On Saturday Andrew and I got up really early, well, early for a Saturday at least and traveled 1 1/2 hours West of here to visit the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.  It was a stunning late Fall day, very cold but with the promise of sunshine later.  We’d had our first frost overnight and had to scrape the car before we could set off at 8am, and it was still only 2C when we piled in the car.  It’s a very boring drive, about 1 1/2 hours  on a straight freeway to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Frederik Meijer is a retailer and philanthropist, born and raised in Michigan.  His Dutch born father, Hendrik Meijer, opened the first store in 1934, during the Great Depression, offering better prices than the competition and continuously searching for cheaper prices on staples of the day, the then 14 yr old Frederik worked as a grocery bagger after school.  The chain now boasts almost 200 stores, more than half of them in Michigan, the others in surrounding states.  In 1962, under the direction of Frederik, Meijer pioneered the very first hypermarket in the world, bringing a full service grocery store and a large department store together for the first time under one roof, and I bet you all thought that was Walmart that did that!  We shop at our local Meijers frequently, they stock everything from a garden centre to windscreen wipers, clothes to kitchen gadgets and craft items to bird seed.  They also have a sizable grocery section and make a huge effort to promote local businesses in Michigan, especially farmers.  Their produce is direct from the growers and very fresh, and hardly any of it is ready bagged.

But, back to the gardens.  The site of 150 acres and all of the sculptures contained within it were donated by Frederik and his wife Lena.  I haven’t been in about 10 years, and the last time I went was in the middle of the summer and it was heaving with people, but early on a cold Fall morning there was hardly anyone else around until well past lunch.  The site is made up of the main buildings, which include botanical hot houses, a botanical library, art exhibition rooms, conference and wedding venues, a large shop and a cafe.  These are surrounded by beautifully planted perennial gardens designed in part by British plantswomen extraordinaire, Penelope Hobhouse, with waterfalls and ponds, a spectacular and fun childrens garden, a traditional Michigan farmstead  and a large outdoor ampitheatre for shows and concerts.  Outside of this are about 80 acres or so of natural wooded landscape with boardwalks, wetlands and meandering paths and all of the large, outdoor sculptures.  These include works from all over the world and from such notable artists as Anthony Gormley, Barbara Hepworth, Dale Chihuly, Rodin and Henry Moore.  In fact, in May 2009, the sculpture park was named as one of the worlds Top 30 museums and is now Michigans second largest tourist attraction too.

So now *some* photos.  It’s a bit picture heavy, so you might want to get a cup of tea or something and settle in!!

[Rodin’s “Eve”]

[This double slate curving wall is actually a waterfall]

[This “driftwood” horse is Andrew’s favourite sculpture in the park, and although it looks like driftwood it’s actually bronze]

[Henry Moore]

[One of the trails with the hothouses in the background]

[American Viceroy butterfly on wild Asters]

[This is my favourite sculpture.  There’s three of these men made from stainless steel alphabet mesh]

[Although this Neuron comes a pretty close second for just being so darn wild!]

[This American Horse is perhaps the most famous exhibit in the park.  Conceived and designed over 500 years ago by Leonardo DaVinci, he never managed to complete the massive two story horse in his lifetime, the closest he came was a life size clay replica in 1499 for the Duke of Milan.  It was destroyed by a French invasion in 1500.  Years later, Frederik Meijer provided the funding for renowned American horse sculptor, Nina Akamu, to complete the project, and not only to complete the project, but to make two of the 24ft tall horses, the second of which was presented to the city of Milan in a ceremony that took place 500 years after the original clay horse was destroyed.]

I hadn’t intended for this post to be so long, I’ve got more photos to show you of the seasonal Chrysanthemum displays and the orchids in the hothouses.  And I haven’t even introduced you to the work of Dale Chihuly.  I’ll save that treat for another day.