Everyday Gardeners

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Lincoln’s Sunken Gardens

Just spent a delightful weekend right next-door in Nebraska exploring horticultural destinations large and small. Included on my itinerary were stops at Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha, the impressive National Arbor Day Foundation in Nebraska City, and the historic Sunken Gardens in Lincoln. Built in 1930, the Sunken Gardens was a Depression-era project for unemployed men to earn wages to support their families. Waiting to show me around was Steven J. Nosal, the horticulturist in charge of this 1.5-acre gem. That’s the two of us in the garden, below.

Lincoln’s “Rock Garden” (as it was originally called) reflected the popular 1930s trend for rock gardening in general. Rocks were used for the garden’s skeleton. Structures like water fountains and retaining walls at different heights to create terraced levels. The original design aimed to evoke mountain scenery with rocks on the terraced walls creating the garden’s edge. But the plantings were executed by the city’s horticultural department and concentrates more on cheerful floral displays than on the use of alpine plants. The centerpiece of the garden was a cascading waterfall surrounding Rebecca at the Well, a sculpture of a woman holding a water jug by Ellis Burman. There were also two reflecting pools.

After nearly 73 years without a major renovation, the Sunken Gardens was overhauled in 2004. While maintaining many design elements of the original garden, several new features were added, making the garden easier to maintain and access. A new parking lot, public restrooms, underground sprinklers, renovated lily ponds, retaining walls and new walkways were built. More than 100 trees and 1,000 shrubs were added as well as 18,000 square feet of additional space for annual flowers, which are showcased in a theme that changes from year to year. Steven and his group of dedicated volunteers have created a show-stopper of a garden definitely worthy of your next botanical road trip.

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