An oasis in the city: As Monet Garden of Muskegon’s 20th anniversary nears, volunteers aim to raise $5,000 for downtown space

The entrance to the Monet Garden in downtown Muskegon. Photo courtesy of Jean Baker.

For nearly 20 years, the corner of Clay Avenue and Fifth Street has been an urban oasis: a space where everyone from art students to wedding parties, veterans with disabilities to tourists from around the globe, have sought inspiration and refuge.

There, in the Monet Garden of Muskegon, they’ve sketched, painted, and said “I do” among the flowers, butterflies and bees. They’ve sat in wheelchairs and watched other worlds unfold before them: bees collecting pollen, birds darting between the trees, ants marching. They’ve taken off shoes to dance, snapped photos and rested, watching sunsets spread across the sky towering above the nearby Victorian homes. Countless students from local schools have gathered there to learn about Claude Monet, a founder of French impressionist painting whose home garden in Giverny, France is the inspiration behind Muskegon’s Monet Garden—a lush haven of water lilies, roses, irises, asters, a blue bridge reminiscent of the one featured in the painter’s “Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies,” and much more.

Run by an all-volunteer team from the Lakeshore Garden Masters, the Monet Garden—a public space that’s free to enter and open to everyone—has been well loved over the years, but, now that it’s about to turn 20 in the year 2020, it’s in need of some financial support for a couple major projects that will ensure it remains a Muskegon mainstay for decades to come. Last June, the Lakeshore Garden Masters launched a fundraising campaign with the goal of securing $20,000 to replace the pathways with concrete, remove a couple trees, upgrade the area surrounding the pond, and repair the blue arched bridge.

“From June to now, we’ve already raised over $15,000 of our $20,000, and we are delighted beyond expectation,” said Susan Thorpe, the past president of the Lakeshore Garden Masters.

With the $15,000 that has been raised, the gravel has been replaced with pink stamped concrete that’s reminiscent of the pink quartz stone located in the original Monet garden in France.

“That makes it easier for people who are handicapped and people with strollers to get into the garden,” Thorpe said. “It’s a pretty big deal because, when it got rainy, that gravel got pretty muddy.”

They too have been able to remove a couple trees that Thorpe noted were “outgrowing their space.”

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After the volunteer group raises the last $5,000 that’s needed, Thorpe said they’ll be able to replace the stones around the pond, repair and repaint the blue arched bridge, and replace a couple of the more costly plants.

These projects are, Thorpe explained, meant to allow the garden to continue to be the inviting, beautiful and peaceful space it’s been for nearly two decades.

“The local high schools bring their art and photography students to the garden to catch the lighting and the movement; we’ve had small weddings here,” Thorpe said. “I’ve talked to people from all over the world there. It’s so much more than a walk-through garden.”

All of that is to say: the work the volunteers hope to see happen at the garden translates to more than just a pretty space: it’s about the formation of community, about neighbors meeting neighbors in a place designed just for them. It’s about residents shaking hands with citizens from far-flung countries, about people from very different places connecting in a garden in Muskegon. It’s about growing something: flowers, friendships, community.

And, as with many of the venues throughout the city, it’s a space that’s increasingly attracting tourists, including the individuals from the cruise ships stopping in downtown Muskegon. To draw tourists and residents alike to the numerous gardens throughout the area, a new consortium of people representing about eight gardens is currently working to create a walking tour of downtown’s green oases. Named “Muskegon Blooms,” the group is hoping to shed a light on the wide variety of gardens in the area, from spaces bursting with roses to others showcasing herbs. Monet Garden will be one of the stops on the tour.

“It’s very exciting,” Thorpe said. “It will take people around the downtown, from one garden to the next.”

When the Monet Garden turns 20 years old in June of 2020, the Lakeshore Garden Masters plans to hold a rededication ceremony for the space that has long dug its way into Muskegon’s heart—and which volunteers hope will bring joy to those who have yet to see it.

“I see the Monet Garden continuing to be that little oasis that’s just a little south of the hub of downtown,” Thorpe said. “We’re one block over from the L.C. Walker Arena; the Lakeshore Museum Center is just steps away from us.”

“I think the sheer fact of the location at Clay and Fifth makes it very accessible to the people in the neighborhood and people walking from downtown or Heritage Landing,” Thorpe continued. “We are fortunate to have so many people who love it.”

To donate to the Monet Garden of Muskegon, you can:

  • Go to the Lakeshore Garden Masters’ Go Fund Me page (click here).
  • Make an online, tax-deductible donation on the Muskegon Community Foundation’s website (click here).
  • Mail a tax-deductible check to: Muskegon Community Foundation/Monet Garden Fund, 425 W. Western Avenue, Muskegon, MI 49440.

For more information, contact Susan Thorpe by calling 248-310-2312 or emailing holbox04@gmail.com. To connect with the Monet Garden online, visit its Facebook page or head to the Lakeshore Garden Masters’ website.

Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. Photos by Anna Gustafson, unless otherwise noted. You can connect with her by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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