Lincoln’s Public Gardens
Lincoln is a beautiful city. With a population of over a quarter of a million residents, one would expect to see tall buildings, busy streets, and many shopping opportunities. This is true. Lincoln has all of this and more. What a visitor may not expect to see is the variety of lush and beautiful gardens our city cultivates.
One jewel in our garden landscape is the Sunken Gardens that has been a part of the city since 1930.
The Sunken Gardens, located at 27th Street and Capitol Parkway, is listed in the “300 Best Gardens to Visit in the United States and Canada” by National Geographic Guide to Public Gardens. This makes us very proud and lucky.
Each year a theme is chosen and displayed through blooming plants, leaf plants, perennials and annuals combined. This last year, with the theme being an Aztec design, you saw each step of the process throughout the seasons. Between one hundred and two hundred volunteers came out in the spring to “wake up” the bed. School-age children worked amongst seniors and every age in between enjoyed each other’s company as much as the feel of the soil on their spades. All work was supervised by the Parks and Recreation staff. Hot dogs and chips were dispensed along with whichever plants you were assigned to plant. If you had a red arm band, you were given a flat of red blooming flowers. If you were wearing a yellow arm band, your job was to plant yellow flowers in the designated areas.
Last year’s Aztec design was particularly easy to see in the spring with the bold lines clearly visible and exciting to explore. As spring turned to summer, the colors ripened and filled out in spectacular beauty. By early autumn, the vibrant colors included yellow mums in a half circle along one upper edge of the garden, leading the way to long swaths of orange blooming plants depicting the sun’s rays across the pond, and up to the other side of garden. In late autumn, volunteers returned to “put the garden to bed” with the same joy and verve that the spring planting brought them.
Each part of this Sunken Gardens adds to the whole. The Rebecca statue (modern spelling) located at the top of hill is a woman pouring her water jug out to trickle and then flow down the three tiers of rock and plants to fill a pond at the base where you will see fish and frog alike resting amongst the flora. This statue replaced the original Rebekka (Biblical spelling) statue that stood in the pond at the bottom of the fountain. Through the years, Rebekka needed to be either removed or restored. When it was decided it would be best to remove her, the citizens of Lincoln showed their devotion to her the garden by raising enough money to cast the modern Rebecca statue seen today.
The Moon Pavilion is a newer stone structure that includes restrooms and a showcase of featured plantings in the garden. The pillars that hold the dome came from a local mansion that was being built, and then were not needed. The intricate metal work that comprises the dome depicts the skyline of Lincoln. Each of the four panels showcases a specific piece of Lincoln history. The seasons are incorporated in unique ways. If you look at the capitol on the dome in the fall, you can see the actual Capitol building as there are no leaves on the trees. In the first panel, there is a raccoon in a knothole in the tree. In the second panel, there is a female raccoon on the limb next to the raccoon in the hole. In the third panel, both male and female raccoons are in the hole. In the fourth panel, there is a family of raccoons with three babies in the knothole. The circle of life mimics the seasons of the garden. When you are touring the Sunken Garden, stop to look at the dome of the moon pavilion and see what you may find hidden in the design.
A unique aspect of the Sunken Gardens is the two living ponds (water garden) that house not only fish and frogs but also different varieties of water lilies, algae and insects. A water garden is a living ecosystem. Ponds begin with water. Add some plants and the snails come. Add some fish, they eat bugs and provide nutrients for the plants. The sun and the water create an environment that is friendly to algae and a little algae starts to grow. The fish graze on the algae and their waste continues to feed the plants, the plants give off oxygen which is beneficial to the fish. In a few months there is a cycle of life going on that is self-sustaining. Much like this garden itself helps Lincoln sustain its peace and beauty.
The Healing Garden is located at the top southwest corner of the hill surrounding the Sunken Gardens. It is said that if you are there at the right phase of the moon and time of evening, this garden actually glows. All plants have white blossoms and nestled between two large blue spruce pines are benches for quiet contemplation.
The focal point of this area is the Revelry sculpture which is an angel with trumpet pointing towards the sky. 1.5 acres of blossoms, water, trees, shrubs and brick pathways are all parts of the whole Sunken Gardens and make for a beautiful jewel located in the center of our city.
Hamann Rose Garden at Antelope Park has been a part of Lincoln for 75 years.
Across the road from the Sunken Gardens is the Hamann Rose Garden on 27th and C Streets. If you are visiting the Sunken Gardens, you must also stop at the Hamann Rose Garden. Roses of every variety and color may be found here. There is something to delight every rose lover, and anyone who enjoys beauty. Here the roses are identified with name plates. There are so many to choose from it is difficult to name a favorite, however this author was touched by the delicate pink rose titled Secret.
North of the Hamann Rose Garden is the Rotary Strolling Garden. This was added in 2008 and here you will find several hardy shrub roses and many drought tolerant perennial plants native to Nebraska. White metal orb sculptures rest among these plants looking almost like blossom themselves. A gazebo for resting and pondering the beauty of ife is also available in this garden.
Veterans Memorial Garden
Located in Antelope Park at 3200 Memorial Drive are more than 20 military monuments. Here you will find solemn beauty, peaceful reflection, and a place to personally and privately honor those who serve, or have served our country. Memorials dedicated to the Navy, Army, National Guard, Army Nurses, Canine troops, and Civil War honorees are but a sampling of the rich history found in this garden. Each area is unique. Some show flags of the branch of military. Some have their mottos inscribed in stone. Some have benches for reflection, and some simply show a picture etched in stone of the battle fought. Graceful willow trees, tall pine trees and old oak trees surround the areas of the garden. Pioneers Park Nature Center Gardens There are several gardens to choose from at the Pioneers Park Nature Center. You can spend the afternoon and explore them all. Nebraska native plants along with other types of prairie plants live together in rugged beauty. Drought tolerant landscaping surrounds the Prairie building and near the Chet Ager building, you will find, and be intoxicated by the smell of over a 150 herbs in the Louise Evans Doole Herb Garden.
The Butterfly Garden is a school-age child’s favorite stop. The Butterfly Garden is planted every year with colorful annuals by budding preschool children and their green thumb families.
We here in Lincoln hope that you enjoy your tour of our gardens. Each offers something of beauty, pride and honor to all who enter them.