Imagine a garden on Belle Isle with 25-foot wide to 100-foot long linear garden beds, pathways to walk through it and a mix of plants so immersive that you'll likely forget where you are.

That's the kind of landscape world renowned designer Piet Oudolf shared Thursday at Belle Isle as he unveiled his proposed master plan for his Oudolf Garden Detroit. 

"Everywhere you are, you're turning a corner into another world," said Oudolf, during a media round-table at Belle Isle's Flynn Pavilion. He'll also participate in a sold-out community discussion Friday at Wayne State University.

The garden, fundraising for which is ongoing, will span 1.8 to 2.6 acres and will be installed in front of the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon Tower (named after former Detroit News advice columnist Nancy Brown). There will also be ample grass between and around some garden beds so people can sit and soak up their surroundings. Plants will be a mix of native and non-native ones. And the garden will constantly evolve from season to season.

"You'll only notice where you are," Oudolf said.

Oudolf agreed to come to Detroit to design a garden after he received a letter from the Garden Club of Michigan, asking if he'd come to the city to design something. 

"The letter was so nice," he said.

After driving around Belle Isle, he said he chose the site that he did because he wanted his garden to be "in context" with the island, close to the nearby Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory and Flynn Pavilion.

"It felt a bit lost in other places," said Oudolf.

The Oudolf Detroit garden is one of the latest projects for the world-renowned gardener, who also designed the public gardens at the High Line in New York and Chicago's Lurie Garden. The Lurie Garden attracts 10 million visitors a year.

And while installation likely won't be begin until late summer of 2019, plants will be ordered this month. Volunteers, meanwhile, are already lining up from across the globe to help with the garden's installation, including people from Lithuania, Japan and South America.

"And we have a lot of Detroiters who have already signed up," said Maura Campbell, one of the volunteers working to make the project a reality.

"People connect with (Oudolf's gardens) in a different kind of way," said another volunteer, Meredith Simpson, part of the grounds crew. "It's a new kind of garden. It's a totally different experience."

So far, volunteers have raised approximately $1.35 million of the $3 to $4 million they'll need to both install the garden and maintain it. Approximately $2 million of that price tag will be set aside to create an endowment for the garden's maintenance.

Michelle Hodges, president of the Belle Isle Conservancy that has been working with garden volunteers along with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to make Oudolf's garden a reality, says the project is like a punctuation mark in Belle Isle's rich legacy. And in some ways, it's a continuation of what was started by Frederick Law Olmsted who designed Belle Isle Park in the 1880s.

"We are literally watching history in the making," said Hodges.

And Hodges likes how accessible the garden will be. It's not just for the wealthy, she said.

"This garden is for all Detroiters," she said.

(313) 223-4686

Twitter: @mfeighan


Read or Share this story: