Welcome to the third installment of the Oklahoma County Master Gardeners’ 2015 Members’ Tour!
If you are just joining the eye candy parade, please feel free to explore stop #1 here and stop #2 here.
Our tour bus’ third stop that fine late summer day was at a local public landmark, Will Rogers Park.
Hope you enjoy!
The gardens at Will Rogers Park have for many decades been popular for weddings, social gatherings, civic receptions, and all sorts of special photography sessions. I think most locals have good childhood memories wrapped up in these 116 acres. The grounds have recently undergone a perfectly stunning transformation, and exploring in early September was the perfect way to take it all in. I am so glad this place was included in the Members’ Tour. My photos, as usual, will not do any of it justice, so I hope my Oklahoma friends will find time to venture to N.W. 36th & Hefner Parkway and feast your own eyes. We all know that the gorgeous Myriad gardens in downtown OKC get lots of fanfare and tourist attention, but this mainstay is enjoying a new season of youth and beauty. Totally worth the drive.
First, some interesting history, courtesy of our tour guide John, a 28-year veteran horticulturist for the park:
- WRP was founded in 1912, one of four parks around the city, all connected at that time by the OKC speedway known as “Grand Boulevard.”
- The 116 acres started as a dairy farm, and the original farm house stands on the property to this day.
- The WPA and the CCC did the construction work and hardscaping early on, though every decade since has brought new redesign and updates. Truly a fun work in progress.
- The public gardens finally opened in 1936.
- The existing Conservatory was once our State Fair Grounds.
- The Conservatory has been remodeled at least twice; once in 1970 by Ed Lychon and again in recent years, to the tune of about $2 million. Today the gorgeous, modern, light filled building is used as a special event center.
- Another fairly new expansion at WRP is the one-mile walking trail, which is used daily by all sorts of happy gartden guests.
- Over the years, WRP has been maintained mostly by volunteers from both the Master Gardener group and the Oklahoma Horticulture Society, also sometimes a women’s recovery group. The park has a limited budget and only three full time employees. Even so, virtually all of their plant material is propagated on grounds. All the color and texture you see here is grown from seed, and they focus on plants that the average homeowner could obtain locally. Kind of amazing.
Now, a glimpse of the grounds. We visited mid-morning on an early September day. The sky was nearly cloudless, and the air was already hot and humid. Thick, like always. Oklahoma had just enjoyed a nice, wet summer, so anything that could bloom was really putting on a show; and anything that had something to offer the pollinators, well, they drew a fluttering, buzzing crowd for us to walk through. It was really magical. Our group did seek the cool of shady corners now and then, but the gleaming beauty of each new area was just so thrilling. So bursting with life, like maybe we were in Oz.
I remember visiting Will Rogers gardens as a little girl, all of us girls wearing our long cotton pastel Easter dresses, bangs twisted back in barrettes, having our photos taken in the sun, near the pond. We ran up and around the sidewalks, falling in love with the shady concrete paths and running across the green lawns. I remember thinking even then how dangerous and delicate rose bushes were. How temporary and unfeeling they seemed. I threw lots of coins in the fountain pool and conducted my fair share of make believe stories in the cobblestone shelters. Wonderful memories that were probably very formative for me.
You know what, let’s double back to those roses. Locals know and love this place for the dozens upon dozens of thriving rose bushes that once grew, making WRP home to the fourth largest rose garden in the world; but just like at almost every other property in the region the plants were stricken by Rose Rosette’s disease. The horticulturists here made the angsty decision to rip all of them out and start fresh with new garden designs. Brand new plant material, all propagated on site in the spacious, drool-worthy grow houses. In fact, Master Gardeners were some of the volunteers to install all of that glorious color you see above.
So, it’s too bad about the roses. For sure. But my gosh. How true to the Oklahoma spirit that they found a way to extract this kind of beauty from such a loss. It just makes me happy.
Here are some of my personal takeaways from the WRP tour, lessons I’d like to apply at the farm:
- Make plant selections suitable for the vacancies you are filling. Consider light exposure, wind, trees, etc. Be experimental but also deliberate about it. (This seems more obvious than it is when I am traipsing through the nursery…)
- Learn more about drought-tolerant plants and Oklahoma Proven.
- Plant single flower types in extra large quantities. “En masse’ is super impactful! John said halfway ashamedly that they “kinda overdid it,” here and there, haha but I disagree. It is all so gorgeous!!
- Spend some energy on repetition and exciting combinations of color and texture. More planning, less dice rolling.
- Consider keeping replacement plants growing in a spare location, especially for those beauties done En Masse.
- Plan to reevaluate the garden each fall, taking stock of what grew well, what struggled, what could be improved. Work on soils, clean things up, and spend the winter preparing for spring.
Something I appreciate about WRP is that, though they operate on such a large scale, they have found ways to overcome many of the same problems we face as homeowners and small scale gardeners. For example, they have a limited budget. They have little irrigation, relying almost entirely on rainfall. They strive to grow Oklahoma natives as well as plants that are either sourced locally or can be propagated on site. And they have lots of work to do with very little time to do it, haha! Sound familiar? They do not even own their own wood chipper! I mean, it is humbling in the sense that what they have accomplished here obliterates all my excuses. And it is inspiring for exactly that same reason.
Okay friends, thanks a million for stopping here again! I hope you enjoyed this slice of the Members’ Tour. We still have five more properties to explore, so stay tuned!
may be the best thing for you
if you don’t let it get the best of you.”