Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf has worked on some of the most significant gardens in the United States—the High Line and Battery Park in New York City, Millenium Park in Chicago—and many more across Europe.
His most recent commission? Belle Isle in Detroit. In just over a year’s time, a grassy, 2.5-acre site outside the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon Tower will soon become a flourishing garden with thousands of plants and a walking path.
A groundbreaking took place on June 11 to signify the beginning of construction of the hardscape and preparation of the topsoil.
Around mid-September, the first phase of plantings will begin. Over 10 days, volunteers and staff will plant 18,000 flowers, with a second round in June 2020. The garden should be completed by early fall 2020.
The garden design calls for 25 to 30 percent native plants and the rest hearty perennials. Several wide pathways will wind through tightly packed beds of carefully arranged flowers. There will also be a grassy mound area for picnics or other gatherings.
According to Oudolf Garden Detroit, an all-volunteer group spearheading the project, the total cost will be approximately $4.2 million: $150,000 for design, around $2 million for installation, and another $2 million for the endowment to perpetually maintain the garden and hire a gardener.
The groundbreaking was the culmination of a six-year process in getting Oudolf to take the commission and the Department of Natural Resources, which took over operation of Belle Isle in 2013, to agree to the plan.
All along, Oudolf was the group’s first choice, according to Maura Campbell, founder and grounds crew member. “We asked ourselves, ‘If we could get anyone in the world, who would it be, no matter how unlikely?’” The answer was Piet Oudolf.
Campbell also notes that Oudolf’s gardens are tourist attractions, drawing millions of visitors each year. “He’s green and sticky; his work captivates people.”
The group still needs to raise about $250,000.