Since April 1995, locals and visitors have flocked to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park to enjoy both the fantastic, diverse gardens and the beautiful sculptures and exhibits. Beginning June 13, 2015, they'll be able to visit the Garden's newest addition: an 8-acre Japanese Garden, whose horticultural elements, like Japanese flowering cherry trees and flowing lavender wisteria, combine with scenic bridges, waterfalls and an authentic Japanese teahouse to evoke tranquility in the midst of a busy world.
"When you go back and forth, and down all the twists, turns, and paths, it takes quite a while," says Joseph Becherer, Chief Curator and Vice President, Frederik Meijer Gardens. "You don't race through. It's a garden design that really does force you to slow down."
From 9:00 a.m. 9:00 p.m. on June 11 and 12, members of Frederik Meijer Gardens can get a sneak peak at the new Japanese Garden. There will be several special events, including the opportunity to experience the exquisite architecture inside the Japanese Teahouse, which features master carpentry and hand-tied bamboo fencing, among other authentic details (the Teahouse will be open from 9:30 am 8:30 pm, weather permitting, and visitors must remove their shoes).
Members can also enjoy performances by Raion Taiko and the Great Lakes Taiko Center Drummers on June 11 and 12 at 3:00 p.m., 6:45 p.m., and 8:00 p.m. More information regarding member events will be announced in the upcoming issue of Meijer Gardens Seasons magazine, which will be mailed on May 14.
The Japanese Garden opens to the public (non-members) at 9:00 a.m. on June 13, 2015 and entrance is included with the price of general admission. "Fred Meijer was very committed to having one ticket price and allowing people enjoy everything," says Becherer.
Although having some type of international garden has long been a part of Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Parks master plan, it wasn't until a few years ago that they finalized the decision to add a Japanese Garden to the park. "It's such a universal gold standard in terms of the artfulness of gardening and its certainly the kind of thing that will sit well here at Frederik Meijer Gardens, where were interested in horticulture but also very much committed to the arts," explains Becherer.
Both Fred and Lena Meijer admired Japanese Gardens, but it was Lena Meijer who had the notion that it would be wonderful to have tea at a teahouse in a Japanese Garden at Frederik Meijer Gardens, says Becherer. About five years ago, Fred Meijer began to talk more about choosing a Japanese Garden for the international garden component at Meijer Gardens. He talked to David Hooker, President and CEO of Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park, about the idea and they put a plan in motion to make it happen.
Committing to the addition of a $22-million, 8-acre Japanese Garden is no small feat. To get things started, Frederik Meijer Gardens conducted a national search for landscape designers whose specialty was Japanese Gardens. When Hoichi Kurisu came to Grand Rapids to present, he immediately rose to the pinnacle of that group, says Becherer. From the very beginning, Hoichi had a command of what the space could be. Its amazing how close his initial designs are to what people will be able to experience in June.
After Hoichi was selected and the project began moving forward, Richard and Helen DeVos got involved to support the project, financially and otherwise, along with Fred and Lena Meijer. In some ways, it really is a celebration of their long-standing friendship, says Becherer.
This project has been a massive undertaking; a multi-year, multi-step process. "It all begins with a vision, with a design," says Becherer. To bring the project to fruition and get a feel for the space, Kurisu moved to Grand Rapids, as did some of his key assistants and other workers. "He's at Meijer Gardens six or seven days a week," says Becherer. "He's here before the break of dawn and he's here all day long."
The area where the Japanese Garden is located on the Frederik Meijer Garden property was previously an oft-ignored, recessed, marshy area. Three summers ago, that marshy area was transformed into large pond, and now, at the very heart of the Japanese Garden is a 2-acre lake. "The heart had to happen first and then everything started to get built up around it," says Becherer.
Part of the process involved bringing thousands of boulders to the site. "For Hoichi, the boulder is a very strong structural element but also a very symbolic element its a symbol of strength", says Becherer. "Some have great color or character and that was all a part of his artistic plan."
All of the structural elements, like the bridges, pagodas, the teahouse, the walls, and the gates were designed, cut, and partially built in Japan and then shipped to the United States. "Two summers ago, we had a huge team of architects and builders come to Grand Rapids to put it all together on site," says Becherer. "It's an extraordinary process that has happened over almost a 4-year period," says Becherer.
As for the teahouse Lena Meijer dreamed of, not only will visitors to Frederik Meijer Gardens be able to experience traditional tea ceremonies in the beautiful structure, but the teahouse will also be open to the public once a month for tea demonstrations. The authentic tea ceremonies, complete with a tea master, will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis, for a nominal fee. The once-a-month tea demonstrations will be included with the price of admission to Meijer Gardens.
In addition to the teahouse, the Japanese Garden will contain many other traditional elements, like a Zen-style garden, a moss garden, a zigzag bridge, waterfalls, and stone paths. But in a break from tradition, it will also include permanently installed sculptures by acclaimed artists, like Anish Kapoor and David Nash. "We made the decision very early on that this space, in keeping with our mission, with our very being, would also include works of contemporary sculpture," explains Becherer. "So on one hand the space is very traditional, and on the other hand the space is very innovative."
"A Japanese Garden is intended to soothe and stimulate all the senses and I believe this place will be that," says Becherer. As you walk through this new exhibit in June, consider that Japanese Gardens last for centuries. "These trees and mosses will all grow and develop and be taken care of over generations," says Becherer. "We're at the very early newborn moment. The journey for Meijer Gardens, for our members, and for our visitors is only just beginning."