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Historically high water levels are putting a damper on plans for a highly anticipated new garden on Belle Isle.

Eighteen thousand plants were planned to go in the ground in mid-September -- the first major planting -- at Oudolf Garden Detroit, a new garden designed by world renowned Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf. It's to be installed in front of the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon right next to the Detroit River.

But with site nearly underwater as recently as mid-July after an unusually wet spring, those plans have been pushed back until June 2020 at the earliest. 

"You cannot control Mother Nature," starts a newsletter sent to supporters in mid-August. "As you may have heard in the news lately, or experienced personally, the Great Lakes have surpassed 100-year records for high water levels this summer. It has impacted people across the region and it's impacted our garden too."

The wet conditions mean organizers may have to tweak their plans for the site, which already included a grading plan and installing 6-inches of a granite-based gravel to raise the area up because the 2.5-acre garden will be located in a floodplain and near a wetland. 

Maura Campbell, part of a group of volunteers called the Oudolf Garden Detroit Grounds Crew that is working to bring the garden to life, said a meeting will be held this week with key stakeholders to look at their options and whether they need to adjust their timeline more or the garden's design to deal with future possible water issues.

"We're looking at what our options are," said Campbell. 

Oudolf, meanwhile, who visited Detroit in July with his wife and two sons, has been informed  about possible changes.

"He's been apprised and looped in and he’s a part of all the changes we’re looking at," said Campbell.

The postponement comes just three months after a organizers and supporters of the garden, for which more than $4.2 million has already been raised to install and maintain it, gathered in early June for a formal groundbreaking. But the contractor was never able to even begin work this summer -- which included installing garden beds and improving the soil -- because conditions were too wet. 

"We couldn't dig it out," said Campbell, who now hopes construction can start this fall.

Oudolf Garden Detroit has attracted attention from all over the world. Some Oudolf fans from as far away as South Korea and Lithuania had planned to fly in to Detroit in mid-September to help with the planting. Campbell says that's why they needed to let volunteers know in August that construction and the first major planting would be delayed.

Campbell says the postponement is "a blessing in a sense."

 "We’re looking at (the project) more holistically" now, she said. 

"The good news is we didn’t have any plants in the ground so we didn’t lose them," she said.

Campbell says they could potentially do two plantings now in 2020. She said they're using the delayed timeline as an "important lesson."

"Our whole goal is to make sure we do this garden right and that it’s here and taken care of into the future," she said.

mfeighan@detroitnews.com

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