by William Aldrich, Friends of the Garden Volunteer Liaison
It takes three sets of hands to lift the capstone and get it positioned more than four feet off the ground and on top of a column of cinder blocks fronted with Carthage Stone. Malissa Nowack supervises the positioning onto a bed of mortar, then wiggles it herself to get it just right.
Nowack, a master gardener since 2014, is a stone mason, taught by her father, a stone and brick mason. “I worked with him in 1999 when he had a heart attack, I just decided I wanted to get outside more,” she says. “He groomed me to be a stone mason because you can do that by yourself.” She ran her own business for several years until the housing market downturn in 2008, “then I went back to an office job.” But she still did small jobs for homeowners.
Fast-forward to 2017 and Nowack was tapped to teach a course in rock wall building, using the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden at the Springfield Botanical Gardens at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park to demonstrate. So the master gardener chapter knew it had an expert when it formed a Redesign Committee and looked at the entrances to its rather massive garden. Nowack participated but didn’t design the entrances per se. “But I told them what was the most practical way to do it. I drew it up in AutoCAD and worked with Dennis (McMan, Parks Planner) with the drawings.”
Then came the construction. Master Gardener Dean Rainey (whose wife Debra is also a master gardener) brought his backhoe to dig the six footings the entrances would require and master gardener Gale Edwards spent hours in the various excavations setting the forms for the concrete pour not to mention getting irrigation lines moved and working around electrical lines.
Once the bases were formed Nowack used cinder blocks to create the backbone of the columns. She could then begin the tedious process of finding the next stone to fit the jigsaw-like process creating the finished columns. The stones, known as Carthage Stone because of the quarry they come from in Northern Missouri, were repurposed. “The Raineys had demolished a building and had a big pile so we had to sift through it to find the best stones and clean them up,” she said.
The Raineys trucked in 24 pallets for Nowack to whittle, saw and chip to fit the spaces. While it sounds like a lot, Nowack will need another batch to finish the sixth column, this one on the south side of the garden. After a winter hiatus, she says she will “be done by the end of this month!”
The entrances are just one project that has taken place or will be tackled in the “Demo” garden. The enhancements are the result of Great Southern Bank’s commitment to sponsor the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden, part of the sponsorship program initiated by Friends of the Garden.
William Aldrich is FOG’s Garden Volunteer Liaison. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 32 years on the staff of the Chicago Tribune, mostly as an assistant photo editor. He began a freelance sideline as a garden writer in the early ‘80s, became a master gardener with the University of Illinois Extension and founded Chicagoland Gardening Magazine in 1995. As a member of the Garden Writers Association, he served on the national board from 1988-2001, was president in 1998-99, and was named a fellow in 2007. He also served on the Advisory Board of the Chicago Flower & Garden Show and was the seminar manager from 2008-12. He also co-wrote six books for Lone Pine Publishing on gardening in Illinois.
After moving to Springfield, he took the master gardener course and volunteered at the Botanical Gardens where he inherited the rose garden. He continues his volunteer role in the roses and as a master gardener. In 2017, he drove the tram on weekend afternoons and during the week helped in the ticket booth at the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden. In September 2017, he was approached to become the first Garden Volunteer Liaison for FOG.
Last year, the American Horticultural Society approached him to serve as a judge in their annual book awards competition. He has received more than 90 books to review over the last two years and has donated them to the Master Gardeners of Greene County. He will continue his duties for one more year.