He loved sculpture, she loved gardens and since they loved each other, Frederik Meijer, the billionaire discount supermarket and gas station magnate, and his wife Lena compromised and founded the unique Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a priceless mix of the arts of nature and of man.
Meijer was born in Greenville, Michigan to Dutch émigrés parents. Following his father’s death, Frederik took over the family grocery store, married one of its cashiers and grew the business into the Meijer Corporation.
As the Corporation expanded into mid-Western states, the Meijer family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is there that their love of sculpture, gardens and strong commitment to philanthropy led to the foundation of the exquisite Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.
The Gardens & Park cover 132 barrier-free acres designed by renowned landscape architect James van Sweden and spectacular four-season plantings by garden designer Penelope Hobhouse. The Meijers’ entire sculpture collection of 300 works that focus on the works of established and emerging sculptors is scattered among 25 acres of lush, non-manicured vegetation, major pieces by Rodin, Segal, Nevelson, Rickey, Bourgeois, Dine, Lipchitz, Nash, Lichtenstein, Caro, Serra, to name but a few. Nina Akamu’s 24-foot-tall bronze horse is a stunning homage to a Leonardo commission for the Duke of Milan.
Lena Meijer’s gardens are indoors and out. Inside the Gardens’ serpentine-designed building are a Seasonal Garden, an English Perennial Garden, a Tropical Conservatory, an Arid cacti-filled Garden and a Carnivorous Plant Garden. Outdoors, the Lena Meier Children’s Garden is a magical venue for children of all ages. It contains a Story-Telling Garden, a Marshall Fredericks sculpture walk of clowns, dragons and the like, a Tree House Village, a Log Cabin, a Kid-Sense Garden, everything that keeps children fascinated.
Her Michigan’s Farm Garden is a replica of the farm on which she grew up, complete with her farmhouse, 100-year-old barn, sugar shack, windmill, and heirloom vegetable and flower beds. Bronze pigs, goats, sheep and horses “inhabit” their pens and the fields are enclosed by bronze stump fences.
The Meijer Gardens continue to grow with the support of the Meiers’ many friends. An 8-acre, $22 million Japanese Garden, designed by landscape architect Hoichi Kirusu, is under construction using only imported workers and materials from Japan. It will be named the Richard and Helen Devos Garden in honor of its sponsor, the co-founder of Amway.
A minimum of 4 hours is needed to enjoy the Gardens on foot or on trams that tour the grounds. Double that and lunch at the Taste of the Gardens Café with its multi-colored Dale Chiluly light fixture is even better.
Location: 1000 East Beltline Avenue NE, Grand Rapids Charter Township, MI 49525 Tel: (616) 957-1580
Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM Sunday: 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Admission: (includes admission to all special exhibitions) Adults: $12. Seniors/Students: $9. Children: $6. or $4. according to age