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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

MI Garden History: Meijer Gardens - Grand Rapids, Michigan (Part 2 of 3 - Indoor Gardens)

PART 2: Frederik Meijer Gardens - Grand Rapids, MI - The History the Indoor Gardens

This is a continuation of the history of Frederik Meijer Gardens. Part 1 included an overview of  the garden facilities as well as the history of Frederik Meijer and his family.  You can read part one here:

Frederik Meijer Gardens Address & Contact Information:

1000 East Beltline Ave NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
(888) 957-1580
(616) 957-1580

According to the Frederik Meijer Garden's website, "Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park opened in April 1995 after 13 years of planning and fundraising by the West Michigan Horticultural Society...It is a non-profit organization, privately funded by grants, foundations and individual and corporate gifts. The organization is operated by almost 200 full and part-time staff, more than 800 volunteers and supported by gifts from more than 23,000 member households and many donors."   There are also currently 13 horticulturists working in the various gardens.  The following is a history of some of the major donors, gardeners and garden designers. A list of donors to the garden can be found at

 History of the Indoor Gardens:
There are 5 indoor gardens at Meijer Gardens.  These include: 
1.  The Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory,
2.  The Kenneth E. Nelson Carnivorous Plant House,
3.  The Earl & Donna Lee Holton Arid Garden,
4. The Earl & Donna Lee Holton Victorian Garden, and
5. The Grace Jarechi Seasonal Display Greenhouse

The Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory is a 15,000 square foot glass house that contains over 500 species of plants from 5 continents. It is also home to the largest butterfly exhibition in the nation. 

The conservatory was named for Lena Meijer. Lena Meijer was born Lena Rader, the daughter of German Lutheran immigrants.  She worked as a cashier in Lakeview, Michigan before she met and married Frederik Meijer. After their marriage, she helped to raise Frederik's sons and helped out with the store.  She is a major contributor to Meijer gardens, even today.

Philip diGiacomo and his firm, diGiacomo Inc., created the rockwork that is in the Lena Meijer Conservatory.  The plants for the conservatory were selected by Stephen Rosselet.  Stephen is a garden designer based in Grand rapids. 

Stephen Rosselet also worked to design the gardens for the  Earl & Donna Lee Holton Arid Garden, and the Earl & Donna Lee Holton Victorian Garden. The Arid Garden features cacti, agaves and succulents while the Victorian Garden features other warm weather and delicate plants.  These gardens were named for Earl and
Roof of the glasshouse in the background.
Donna Lee Holton who donated funds to help build these areas in the garden.

Earl Holton was born in Manton, Michigan on January 23, 1934.  He was a minister's son who moved from town to town often with his family as a child.  In 1948 he moved to Greenville, Michigan.  In 1952 he married Donna Lee.  Earl worked as one of the clerks at the Greenville Meijer store starting in 1952.  He worked loyally for Meijer for a long time and eventually became the President of Meijer Inc. from 1980-1985.   

Donna Lee Holton (born Donna Lee Engle) grew up in Cedar Springs, Michigan. In 1969 she volunteered at Butterworth Hospital where she raised funds to support the hospital.  By 1992 she became president of the auxiliary guild at Butterworth Hospital.  By 2000 she was serving as the chair of the DeVos Children's Hospital Board of Trustees.  The ninth-floor playroom at DeVos Children's hospital is named the "Donna Lee Holton Playroom" in honor of her service to the hospital. In addition, she was the president of the Kent Intermediate School District board and served on the public education fund board and the Michigan Educational Trust board.

A pitcher plant in the Kenneth E. Nelson Carnivorous Plant House.
Earl & Donna Lee Holton also did quite a bit of philanthropic work for other organizations including: the Cook Institute for Research and Education, Renucci Hospitality House, The Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center, United Way, Ferguson Hospital, Grand Valley State University, The Right Place, and the Grand Rapids Symphony.  They were a very busy and generous couple!

The Kenneth E. Nelson Carnivorous Plant House was named for a father and husband of a Grand Rapids family who loved Meijer gardens.  He donated funds in order to have a permanent display in his name at the gardens. This plant house is now home to many meat-eating plants from around the globe including venous fly traps and pitcher plants.

 The Grace Jarechi Seasonal Display Greenhouse was named for Grace Jarecki, the past president of the Kent Garden Club which was started in 1913. She is wife to Clarence Jarecki, the former owner of Jarecki Machine and Tool Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Seasonal Display Greenhouse changes displays throughout the year.  In early spring, the "Butterflies are Blooming" display is set up here.  The "Railway Garden" is also set up during the holiday season.  Both of these displays are favorites with the guests who visit Meijer Gardens.

These indoor gardens are wonderful because they allow people to visit the gardens year round and so that they can view plants that could never survive outdoors in Michigan weather. They bring a little of the tropics home to our state. 


Special thanks to Shelly Kilroy, the Librarian/Archivist for Meijer Gardens, for providing information about many of the donors and gardeners.

Meijer, Hendrik G. The Life of Hendrik Meijer: Thrifty Years. Wm. B. Eardmans Publishing Co. 1984

Frederik Meijer Gardens:

Info on Earl & Donna Lee Holton: 

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