by Katie Keith, Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center Coordinator
I recently read the book “American Eden” about a doctor’s dream to establish a botanical garden on what is today Rockefeller Center in New York City some 200 years ago. Despite the obvious need to know the plants of the new world, especially in terms of providing food and medicine, somehow building a garden or researching plants was never very urgent in the minds of the community and leaders. The Springfield Botanical Gardens are so much more than the original intent of botanic gardens and are playing a positive impact on quality of life beyond the garden boundaries. This year, the American Public Gardens Association is sponsoring for the first time an entire week dedicated National Public Gardens, May 13-18, 2019. I would like to highlight how we will participate and celebrate our plants and gardens and our relevant role as a public institution.
The nature of the Springfield Botanical Gardens located within a city park has always directed our focus on our community. Many of our garden volunteers often comment that it is the comradery and social occasions that make this garden so fantastic! Volunteers love being a part of the development and on-going care of the gardens and especially sharing it with others. In building the gardens, we have also built a perfect stage and setting for hosting outdoor concerts, movies and other special events. May 5, 12, and 19 at 2:00 p.m., you can listen to local performers covering a variety of genera of music at the Peace through People Pavilion. On May 17 and 18, we will host the seasonal “Romance in the Garden.” Seeing the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden under the full moon light, soft music and the experience of floating a wishing lantern on the ponds provides a small glimpse of a culture on the other side of the world. On May 18, families can enjoy a movie night under the stars at the Peace Through People Pavilion; the movie will be “Hotel Transylvania III: Summer Vacation.” Special events create opportunities to interact with other community members in a beautiful setting.
The Springfield Botanical Gardens is a great place to gain an appreciation for nature and understand the value of native plants that are most effective for attracting and sustaining songbirds and butterflies. On May 18, we will open the Dr. Bill Roston Native Butterfly House for its 10th season and will host a Native Plant Market. Some of the activities on that day include information from local agencies and free lectures on Caterpillar Rearing, Planting for Pollinators and Designing with Natives. The Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center is a destination for people across the region to discover plants especially for landscaping. There is nothing quite like this garden for more than 100 miles! Whether you want to know what plants will not be beat by our weather or what plants bring the best balance of nature around our homes, I believe the lessons people learn here and incorporate in their home landscapes is making a positive impact on our greater environment. One example is the improved monarch butterfly population in Mexico this past year as reported in research studies. Some of the on-going studies in our gardens include bird surveys conducted with volunteers from the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society and Friends of the Garden’s Butterfly House data collection on monarch migration and butterfly species that are found in the Kickapoo Edge Prairie Garden; these studies help us understand the health of our environment.
Finally, the Botanical Gardens is relevant as a center for higher learning and edible and medicinal research. One example: multiple disciplines across every college campus in Springfield have used our gardens for practical experience and education. The next example includes the nature of the appointment for the MU Extension’s Horticulture Specialist that includes research. During Public Gardens Week, MU Extension will host a Garlic School on May 17. One multi-year study in the Master Gardeners Demonstration Gardens helped determine which cultivars of garlic perform best in our region. Garlic is more than just a flavor but is used to treat conditions related to the heart and blood system. The current Horticulture Specialist of Greene County, Kelly McGowan, is working on a research study of our native elderberry for its medicinal value. Medical botany is gaining more mainstream popularity despite minimum quantitative research. Botanical gardens can be the source of plant material used in research and sharing the findings with the community.
Please consider no single person or private business could create the breadth and depth as we have at the Springfield Botanical Gardens. A botanical garden is something that is created by the community and is a relevant institution impacting the quality of life surrounding our homes, influencing our friendships and nourishing and treating our bodies. May you always find relevance in your local botanical garden!
Katie Keith holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in ornamental horticulture and landscape design from the University of Tennessee in her home state. Her passion for public gardens brought her to Springfield, Mo. to become the first Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center Coordinator for the Springfield-Greene County Park Board.