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Monday, March 23, 2015

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

PART 3: Frederik Meijer Gardens - Grand Rapids, MI - The History the Outdoor 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 1 here: PART 1
Part 2 was about the history of the indoor gardens.  You can read part 2 here: PART 2

Frederik Meijer Gardens Address & Contact Information:

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

There are 7 main outdoor gardens at Meijer Gardens.  These include: 
1.  The Gwen Frostic Woodland Shade Garden,  
2.  The Leslie E. Tassell English and Perennial Bulb Garden
3. The Jennifer C. Groot American Garden
4. The Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden,  
5. The Lena Meijer Children's Garden,
6. The Michigan's Farm Garden, and
7. The Amphitheater Garden

A print from
The Gwen Frostic Woodland Shade Garden includes many native, woodland, and shade plants.   The garden was designed and planted by various holticulture staff at Meijer Gardens in honor of Gwen Frostic. 

Gwen Frostic was born on April 26, 1906 in Sandusky, Michigan.  In the 1920's Gwen went to Eastern Michigan University where she obtained a teacher's certification.  In 1926 she attended West Michigan University, but left in 1927 without completing her degree.

After that, she began her work in art. She was primarily interested in the mediums of metal, plastic and linoleum block carving.  Her carving led to the creation of artistic prints.  Most of her art was inspired by nature and Michigan wildlife.  In the 1950's she opened a shop in
Gwen Frostic. From
Frankfort, Michigan to sell her prints.  By 1960 she was doing well enough that she was able to buy 40 acres in Benzonia, Michigan where she opened another print shop.  She produced art and worked in the shop until her death on April 25, 2001. The shop is still open and is located at 5140 River Road Benzonia, Michigan.

After her death, Western Michigan University named a school of art after her. Meijer gardens also created the Woodland Shade Garden in her memory in June, 1998.

The Leslie E. Tassell English Perennial and Bulb Garden includes a winding walk with views of perennials, bulbs and sculptures.  It was named for Leslie E. Tassell, the founder of Leslie Metal Arts Co., also known as Lescoa. 

Tassell was born in Europe on Feb 2, 1908.  He moved with his family to Canada when he was a child.  He later moved to the U.S.   By the time he was 15, he was working in the tool-and-die trade as an errand
Leslie E. Tassell English Perrennial and Bulb Garden
boy.  While doing this, he learned to work with metal.  During the 1930's he found work in Pontiac, Michigan, despite the onset of the Great Depression.  He worked there through the 1940's until World War II came to an end.

After World War II there was an economic boom in the U.S.  Tassell took this opportunity to invest with a partner in a machine and tool company.   The business was profitable, so he was later able to open the Leslie Metal Arts Co. (also known as Lescoa) on 150 acres of land.  This company specialized in tool-and-dye, staffed 2,000 people and was worth $220 million.  The company was finally sold in 1999 when Leslie retired.  When he sold the company, Leslie gave bonuses to all of the employees because he valued their years of work.

After retirement, Tassell spent most of his time either at home in Cascade Township, Michigan or a marina in the Florida Keys. Tassell also participated in big game hunting, going on 12 African Safaris. During his retirement, he did some philanthropic work.  He donated to Grand Rapids Community College as well as to Meijer Gardens and other organizations. He passed away on March 19, 2004.

Several gardeners worked to create the Leslie E. Tassell English Perennial and Bulb Garden.

Penelope Hobhouse. From
The primary designer for the English Perennial and Bulb Garden was Penelope Hobhouse. Penelope was born on November 20, 1929 in Moyola Park, Castledawson, Ireland.  She attended college at North Foreland Lodge and Cambridge, where she graduated with a BA in economics in 1951.

In 1952, Penelope married Paul Hobhouse.  With him, she had one daughter and two sons before the marriage was dissolved in 1982.  Later that year, she met her second husband, Prof. John Malins at a Garden History Society meeting. They married in 1983.  Sadly, John died in 1992.

Penelope was in charge of the gardens of Tintinhull House in Somerset, England until 1993.  A few years later she became the host of a television series on gardening called "The Art and Practice of Gardening." She went on to design several gardens in England, Scotland, France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the U.S.  This included a garden at Walmer Castle in Kent, England, "The Country Garden" for the Royal Horticulture Society at Wisley, an English cottage garden for Steve Jobs' Woodside home, and, of course,  the aforementioned garden at Meijer Gardens.

Penelope is also an associate editor for Gardens Illustrated magazine and has written several books including Plants in Garden History, The Story of Gardening, and Gardening Style . If you are interested in her books, you can view them here: Penelope Hobhouse's Books.

James Van Sweden, the landscape architect, also worked on the Perennial and Bulb Garden.  James was born and raised in Grand Rapids Michigan.  In 1960 he attended the University of Michigan and obtained a bachelor degree in architecture.  Later, he attended the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands where he got his degree in landscape architecture.

After completing his degree, James partnered with Wolfgang Oehme to create the architect firm of Oehme Vansweden based in Washington D.C.  James Van Sweden became known for the New American Garden Style which involves a naturalistic planting style that weaves a tapestry of plants together with built elements to create a beautiful landscape or garden.

James was involved in the selection and placement of trees in the Leslie E. Tassel English Perennial and Bulb Garden and designed the Jennifer C. Groot American Garden.  (The Jennifer C. Groot Garden was funded by an anonymous donor who requested that the garden be named for Jennifer.)

James Van Sweden has also worked on several other famous gardens including the Federal reserve Gardens, New American Friendship Gardens at the U.S. National Arboretum, the garden for the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C, the Great Basin Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden, The U.S. Embassy garden in Afghanistan, and the Native Plant garden at the New York Botanical Garden.

James Van Sweden has also authored several books including Bold Romantic Gardens, Gardening With Water, Gardening with Nature, and Architecture in the Garden. You can view his books here: James Van Sweden's Books.

Another person who worked on the Perenial and Bulb Garden was David Nederveld.  David is a landscape architect based in the Grand Rapids area.  He was the original landscape architect when the project to build the Meijer botanic garden first started.  He designed the serpentine hedge in the Perennial and Bulb Garden.

Part of the Japanese Garden
The Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden is another amazing garden at Meijer Gardens.  This 8 acre garden was built in 2012 in the style of a traditional Japanese garden.

The garden is named for Richard and Helen DeVos. 

 Richard DeVos was born on March 4, 1926.  He is a graduate of Calvin College and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.  He married Helen and together they raised 3 sons and a daughter.

Richard DeVos is known for being the co-founder of Amway (along with Jay VanAndel) and as owner of the Orlando Magic NBA team.  DeVos is author to the books Believe, Compassionate Capitalism, and Hope From My Heart: Ten Lessons For Life and several others. You can view a list of his books here: Richard DeVos' Books.  He was the 60th wealthiest man in the U.S. as of 2012 and the 205th wealthiest man in the world according to Forbes Magazine. 

Richard and Helen have used their wealth to help Meijer Gardens build the Japanese Garden. In addition, they donate to the Republican Political Party.  DeVos serves on several boards including: Trustees for Northwood University, Council For National Policy, the National Constitution Center and the Christian Leaders Institute.

The Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese garden was designed by Hoichi Kurisu.  Hoichi founded Kurisu International Inc. in 1972 and was the landscape director for the Garden Society of Japan from 1968-1972. He supervised the construction of the Portland Japanese Garden, Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital Garden in Oregon, the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Illinois, the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Iowa, the Rojien Japanese Gardens in Florida, and several others. A full list of the gardens that Hoichi Kurisu has designed can be viewed here:  Kurisu's Gardens.

Entering the Lena Meijer Children's Garden through the "mouse hole."

 The Lena Meijer Children's Garden was named for Lena Meijer. For more information about Lena, please see Part 1 of this series of blog posts on Meijer Gardens.

Mowgli and Baloo near the Children's Garden.
The children's garden was designed by Herb Schaal. He was the head of a team from the former EDAW Inc., a company specializing in landscape architecture, urban design and public space planning.  As of December 5, 2005, EDAW was acquired by AECOM Technology Coporation. Herb worked with the Meijer Gardens staff to build a delightful garden where children enter through a "mouse hole" and continue to play in a display of the Great Lakes, and can run through an elevated tree-house-like play area. It is truly magical, and is my favorite garden at Meijer Gardens.

Milk Cow Sculpture from Michigan's Farm Garden.

Michigan's Farm Garden
was also funded by the Meijers. The 1880's farmhouse in the garden is a 3/4 size scale model of Lena (Rader) Meijer's childhood home. The landscape is meant to represent a typical Michigan farm from the 1930's.  There are statues of several animals throughout the landscape of the farm, several real barnyard animals, a barn, and a windmill.   The area is planted with flowers, heirloom vegetables and other plants typical to a farm setting. Frederik Meijer's burial plot is also located in this garden.

The Amphitheater Garden was also primarily funded by the Meijers. It includes a large stage, more sculpture, and terraced grass seating. This area is where the Fifth Third Bank Summer Concerts take place.  Several great artists have performed at the Amphitheater including Bela Fleck, Garrison Keillor, The Doobie Brothers, Keb' Mo' and many others.  This year (2015), The Beach Boys, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, and Diana Krall are scheduled to perform there. If you are interested, you can get tickets here: Star Tickets.

 Every garden at Meijer Gardens is cared for by both staff and volunteers.  As mentioned in the previous post, "200 full and part-time staff, more than 800 volunteers... gifts from more than 23,000 member households and many donors" help to support Meijer Gardens.  There are also 13 horticulturists working in the various gardens. These people should certainly be commended for their hard work in building and maintaining such a beautiful public garden.

Meijer Gardens is clearly an outstanding example of collaborative effort, artistic talent, horticultural skill and love for the community.  So many people worked together to make this garden a wonderful place to visit -- and succeeded!

So what are you waiting for?  Go visit Meijer Gardens!! (By the way... I hear the butterflies are blooming there NOW!)


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

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