$4.2M Garden With 26K Plants Designed by Piet Oudolf Underway on Belle Isle

Work is underway to create a garden on Detroit’s Belle Isle that was planned by an internationally renowned public garden designer from the Netherlands.
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Piet Oudolf garden rendering and photo
Work on the Piet Oudolf garden on Belle Isle is underway. // Rendering and photo courtesy of the city of Detroit

Work is underway to create a garden on Detroit’s Belle Isle that was planned by an internationally renowned public garden designer from the Netherlands.

Piet Oudolf’s latest project, known as Oudolf Garden Detroit, is accepting volunteers to help plant on Belle Isle through Friday, Sept. 4. The work started on Thursday, Aug. 27.

During the week of planting, 25,911 plants will be going into the ground following the intricate pattern Oudolf designed for the site. Professional contractors, paid planting crews, and Oudolf Garden Detroit grounds crew members will be observing social distancing protocols to ensure the safety of workers and volunteers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Oudolf Garden Detroit will cost approximately $4.2 million and offer a total of 2.6 acres, which includes all of the garden beds, pathways, grassy areas, and wetlands. Originally scheduled to be completed last year, the garden was delayed due to flooding and COVID-19. Its new grand opening is slated for this fall.

“For me, garden design isn’t just about plants. It’s about emotion, atmosphere, and a sense of contemplation. You try to move people with what you do. You look at this, and it goes deeper than what you see,” says Oudolf. “What we do is create artificial sort of communities, but also enhance the beauty of nature in a smaller area. We create something that reminds you of nature, but it’s not nature at all. It reminds you of something in the genes.”

Oudolf is recognized as the No. 1 public garden designer in the world. He is best known for creating gardens that are open year-round, including the Lurie Garden in Chicago and High Line in New York. Each garden he’s designed consists of an environmentally conscious mix of native and other hearty perennial plants that have helped change the way people interact with public gardens.

Oudolf is extremely sought after for his work, and the Garden Club of Michigan mailed Piet Oudolf a “love letter from Detroit” in late 2016. The letter recognized the beauty of his gardens and made mention of expanding his work to Belle Isle. In April 2017, he came to Detroit for the first time and decided that Belle Isle would house his first Detroit garden.

“I was always sort of intrigued by Detroit and by the stories,” says Oudolf. “And so, then I went there and I found so much energy – I felt the whole city was vibrating”.

After already raising money to design, plant, and maintain the garden, Oudolf Garden Detroit is now raising money in an effort to fund garden education and promote future community outreach efforts. Individuals looking to get involved can donate directly or sponsor a plant that helps the continuing maintenance and endowment of the garden for years to come.

Oudolf Garden Detroit is an all-volunteer group dedicated to placing and maintaining the garden. It is organized as a nonprofit corporation and is in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3). The Belle Isle Conservancy is serving as the organization’s fiscal sponsor for the installation phase, and the organization has established an endowment fund at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan to maintain the garden.

More information on the garden is available here and here.

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