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Piet Oudolf’s First Visit to his Belle Isle Garden in Detroit


November 23, 2022

Acclaimed Dutch garden designer overcomes pandemic limitations

In late 2016, GCA Medal of Honor winner Piet Oudolf received a “love letter” from the Garden Club of Michigan asking him to design a new public garden on Detroit’s Belle Isle. In August 2022, he saw his two-year old 3.5-acre creation for the first time after international travel restrictions were lifted.

Oudolf had never been asked by a garden club to design a garden and, inspired by the energy of Detroit and the unique setting, he accepted the commission. 

He says its location in the cultural heart of the park surrounded by a glass conservatory and two peace monuments in an international waterway, makes it the most natural site of any of his world-renowned public gardens.

This Olmsted- inspired park sits in the middle of the Detroit River between Windsor, Canada and Detroit, Michigan and is nearly the size of New York’s Central Park. It is owned by the city of Detroit but is operated as a state park by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. After the garden club raised the $150,000 to commission Oudolf, the rest of the $4.6 million to construct, operate and endow the garden has been raised via grants and donations. The garden is overseen by its all-volunteer Grounds Crew that includes five GCM members.

Little did anyone know the garden site he picked would be flooded in 2019 and then the pandemic would require him to guide the garden’s installation remotely. In a testament to the power of capable volunteers, more than 36,000 plants and 48,000 bulbs were planted in record time in one of the smoothest garden installations Oudolf has ever seen. He smiled when he first saw it and said, “We did good.” 

Today professional landscape and garden designers from all over the world are visiting and cannot believe this beautiful garden is only two years old. Learn more at


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