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Springtime in the Sculpture Garden

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer 4/1/2012

As spring arrives, the Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids offers a wonderful afternoon experience. The soaring glass roofline of the tropical plant conservatory was one of the first signs that we’d arrived somewhere special. Visiting the gardens in early spring offers a bright green backdrop for the 160 or so world-class outdoor sculptures.

We stopped at the Taste of the Gardens Café to gather our strength. The cafe offered a nice selection of sandwiches and salads. The butternut bisque was exceptionally tasty. We ate under a huge sculpture by world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. Comprised of dozens of individual blown-glass pieces, the sculpture looked like fantastic flowers and leaves on winding vine across the ceiling.

The tram offered a great way to see the most significant pieces of the sculpture collection.  Running until March through December, the narrated 45-minute trip was a great way to get acquainted with this very significant (and large) sculpture collection. For those more athletic and hardier than us, walking tours were offered with audio headsets.

My first glimpse was of The American Horse by sculptor Nina Akamu towering 24 feet tall against the blue sky. The bronze warhorse, tossing its head in mid-step, was designed from original drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci.

As our volunteer narrator told us with a smile, “Placing sculptures outside allowed them to be much larger than ones displayed in your living room.” Boy, she wasn’t kidding. Many of the pieces were simply huge, like the red Aria by Alexander Liberman. Others like Eve, by Auguste Rodin, were both more traditional and more human scale.       We went by the Michigan Farm Garden. It’s a 1930s era farm setting complete with a 100-year-old barn and replica of Mrs. Meijer’s childhood farmhouse. The farm is one place of interest to children but the real attraction for them is the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden, one of the largest of its kind in the nation. Woodland tree houses and a log cabin, an interactive water garden, and a butterfly maze were a few things to see in this special five-acre garden.

Once our tram ride was finished, we wandered through the warm and humid glass conservatories with their Victorian era and desert plant displays. The five story high Tropical Conservatory is the largest of its kind in Michigan. Until the end of April, the conservatory is filled with some 6,000 tropical butterflies flying free, the annual Butterflies are Blooming Exhibit. This is the biggest temporary tropical butterfly exhibit in the nation.

Plants from five continents fill the conservatory, along with a waterfall and several benches to rest and soak it all in. The orchid wall designed in memory of Anne Frank and all the children of the Holocaust provided a somber moment.

The 132-acre Meijer Gardens opened 16 years ago through the generosity of Frederik and Lena Meijer, the family behind the Meijer stores. The Meijers donated the land and their entire sculpture collection to start the organization.

Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park was designed as a special place where the art of nature and the art of humans combine in an irresistible harmony. It proved to be a wonderful place to spend a spring afternoon immersed in both.

If you visit:

Mon, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat: 9 am-5 pm

Tues: 9 am-9 pm

Sun: 11 am-5 pm

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