The Sunken Gardens


“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”

     —Audrey Hepburn


Located on 27th and Capital Parkway, the Sunken Gardens is the perfect place to spend a summer afternoon. Whether looking for a peaceful retreat from the chaos of everyday life or a place to take the kids to get a little bit of sunshine, the Sunken Gardens is a serene destination. Free and open to the public, the gardens are open from 6 am to 11 pm daily, with restrooms open from April to October. Just across the street from the Sunken Gardens are the Hamann Rose Gardens and the Rotary Strolling Garden.

The Sunken Gardens was built in 1930 as part of a city program that helped unemployed men earn money. By 1931, this Depression-era project was ready to be enjoyed by the public, with 416 trees and shrubs. 

Originally called Lincoln’s “Rock Garden,” the gardens were a big change from the abandoned neighborhood dumpsite they were built upon.

The gardens continued to flourish over the next 73 years, and were even named in the National Geographic Guide to America’s Public Gardens as one of the “300 Best Gardens to Visit in the U.S. and Canada.” But by the early 2000s, the Gardens were beginning to show their age. This caused the Lincoln Parks Foundation to start a campaign to provide the first major renovation of the Gardens. 

The renovation was completed in the summer of 2005. 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 ponds, retaining walls, additional lawn space, a restored cascading water feature, and handicap accessible parking, entrances and walkways were built during the 11-month project. Over 100 trees and 1,000 shrubs were added as well as 18,000 square feet of space for annual flowers. 

The renovations also brought two new art pieces. Dr. Wayne Southwick created Reveille, inspired by his wife Ann getting the children out of bed and ready for the day. Attached to the new restroom building is the Rotary Pavilion, a dome made of individual laser cut panels riveted together to create the four seasons of Lincoln’s skyline, designed by architect Jeffrey Chadwick.

Today, the terraced gardens feature the Healing Garden, the Perennial Garden, and the Annual Garden. Inspired by the renowned White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, England, the white blossoms of the Healing Garden are meant to inspire calm and serenity. This garden is located in the upper level on the west side. The Perennial Garden is located in the upper level on the north side, though perennials can be found throughout the Gardens. The Annual Garden hosts thousands of individual plants and changes theme each year. Past themes include Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Power of the Peacock, and Purple Reign. 

Each Spring, volunteers can help plant the annual garden in an annuals event called Wake-Up the Beds. Wake-Up the Beds takes place in mid-May and helpers can volunteer individually or in groups.

Garden Gab is a great opportunity for garden enthusiasts to not only volunteer at the gardens, but to learn new skills to keep their own gardens looking beautiful. Every Tuesday and Thursday, May through October, Public Gardens staff cover different aspects of gardening in these Learn and Do sessions. 

Another Learn and Do opportunity is available during the Rose Garden Spring Clean-Up. Volunteers will learn the proper pruning of hybrid tea roses, proper maintenance techniques for general rose care during the summer growing season, and tools and their proper uses. While learning, rose lovers can enjoy the beauty of the 123 varieties of roses grown in the Hamann Rose Garden.

Volunteers also lead guided tour groups through the gardens.

Finally, when the summer is over and its once again time to say goodbye to the beautiful blossoms, volunteers are invited to Sunken Gardens’ Put the Beds to Bed. Volunteers help pull the annual flowers and spade the garden for winter.

For information regarding volunteer opportunities at the gardens, please contact the Public Garden Section Volunteer Coordinator Zac Halley, email:

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