The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden

The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden

Opening to the public June 13, 2015.

One of the most revered and deeply appreciated international garden styles, the 8-acre addition will further the organization's dual mission of horticulture and sculpture.

Tranquility, simplicity and beauty are the very essence of a Japanese garden. Fred and Lena Meijer had long appreciated the traditions and experiences of Japanese gardens. In 2009, Fred Meijer articulated his and Lena’s shared love of Japanese gardens and asked about adding one to Meijer Gardens. The concept was born, planning began and construction commenced in 2012.


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As a centuries-old, yet timeless horticultural presentation style, the Japanese Garden complements Meijer Garden's mission and values, and allows exploration in unique ways to bring the art of the garden and the art of sculpture together. Adding such an international garden has been part of the master planning process for more than a decade and an ideal location was selected that includes water, elevation changes and quiet surroundings.

Highly unique to the Japanese Garden, landmark works of contemporary sculpture by international masters will be included, offering thoughtful and thought-provoking aesthetics in keeping with the essence of the Japanese garden tradition and philosophy.

The Japanese Garden begins with an artful design by Hoichi Kurisu and the firm Kurisu International. His work ranks among the finest Japanese gardens outside of Japan, including Portland Japanese Garden (Oregon), Anderson Gardens (Rockford, IL), Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden (Delray Beach, Florida).

Kurisu International, founded in 1972, is a landscape design/build firm whose unique gardens create “inner space” for inspiration and healing. Their approach is a whole-system design, a methodology deeply rooted in the specificity of place, people and purpose, and uniquely suited to draw out nature’s ability to meet humanity’s need for inspiration, restoration and healing.


New works of sculpture, by contemporary masters such as Anish Kapoor, Zhang Huan, David Nash, Masayuki Koorida and Giuseppe Penone, among others, will be permanently installed within the Japanese Garden. This unique marriage of beautiful art in beautiful green spaces has long been a key element of the Meijer Gardens mission. 



A Japanese garden is not a collection of Japanese plants, but rather a garden style steeped in centuries of tradition.  The three essential elements in a Japanese garden are rocks, water and plants.  It is the plants that provide seasonal changes and color in the garden.

Plants in a Japanese garden do not need to be native to Japan. While The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden will include plants that are native to Japan, it will also feature plants native to Michigan and other temperate climates throughout the world. All of the plants were sourced from nurseries in the United States. What matters most is how the plants are planted, how they are pruned and the way they are nurtured.

Ten prominent plants in The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden:

Pines are one of the most important trees in a Japanese garden.  They can act as a backdrop or be meticulously pruned. 

Japanese maples, Acer palmatum, are used throughout the garden.  Notice the different forms, leaf shapes and colors. In Japan, their brilliant autumn colors are a big attraction. Japanese maples also make great bonsai specimens.

Japanese flowering cherries are featured in the Cherry Tree Promenade and along the shore near the zigzag bridge.  Our garden features upright, weeping and contorted forms. The flowering cherry (sakura) is the national flower of Japan. They are celebrated every spring with cherry blossom “viewing parties.”  Even the falling petals are admired. 

Serviceberry, Amelanchier spp., is an example of a tree that is native to our region and planted throughout the Japanese garden, including at the Main Gate.  It has small white flowers in the spring, followed by small red to dark purple fruits that attract birds.  In the fall the leaves turn a lovely orange-red color.

Wisterias have been grown in traditional Japanese gardens for more than 1,000 years. Wisterias are featured on an arbor between the north and south waterfalls.  They will produce pendulous clusters of lavender flowers in the spring. Wisteria plants can live for hundreds of years.

Spireas are native to Japan and a new cultivar called ‘Double Play Gold’ is featured on the Mike and Sue Jandernoa Viewing Hill.  It produces golden yellow foliage and pink flowers throughout the summer. As they grow they will provide a low, undulating effect.

Azaleas can be found throughout the Japanese Garden.  Lovely flowers cover the plants in the spring. We planted many different types in a variety of colors. Most of the azaleas we planted are evergreen.  Notice several lovely, large specimens tucked in amongst the large boulders at the waterfalls.

Many people are surprised to learn that some kinds of bamboo are winter hardy in Michigan.  We planted ‘Yellow Groove’ bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata forma aureocaulis) and Incense bamboo (Phyllostachys atrovaginata) near the zigzag bridge, tea house, and restrooms. Incense bamboo is named for its fragrance—it produces a wax on its stems (culms) that has a fragrance similar to sandalwood. Bamboo can be found growing in the wild throughout Japan.  It is also a part of daily life and is used in many different ways—to make fences, brushes, rakes, chopsticks, bowls, flooring, scaffolding etc. Bamboo symbolizes strength and flexibility.

Hundreds of Japanese irises, Iris cristata and Iris versicolor ‘Gerald Darby,’ are growing in the water and along the shore near the zig-zag bridge. They bloom in early summer and will produce a stunning display of blooms.

While many people try to eliminate moss from their gardens, in Japan it is regarded as an essential element. It grows over boulders and across the ground. There are more than 100 different types of moss.  This lovely plant does not have true roots and absorbs moisture and nutrients through its leaves. It thrives in climates with high humidity and surprisingly, it can be difficult to grow. It can take many years for moss to form a dense mat. In our Japanese Garden we will have a section called the “Natural Style Moss Garden” where you will see just how beautiful moss can be overtime. 


Fred and Lena Meijer made a significant gift to begin the design process. They also believed that this garden deserved to have the name of another Grand Rapids family who could provide essential leadership in making our region among the best cultural communities in America. In support of Fred and Lena's vision and leadership, Richard and Helen DeVos have made a substantial leadership gift to the project that will bear their names: The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

The Japanese Garden, a centuries-old tradition, won't be truly mature for several hundred years. Help support the maintenance of the Japanese Garden for generations to come. Sponsorship opportunities are still available. Contact the development department at (616) 975-3177 or for additional information or Donate Online Now.