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Oudolf Garden Detroit Opens on Belle Isle


September 09, 2021

GCA Medalist Piet Oudolf Designs New Garden

The latest public garden by Piet Oudolf, recipient of the GCA's 2019 Medal of Honor, officially opened on August 28, 2021, when Michigan’s Lt. Governor and Detroit-native Garlin Gilchrist cut the ribbon. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Oudolf, who is also known for The High Line in New York City, the Toronto Botanical Garden, the Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park and more, had to experience the opening of his latest masterpiece from the Netherlands over FaceTime. 

“Detroit is very special to me. This garden sits on one of the most natural sites for one of my gardens anywhere. It’s a place where people can go and never be bored or disappointed,” said Oudolf. “It is also a place that will teach you about plants, because you will see plants you have never seen before or have never seen combined this way."

The $4.7 million project spans 2.5 acres and features more than 160 varieties of plants, grasses, shrubs, and trees. Oudolf Garden Detroit first “took root” when The Garden Club of Michigan (GCM) sent Oudolf a love letter in late 2016 asking him to design a garden for Detroit. It was the first invitation Oudolf had ever received from a garden club and he was intrigued by the opportunity and by Detroit. Five GCM members have stayed with the project since its inception. These members are part of the all-volunteer Oudolf Garden Detroit Grounds Crew that raised the funds and provided the project management needed to make this garden come to life and will continue to oversee its maintenance. 

The entire garden was redesigned after the island flooded in July 2019—postponing the planting for a year and sending Oudolf back to the drawing board. To mitigate future flooding, the garden was raised three feet, lined with a retaining wall, and moved away from the shore. 

This garden also features the first-ever Oudolf designed rain garden and can handle 3,800 gallons of rain at a time. It is planted with plants that are well suited to handle changing and wet conditions and can be scaled and replicated to address stormwater challenges in Detroit and elsewhere. An additional wetlands garden will be planted next year. The garden is a living laboratory as well as an artistic masterpiece and is already teeming with a wide variety of pollinators. 

Visitors curious about specific plants in the rain garden or elsewhere can scan a QR code that launches a web app that helps with identification. “It gives you the tools in hand while you’re in the garden or at home to see where plants are located, what’s blooming and how to pronounce the Latin names. There’s also a section of the website called ‘Now Blooming,’ which gives you just pictures of everything in the garden itself,” said OGD grounds crew member Duncan Campbell.

Oudolf Garden Detroit is free and open to the public when Belle Isle Park is open.

All photos by Ryan Southen.


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