Meijer Gardens celebrates 15 years of art, nature

Courtesy Photo /
Meijer Gardens

Courtesy Photo / Meijer Gardens

Danielle Slabbekoorn

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Named one of the 30 “must see” museums in the world, the Frederik Meijer Gardens has gained recognition among the world’s best-known art homes, such as the Van Gogh Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.

Created 15 years ago with donated land from Fred and Lena Meijer, owners of the Meijer shopping centers, the vision was to give the community a shared garden public area.

With the 72 acres, Fred Meijer also donated his own small collection of sculptures that “began the unique marriage between horticulture and sculpture that Meijer Gardens is known for,” said public relations specialist Amy Sawade.

“(Fred and Lena) are unique sculpture collectors because they have always collected for the public,” she said. “They have been incredible philanthropists in this community and the legacy they have built with Frederik Meijer Gardens will continue to impact the community for decades to come.”

Boasting an average of 500,000 visitors annually, the “Butterflies are Blooming” seasonal event brings in a total of 150,000 visitors alone.

“They just can’t resist the beautiful, colorful and tropical species in just a warm, welcoming place during the winter,” Sawade added. “Our sculpture exhibitions also bring art enthusiasts from around the world.”

The most popular exhibit was the Dale Chihuly “Color and Light” in 2003 that is still one of the gardens’ most well-attended to date.

“This is exciting for us because Chihuly is returning this summer,” she said. “We have grown tremendously, so we hope for an even bigger turnout for ‘Chihuly: A New Eden,’ the large-scale outdoor exhibition that is one of Chihuly’s most comprehensive displays ever.”

For Sawade, her favorite exhibit was the one with Jaume Plensa in the fall of 2008.

“Jaume displayed a large 24-foot sculpture made of letters that people could actually walk into,” she said. “It was so intriguing and interactive; in the indoor galleries, there was a series of large gongs that people could ring while they were viewing it as a work of art.”

Curator of arts education Heidi Holst said, “Usually my favorite exhibition is the one I am currently working on, so in this case, the upcoming Legacy exhibition.”

“Sculptors Celebrate the Legacy of Fred and Lena Meijer” is a celebration of the gardens’ 15-year anniversary and will incorporate new sculptures from various artists throughout the years, starting in June.

Holst has been with the Frederik Meijer Gardens for nine years and said she enjoys seeing the permanent collection continue to grow, along with the changing exhibitions.

According to the Meijer Gardens Web site, there are already 160 sculptures found throughout the park with pieces dating back from the second half of the 19th century to the present day.

The gardens also have garden trails and a conservatory collection that focus “primarily on representational animal imagery displayed in natural surroundings.”

Perhaps the most intriguing is its Kenneth E. Nelson Carnivorous Plant House hosting various species of carnivorous plants, including the Venus Fly Trap and pitcher plants from Africa and America.

The Frederik Meijer Gardens hosts a variety of events, concerts and special exhibitions throughout each year with a special emphasis on this year for its anniversary.

For more information on the gardens’ different attractions, upcoming events and ticket prices, visit its Web site at http://www.meijergardens.org.

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