Friday, May 6, is National Public Gardens Day. In a country where there’s a “day” for everything from peanut butter to pancakes, these celebrations are easy to gloss over. But I hope this Friday you might pause to consider why public gardens matter.
My own interest in public gardens dates back to my childhood. I am a Midwest farmer’s daughter. I spent the long summers of my youth almost entirely outdoors. Our farm had many remnants of the days when all of the family’s food was grown there—an orchard with apples, pears, peaches and plums, a blackberry patch, strawberries and during my early years, a half-acre garden of nearly every vegetable we could grow. Daffodils, iris, peonies and lilacs planted by my ancestors greeted us every spring.
But despite my bucolic surroundings, my real love for gardens came from our periodic visits to the city. “Shaw’s Garden” (now known as Missouri Botanic Garden) in St. Louis was a day trip that always charged me up. I didn’t understand landscape architecture then, or realize that an inspired planting scheme requires the eye of an artist. All I knew was that visiting there made me very, very happy.
When I moved to Kansas City for my first job out of college, one of the first things I did was look for this region’s botanical garden. Powell Gardens was in its infancy then, with a temporary International Vegetable Garden as its showcase garden. My best friend and I explored it thoroughly—I still vividly remember the scent of lavender wafting through the thick summer air. As small as it was at the time, I came away with that same euphoric feeling Shaw’s Garden had always stirred in me.
Today I am privileged to work full time at this place I love so very much. It’s my job to encourage others to explore Powell Gardens and all it has to offer. Along the way, I’ve had the chance to introduce my love for public gardens to my young son. In my mind, there’s no greater pleasure in life than watching your child stop in his tracks to appreciate a butterfly, to notice a caterpillar on the underside of a leaf or (yes) to stop and smell the flowers.
As Powell Gardens grows, so do the opportunities for inspiration. Although I left the farm and didn’t inherit a particularly green thumb, the opening of the Heartland Harvest Garden in 2009 brought me right back to my roots. This 12-acre edible landscape inspired my husband to build a raised vegetable bed for our suburban yard. Last summer we feasted on fresh tomatoes, cooked with fresh herbs and even tried yard-long noodle beans on a trellis. (Delicious, I might add!) In the Heartland Harvest Garden my son sampled cucumbers, dug for worms and learned where popcorn comes from. Together, we marveled at the views—who knew vegetables could be so beautiful?
Whether you’re a gardener, a foodie, an artist, a photographer or simply someone who loves the great outdoors, I hope you will pause on Friday to celebrate National Public Gardens Day. You’ll be amazed at just how good a great garden can make you feel.