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Stateside Podcast: Oudolf Garden opens on Belle Isle

Over the years, landscape architect Piet Oudolf has designed countless gardens in public spaces all over the world. In the United States, his work can be spotted at the High Line in New York City, Millennium Park in Chicago, and, most recently, at Oudolf Garden Detroit on Belle Isle.

Although Oudolf visited Belle Isle in 2019 to survey the area and finalize the design plans for Oudolf Garden, the pandemic prevented him from seeing his creation in-person until this summer. Stateside host April Baer caught up with Piet Oudolf at the garden to discuss his unique and naturalistic garden designs.

“I'm a more contemporary designer if you talk about planting design. So I work, you know, in a context of time where we need a little bit more wildness and attention to insects and the environment,” Oudolf said. 

The garden, which is situated near the Whitcomb Conservatory, is filled with grasses, shrubs, and perennial flowers. Oudolf considers his work on Belle Isle to be a romantic idea of a wild landscape in the sense that it is not truly wild, but appears much closer to nature than a classical English style garden.

“Normally I work with woodland, with trees and shrubs,” Oudolf said. “But this is a specific type of garden, and we call that a perennial meadow.”

Oudolf Garden may have just opened recently, but the design and planning process has been spread out over several years. It all started with a letter to Piet Oudolf in 2016 that spoke about Detroit and all that the city has to offer. After an email exchange and a few Skype calls, Oudolf came to Detroit in 2017 to scope out the area. Following a tour around the city, he decided to go over to Belle Isle to take a look. From there, it didn’t take long for Oudolf to choose Belle Isle as the site for Oudolf Garden — and the rest is history!

Due to the pandemic, the process of installing the garden and opening the space to the public was delayed from its original timeline. But despite the setbacks, Oudolf Garden is open and ready for the public to enjoy all year long. According to Oudolf, people may just need it now more than ever.

“During this pandemic, a lot of people looked for other reasons in life to another, really, goal in life–another depth, another sort of level of life,” he said. “They were used to working in the city with all the stress of it. I think that brought a lot of people into gardening.”

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Anna joined Stateside as an assistant producer in August 2021. She is a recent graduate of Michigan State University's School of Journalism and previously worked for The State News as an intern and student government reporter.
Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.