$4.7 Million Oudolf Garden Detroit Opens on Belle Isle

The garden was designed by famous landscape designer Piet Oudolf, who has designed gardens all over the world including the High Line in New York City and the Toronto Botanical Garden.

A new garden designed by a renowned Dutch landscape designer is opening on Belle Isle this weekend. The $4.7 million project spans 2.5 acres and features more than 160 varieties of plants, grasses, shrubs and trees. It’s named Oudolf Garden Detroit after the man who designed it, Piet Oudolf.

Oudolf is known for The High Line in New York City, the Toronto Botanical Garden, the Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park and more.

“What you see in the garden is that it changes and evolves every 10 days as different plants expose themselves as far as bloom and then die away and others come up after them. ” –Duncan Campbell, Oudolf Garden Detroit

Dorothy Hernandez/WDET
Dorothy Hernandez/WDET

“He is the top garden designer in the world today,” says Duncan Campbell, a volunteer on the leadership team for Oudolf Garden Detroit. “Piet is like an impressionist because he paints in full colors and full groupings of plants together.”

The new garden is on the southwest section of Belle Isle between the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory and a midcentury modern bandshell. It’s free and open to the public whenever the island is open.

“Piet is not only thinking about color, structure, juxtaposition, he’s also thinking about seasonality,” says Campbell. “What you see in the garden is that it changes and evolves every 10 days as different plants expose themselves as far as bloom and then die away and others come up after them. “

The project was brought to life after the Garden Club of Michigan wrote a “love letter” to Oudolf, asking him to design a garden for Detroit. Oudolf said yes and the project broke ground in 2019. 

Related: First Look: Belle Isle’s New Multi-Million Dollar “Oudolf Garden” | WDET

Dorothy Hernandez/WDET
Dorothy Hernandez/WDET

Early on in the garden’s development, the island experienced high water that curtailed plans. “We found that our original design for the garden was going to be 30% underwater,” says Campbell. In order to mitigate future flooding, the soil was mixed with sand and pine bark. The garden was also raised 3 feet, lined with a retaining wall and moved away from the shore. 

Dorothy Hernandez/WDET
Dorothy Hernandez/WDET

Now, that the garden’s finished it includes a rain garden, which Campbell says can act as a demonstration garden for Detroiters.

“We all have challenges with storm water these days. And how do we keep it out of our storm water system and be more ecologically sensitive to the process? This is a good example of a plant mix,” says Campbell.

Visitors curious about specific plants in the rain garden or elsewhere can scan a QR code that launches a web app that helps with identification.

“It gives you the tools in hand while you’re in the garden or at home to see what plants are in. And there’s also a section of the website called ‘Now Blooming,’ which gives you just pictures of everything in the garden itself,” says Campbell.

Some plants currently in bloom are Moonshine Yarrow (Achillea x), Hardy Blue Leadword (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) and Star Frost White Globe Thistle (Echinops bannaticus, to name just a few. 

Oudolf Garden Detroit officially opens 10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 28 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist is expected to attend and speak briefly at the opening.

Dorothy Hernandez/WDET
Dorothy Hernandez/WDET

Listen: Renowned landscape designer Piet Oudolf’s latest garden now blooming on Belle Isle.

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  • Laura Herberg
    Laura Herberg is a Reporter for 101.9 WDET, telling the stories about people inhabiting the Detroit region and the issues that affect us here.