Exploring the Gardens of Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park in Off-Peak Seasons

Twice this year we’ve had occasion to visit Springfield, Missouri, and on both trips we spent time in the botanical gardens at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park. Neither March nor mid-October is considered an ideal Midwest garden season, but on both visits we found plenty of beauty in the park.

The 114 acre park is comprised of more than twenty specialty and collection gardens of various sizes, largely planted and maintained by over 400 volunteer members of the Friends of the Garden Club.

In March we explored the south end of the park, near Lake Drummond. The lake is named after Anne Drummond, civic leader and mother-in-law of Major Close. Major Close is a local citizen who bought and then donated much of the land for the park in honor of his father, who had a passion for gardening. He and his wife, Marthe, continue to visit the park frequently.

Anne Drummond sculpturesTrees were beginning to bud in March, but spring flowers were sprouting from the ground, with some in bloom. We could tell it would be especially peaceful in the summer, with plenty of shade to keep cool, benches to sit and relax, and a trail around the lake for a leisurely stroll.

Statuary at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial ParkArt at Nathanael Greene/CloseMemorial ParkBy the time we returned in October we had missed most of the summer flowers, and the trees were just starting to turn to autumn hues. Despite being past peak garden season, there was still a lot to see. Katie Steinhoff, the Botanical Center’s horticultural coordinator, took us on a tour of the gardens.

Autumn trees

Master Gardener Demonstration Garden

We began in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden, one of Katie’s favorite places to see a little bit of everything because it’s reflective of things that would be of interest to the home gardener. Plants here include native specimens, edibles, herbs, ornamental flowers, shrubs and perennials, with a few annuals tucked in here and there. Although there were several bare spots, we still saw lots of color bursts and textures.

Demonstration Garden

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One texture I wasn’t too fond of was the Bed of Nails plant. I hadn’t heard of that plant before and although it’s a beautiful plant, I quickly found out why it bears the name that it does. Ouch!

Bed of NailsThough the plants in the herb garden were dwindling, scents of thyme, fennel and other herbs wafted through the air as we meandered through the garden path. Katie said there had been thirty flavors of thyme planted in one bed. I had no idea that many varieties of thyme existed. Of those still in the bed, some varieties were growing upward, and others drooped downward. Katie likened a thyme bed with a day lily or hosta garden. Separate, you think many of them look alike, but when planted near each other, you can tell the differences in the varieties.

herb garden

Japanese Stroll Garden

My favorite part of the park was the Japanese stroll garden. A Japanese garden doesn’t need a lot of color to be effective. In the spring, cherry and dogwood trees blossom, and of course, in the fall you have color when leaves change. Mostly, though, a Japanese garden is about the forms.

Japanese stroll garden

Japanese gardens are created to remind visitors of different places in Japan. Large rocks represent rocky cliffs; Japanese black pine trees are pruned into cloud shapes; and gravel raked into patterns represents ocean waves.

rocks in Japanese gardenPonds, bridges, statuary and a tea house all add to the beauty of the garden.

bridge in Japanese gardenPond in Japanese gardentea house

Gray-Campbell Homestead

The Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park is also home to the Gray-Campbell Homestead, a group of original or reconstructed buildings representative of early Springfield. The Gray-Campbell home, built in 1856 and with ties to the city’s founder, is the oldest known existing home in Springfield. The exterior of the one-room Liberty School is a reproduction, but almost everything inside is original. The park district often holds interactive weekend events that give you a peek into the past.

Gray-Campbell Homestead

Butterfly House

Our last stop of the day was the Butterfly House. During the summer, thirty different species of butterflies flutter throughout the structure. The season ends in September, so when we visited, there were only a few butterflies lingering, including this giant swallowtail.

giant swallowtail butterflyEarlier in the day Katie showed us giant swallowtail larvae, which resemble bird droppings, their defense mechanism. Park staff will keep the larvae refrigerated through the winter and will use it to restock the Butterfly House in the spring.

giant swallowtail larvaeThe Butterfly House is filled with trees and plants that butterflies feed and lay eggs on. Various species feed and reproduce on very specific plants. Monarchs, for instance, lay eggs only on milkweed.

Themed Playgrounds

Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park isn’t only for adults. Themed playgrounds follow the garden trails, so kids can exert energy on play equipment while adults enjoy the gardens.

If you go

  • Begin your visit at the Botanical Center to pick up a park map and check out the exhibits.
  • Throughout the park you’ll find signposts for the Guide by Cell® Audio Tour. Dial the number and enter the code indicated on the sign for an explanation of the exhibit.
  • Gardens and grounds, except the Japanese stroll garden, are open year-round, sunrise to sunset.
  • The Japanese stroll garden is open April through October. Admission is $3 for adults and free for children 12 and under. Admission is free for members of other botanical gardens that participate in the Reciprocal Admissions Program.
  • The Butterfly House is open May through September. Admission is free.
  • Location: 2400 South Scenic Avenue, Springfield, Missouri
  • Check the Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park web site for specific hours and further details.

Disclosure: Our visit to Springfield was hosted by the Springfield Missouri Convention and Visitors Bureau, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own. Photos by Skip Reed.

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