way through and around mountain tunnels, a 6-foot-tall mountain range, and a stream flowing into a 10-foot-wide lake. The Railway Garden also features a 7-foot waterfall.
Pro Tip: Stop by the Nature Center to see the bird feeding stations. Starting in early May, they’re a magnet for various species, including ruby-throated hummingbirds, indigo buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and Baltimore orioles.
5. W. J. Beal Botanical Garden
East Lansing’s Michigan State University is home to the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden, the oldest continuously operating university botanical garden in the United States. The five-acre garden features more than 5,000 plant species that you can explore for free.
Pro Tip: Michigan State University doesn’t permit animals or bicycles in the garden.
6. University Of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Garden
Located on Ann Arbor’s east side, you’ll find Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum on the University of Michigan’s Central Campus. Open sunrise to sunset through all four seasons, the garden offers five hiking trails, all under a mile long. The 11 different gardens here will take you from the orient in the Bonsai and Penjing Garden back home to the Great Lakes Garden any day of the week. Another attractive garden is the medicinal garden, where you’ll learn about the hidden power of plants.
While no dogs are allowed at Matthaei Botanical Garden, they are welcome on a leash at the Arb.
Pro Tip: Enter at the Washington Heights gate to access the two suggested wheelchair routes. Although neither of these paths is paved, they are mostly smooth.
7. Frederik Meijer Garden And Sculpture Park
Positioned on the northeast side of Grand Rapids, Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park sits on a 158-acre campus with indoor and outdoor areas that are all barrier-free and accessible.
Since I love art, I was impressed by the Children’s Tram, a docent-led tour that transitions the kiddos from the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden to the sculpture park and gardens. The docents engage the children with the sculptures by leading sing-alongs that relate to the statues. For example, they sing the song “Are You Sleeping?” atthe Lying Man by Sean Henry.
The Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory is a five-story, 15,000-square-foot facility that features a world of tropical plants. You’ll find exotic orchids from South America, fig trees from India, and banana plants and bamboo from Asia. The Conservatory is particularly fun in March and April during The Fred and Dorothy Fichter Butterflies Are Blooming exhibit, the largest of its kind in the nation, which features over 6,000 tropical butterflies flying free within the Conservatory.
Pro Tip: A full schedule of Guided Tram Tours run through the sculpture park May 1 through September 30. No trams run in January or February, although the garden remains open year-round.
Many of these gardens have reciprocal agreements when you purchase a money-saving membership. If you have the grandkids along, know that all these gardens have children’s gardens within them, except the W. J. Beal Botanical Garden at Michigan State University, which has the Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden nearby.