Cheekwood, Meijer Gardens, and Reciprocal Memberships

Instead of joining the crowds that were shopping on Black Friday, my family and I did something more peaceful. We visited the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

We have been to Cheekwood Estate and Gardens in Nashville, Tennessee, the Chicago Botanic Garden, the National Arboretum and more. I enjoy visiting gardens in Europe as well.

Cheekwood Estate and Gardens
Glass Sculptures by Dale Chihuly
at Cheekwood  Gardens

The first time I went to Cheekwood was several years ago. Daly Chihuly, a glass artist of whom I am a fan, had an exhibit there.

Cheekwood was originally the estate of Leslie Cheek and Mabel Wood Cheek. After their death, the estate was left to their daughter Huldah and her husband Walter Sharp. The Sharps lived on the estate for some time, but in 1957 decided to turn it into a public garden and art center. It opened May of 1960.

Cheekwood  in the Fall

The 55 acre estate is home to eleven different themed gardens and sculpture trail. In the spring, 150,000 bulbs bloom, while in the winter over one million miniature lights are placed to help visitors celebrate the season. Throughout the year, outdoor art exhibits are displayed among the flowers, shrubs, and trees.

Art at Cheekwood by Gabriel Dawe

In addition to the gardens, the Cheek home is also open to the public. Permanent and temporary exhibits are on display in about half of the space, while the family furnishings are on display in the other half.

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

Although one of my daughters had been to the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park before, I had not, so I was eager to visit.

The West Michigan Horticultural Society had been fundraising for a botanical garden for eight years before it approached Frederik and Lena Meijer. With their input, the garden became a reality just five years later. Meijer Gardens was opened in 1995, and has already received international acclaim.

It may seem strange that we visited a botanical garden at the end of November, but we had a reason to do so. Many botanical gardens decorate their trees with Christmas lights and invite the public to walk through a seasonal wonderland.

Christmas Tree Display at Meijer Gardens

In addition to outdoor lights, another cold-weather attraction at Meijer Gardens is indoors. Inside the main building is a display of over 40 decorated Christmas trees – each representing a different country around the world. They are all beautifully adorned with traditional ornaments.

After we spent time looking at the trees, we visited the Tropical Conservatory and four smaller indoor gardens. I especially liked the area with miniature buildings and sculptures – including a miniature Alexander Calder piece.

Art by Jaume Plensa

We concluded our visit by a walk through the Sculpture Park. We enjoyed works by Jaume Plensa, Ai Weiwei, Henry Moore, and Joan Miro, among others. Back inside, we saw the floral ceiling by Dale Chihuly. Despite the season, it was a beautiful day to explore.

Reciprocal Memberships

Although I had always wanted to go to the Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, purchasing a membership at Cheekwood Gardens gave me the push. The Cheekwood annual membership includes reciprocal admission to many other botanical gardens throughout the United States.

Although the membership may sound expensive – $55 for a single, $80 for a dual, and $100 for a family – it can pay for itself in just a couple visits.

My daughter and I hold a dual membership together. We were both able to visit the Meijer Gardens and plan to go to Cheekwood Gardens to see their holiday exhibit. We are also considering visiting the Morton Arboretum sometime this month.

The membership will pay for itself even before any spring or summer visits we make. Even if we are not able to take full advantage of the membership, we are supporting a worthy cause.

Using the Reciprocal Membership

When we arrived at Meijer Gardens, we parked and walked through the temporary entrance arbor. The gardens are undergoing a major expansion right now, so there are construction materials and equipment behind fences along the walk.

Miniature Version of Meijer Gardens
Main Building

We entered the building and walked through a lobby area. Just inside a second set of doors, was the admissions desk. The woman that took care of us was pleasant, even though she had not heard of Cheekwood Gardens. She soon found the booklet that listed all reciprocal organizations and after checking our IDs, handed us tickets and welcomed us in. The whole process took less than two minutes.

My other daughter and her husband arrived several minutes after we did. They talked to the same woman we did (there were four at the desk), but this time she knew where Cheekwood was.

We showed our tickets at the admission desk and walked in. We really enjoyed our visit and hope to return in the spring or summer.

Visiting Botanical Gardens

I’ve always enjoyed visiting botanical gardens in the spring and summer, but it wasn’t until recently that I’ve visited in the “off season.” Although fall and winter may seem like the off season, many gardens feature seasonal or holiday displays to extend their offerings to the public.

What gardens are your favorites?  Have you visited them in fall or winter?

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