Public Garden by Renowned Designer Piet Oudolf to Open on Belle Isle

Oudolf Garden Detroit (OGD) on Belle Isle, the newest public garden designed by world-renowned perennial garden master Piet Oudolf, will open to the public on Aug. 28.
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Oudolf Garden Detroit, designed by world-renowned garden master Piet Oudolf on Bell Isle will open Aug. 28. // Photo by Ryan Southen
Oudolf Garden Detroit, designed by world-renowned garden master Piet Oudolf on Bell Isle will open Aug. 28. // Photo by Ryan Southen

Oudolf Garden Detroit (OGD) on Belle Isle, the newest public garden designed by world-renowned perennial garden master Piet Oudolf, will open to the public on Aug. 28.

The garden began as a letter sent to Oudolf by The Garden Club of Michigan, and after five years of work by the all-volunteer grounds crew, it is finally complete. Although record flooding in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the opening, the $4.7 million project will be debuted with a ribbon-cutting at 10 a.m. on Aug. 28.

“Detroit is very special to me. My bags were packed but unfortunately, this trip was not to be. This garden sits on one of the most natural sites for one of my gardens anywhere,” says Oudolf, who will not attend to the opening due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. “It’s a place where people can go and never be bored or disappointed. 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.”

After the flooding in 2019, Oudolf had to redesign the garden from scratch, OGD had to raise more money to elevate the site by three feet. It incorporates all three planting styles its designer is known for — block, matrix, and group planting — the first of his designs to do so.

Michigan growers supplied 90 percent of the plants in the garden, which include 32,000 perennials and grasses, including many native species that were planted late last summer and divided into A, B, and C beds for each planting style, respectively.

“Last year, when Mother Nature sent us all to our rooms, some of us snuck out and planted an incredible garden designed by Piet Oudolf,” says Maura Campbell, OGD grounds crew spokesperson. “A public garden like this is needed now more than ever. It offers a peaceful, beautiful, and safe place to enjoy a piece of living art. It’s good for the body and the soul.”

The grounds crew worked closely with partners including The Department of Natural Resources, The Belle Isle Conservancy, The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, other Detroit-area foundations, and individual donors. The professional contractors and technical team for the garden included InSite Design in Ann Arbor, Anglin Civil in Livonia, and United Lawnscape in Washington.

According to Oudolf no group has ever planted one of his public gardens more expertly or efficiently as OGD. Innovations include using technology to guide the garden planting as well as educate the public via the OGD website’s plant database and interactive map interfaces.

“Every 10 days it’s a new show as the plants grow and change,” says Richard Thomas, an original OGD grounds crew member and local garden expert. “Piet’s design offers accessible year-round beauty since he designs gardens to be accessible and interesting in all seasons.”

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