From springtime butterflies to a 24-foot horse, there’s much to see and do at Meijer Gardens in West Michigan. Wind your way through the tranquil pathways of the Japanese Garden and don’t miss out on your kids exploring the Children’s Garden!
The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park encompasses 158 acres of indoor and outdoor botanical and artistic experiences, just outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan. With outdoor trails and nature areas, the campus offers plenty of space for a socially-distanced visit.
Built in 1995, Meijer Gardens has added to its original footprint, now offering both indoor and outdoor experiences year-round. Along with many permanent exhibits, you’ll find an annual springtime butterfly exhibit as well as their wintertime holiday exhibition.
Lena Meijer Children’s Garden
Over the years, as a West Michigan resident, I’ve visited Meijer Gardens several times with my family. When my kids were small, they loved the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden. Prepare to spend a lot of time wandering this area with your kids as they explore.
Every part of this garden is interactive. From the Mouse Hole kid-sized gate at the entrance, to the Treehouse Village and Rock Quarry, there’s plenty here to get kids excited and involved. Yes, they will probably get wet – and muddy. But they will experience nature with all five of their senses.
My kids’ undeniable favorite was always the Great Lakes Garden. Even in cooler weather, they loved splashing in the waterways of this raised water play exhibit. And my husband and I appreciated the surrounding benches that let us relax and watch when we needed a break. But really, who can resist water and boats? We were usually splashing along right with them.
Regular storytelling and other events are held in the Children’s Garden, including special offerings for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and more.
The Meijer Gardens Sculpture Park features works by world-renowned artists such as Auguste Rodin, Dale Chihuly, and Edgar Degas. Many sculptures are spread throughout the entire campus, but most are collected in this specific area. Paved pathways allow you to wander as much as you want and explore at your own pace through fields, woods and waterways.
On my most recent visit to Meijer Gardens this past summer, a close friend and I took our teen daughters. With older kids, we could explore further and more in depth than when they were younger, and the girls loved posing for selfies and taking photos and videos to share on social media.
There’s a lot to see here, both manmade and in nature. In one portion of the sculpture park, waterfalls flow into a large koi pond where you can simply sit and relax at your leisure. You never know what to expect around the next bend – beautiful foliage or incredible works of art that you can walk right up to.
The American Horse
This 24-foot bronze sculpture was brought to life by Nina Akamu in 1999, based on drawings by Leonardo da Vinci for a project that he never completed. There were only two created – one in Italy, and the other here at the Meijer Gardens.
It’s truly an epic sight to stand near, and you can even pose for pictures right underneath.
Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden
This beautiful, tranquil area was added to the gardens in 2015 and was the highlight of our experience this summer. I think we explored just about every path in the Japanese Garden. The area is centered on a large pond, with waterfalls, boulders, bridges, trees, flowers, and of course art, everywhere.
You can walk right down to the water’s edge and follow winding stone pathways, or stay on the paved trail to explore. Nature pulls you in from every direction from the sounds of the wind to the smells of the trees and the feel of the path under your feet and the branches swaying as you pass by. Some of the paths closer to the water are made of stepping stones or other material that is difficult or impossible to traverse on wheels, so if you have a stroller or wheelchair in your group you’ll want to stay on the higher paved pathways.
A spiral path leads upward to the highest elevation in the garden for a beautiful view. There is also a gazebo right on the water and a Japanese tea house. Several areas are clearly meant for quiet reflection and scattered benches also offer places to relax and simply enjoy the environment.
Michigan’s Farm Garden
The only one of the many gardens that I have yet to explore is the Michigan’s Farm Garden. I know that it offers a look into what life was like for farmers in our state during the 1930s. A variety of plants and vegetables can be found there as well as sculptures of farm animals and a 3/4 scale replica of an actual farmhouse. I can’t wait until my next visit to learn more about and experience this garden.
The Amphitheater Garden is the usual location for an annual outdoor summer concert series. My husband and I were fortunate enough to see the Indigo Girls here several years ago. The garden makes for a wonderful backdrop for live music and the amphitheater offers a variety of seating options. Our seats were near the rear, but we still had great views and loved the ambiance.
The Fifth Third Bank Summer Concerts were on hold for 2020, but I look forward to seeing what future concert seasons will bring.
Indoor Gardens and Conservatories
Along with beautiful gardens outdoors, there are several indoor spaces that aren’t to be missed. My kids love the unique carnivorous plant house – the only dedicated display of carnivorous plants in the United States.
The five-story Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory displays more than 500 species of plants in a lush setting. Tropical birds also make this area their home, and every spring you can visit the annual Butterflies Are Blooming exhibit here to see and walk among thousands of tropical butterflies. It’s really an incredible experience to have butterflies land right on your head or shoulders as you walk along and explore.
From the tropics to the desert… On our visit this past summer, the teens really enjoyed the succulents and cacti of the Earl and Donnalee Holton Arid Garden. We don’t see many of these kinds of plants naturally here in the Midwest, so it’s fun to explore!
Other indoor gardens include the Victorian Garden Parlor and the Seasonal Display Greenhouse.
One note for 2020: Masks are required in the indoor spaces at Meijer Gardens.
Celebrate the Holidays at Meijer Gardens
From November 24, 2020 until January 4, 2021, you can experience the Metro Health Christmas & Holiday Traditions exhibition. This year’s theme is Handcrafted, and brings a look into what it takes to create holiday traditions by hand.
Social Distancing and Remote Learning
The year 2020 has undeniably been like no other, especially for tourist destinations and community events. The Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is no exception, but there are ways to still allow people around the world to explore the gardens and artwork.
While masks are currently required in the indoor spaces at Meijer Gardens, there is plenty of space outdoors to explore mask-free. When we visited on a Saturday in August 2020, the botanic garden was definitely on the crowded side, but groups made sure to pass with as much distance as possible. Note that some pathways, especially in the Japanese Garden are narrow, so many people do put their masks on to pass.
Not all of the usual events are taking place in 2020, so make sure to check the website for the most up-to-date news, along with additional information on safety procedures and the latest covid-19 requirements. See more info at meijergardens.org/covid.
If you aren’t yet ready to travel, Meijer Gardens offers virtual events, virtual field trips for classrooms and remote learning opportunities for educators.
The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is located on East Beltline Ave. NE in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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