New garden on Belle Isle takes shape but volunteers won't be used for first big planting

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

A highly anticipated garden designed by a world renowned Dutch landscape designer is taking shape on Belle Isle but volunteers won't be used for the first major planting as originally planned.

Leaders with Oudolf Garden Detroit, designed by Piet Oudolf, instead plan to use “a professional crew led by Piet’s experienced team” later this season, according to a newsletter put out in late June to supporters. The pandemic and social distancing requirements drove the decision to not use volunteers, along with previous flooding on Belle Isle. 

Garden beds and pathways take shape at the Oudolf Garden Detroit on Belle Isle.

The garden is being installed on 2 1/2 acres in front of the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon (Brown was a longtime Detroit News advice columnist who raised money from readers to construct the Carillon). A ground-breaking ceremony for the garden was held last summer but the flooding pushed back the first big planting, originally planned for last fall. 

Oudolf is the same designer who did Lurie Garden in Chicago and the High Line in New York. He agreed to design the garden in Detroit and chose the site on Belle Isle after members of the Garden Club of Michigan wrote him a letter, asking him to come to the city.

Piet Oudolf.

Garden leaders, who've already raised more than $4.5 million to design, install and maintain the garden, say just because volunteers won’t be used for the first mass planting doesn’t mean they won’t be used down the road.

“Going forward, we are committed to a vibrant volunteer corps to help on many fronts once the garden is in,” stated the June newsletter.

To learn more about the garden, go to