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A Recipe for Neighborhood Beauty

by Renee Kirnberger

Completed Rath Environmental Center, English Cottage Garden and Formal Gardens about 1993. Photo provided courtesy of Nanette Draper Lewis. All rights reserved®.
Our main building is made of Chicago yellow brick. We were informed that similar brick was available from a building being torn down in Chicago. And, voila! We have a beautiful, walled English Cottage Garden and adjoining Carriage House.
The crowning glory of Rotary Gardens is the authentic Japanese Bridge. While surveying the land, Dr. Yahr noticed some laminated beams from the old sewage plant amongst all the piles of debris. He asked a local contractor and an engineer if they were good enough to make a bridge out of them to stretch across the sixty-foot straight which connects the two ponds.
An Autumn look at the Japanese Bridge reflecting in the Trout Pond. Photo provided courtesy of Nanette Draper Lewis, All Rights Reserved ©.

Most botanical gardens and arboreta are tax supported (Boerner, Chicago) or developed by affluent families (Calloway, Longwood, Butchart). But that is not the only way to build one. If you have the right combination of resources, you can build something beautiful for your community without reliance on tax dollars. The following is our "recipe" for making Rotary Gardens in Janesville,Wisconsin a success.

Ingredient 1: A Dream

In this case, Dr. Robert Yahr's dream. In 1988, Dr. Yahr, a retired orthodontist, visited two local service club projects located just east and west of a fifteen-acre parcel of land with a two-acre, spring-fed pond. This land, and adjoining dilapidated brick building, were vacant for thirty-five years, and at the time, served as a storage site for the City's Parks Department. Old lamp posts, railroad ties, automotive parts, bottles and other garbage and debris desecrated the land and pond.

According to Yahr, the whole area was all sand and filled with underbrush, cottonwood trees and Siberian Elm. "It was a total junk yard," he explains. But, Dr. Yahr saw beyond the rubbish and envisioned much, much more.

From here, Yahr approached his service club, Rotary International. The two Janesville Rotary Clubs supported Dr. Yahr's idea and the Janesville City Council approved a ninety-nine-year lease. Next, Dr. Yahr shared his vision with the community, and that community warmly received his welcome.

Ingredient 2: Professional Assistance

Local contractors donated their time, equipment and expertise to clean up the land and to create conditions that would be favorable to grow a variety of plant material. Over 15,000 yards of topsoil had to be brought in the first year because the original land had been mined for sand and gravel. A large portion of this soil was donated by a nearby factory building site.

In the beginning, contractors and road builders supplied trucks and bulldozers to remove debris and add soil. Drivers donated their time, tree movers donated trees, and a local Landscape Architect helped Yahr lay out the first garden area.

One day, Dr. Yahr took a picture of a gazebo from a magazine and asked a local lumber company to develop the plan. A builder precut the whole structure and, with the help of about a dozen volunteers, assembled it perfectly.

Area landscapers have donated their design talents and supplies, and local nurseries have either given discounts or donated hundreds of flats of flowers over the past eight years.

But it hasn't stopped there. These professionals have worked with volunteers and committees to develop a master plan, to choose appropriate plantings for the different gardens, to spread the word about the project they helped to build and to make dreams into reality.

Ingredient 3: The Glass is Half Full Perspective

The recycling of materials has been the backbone of Rotary Gardens' development. The site, building and many features at the Gardens were used before, then rejuvenated for their current practical or ornamental setting.

Our main building, for example, served as administrative offices for the Wilcox Sand & Gravel Company in the early 1900s, then as a private residence with holding pens for livestock. In 1989, the building was gutted, retucked and rebuilt on the inside with help from many volunteers and workers from the General Motors Jobs Bank program. Volunteers did all the carpentry, painting, and roofing, and the tile work and furniture were donated.

Statuary is an important facet of botanical gardens, yet the cost of such structures can be exorbitant. A unique way we provide elegant and appropriate statuary and other permanent structures, in a cost-effective manner, is to recycle old items within our community.

The crowning glory of Rotary Gardens is the authentic Japanese Bridge. While surveying the land, Dr. Yahr noticed some laminated beams from the old sewage plant amongst all the piles of debris. He asked a local contractor and an engineer if they were good enough to make a bridge out of them to stretch across the sixty-foot straight which connects the two ponds.

The engineer drew up the plans and the bridge was built on land in April of 1990. It took three months to build with the help of contractors and builders. In June of 1990, the bridge was craned into place. Pictures of the bridge grace the walls of many area businesses. It is also a lasting image that most visitors take home with them.

Although every structure in the Gardens was not donated, you would be surprised at the number of wonderful elements that can be added at little or no cost.

Ingredient 4: A very generous community

No tax dollars have been involved in the development and maintenance of Rotary Gardens. Everything we offer is available because of the generous financial donations and countless hours of volunteer labor contributed by the community. This includes local residents, businesses, foundations and professionals in a variety of fields.

Currently, there are three full-time, and seven part-time/seasonal staff employed at Rotary Gardens. Due to the amount of time volunteers donate, over 10,000 hours in 1996, we are able to successfully maintain the various gardens and offer the community a wide variety of educational programs and special events.

In 1993, Dr. Yahr, staff and an ad hoc design committee hired Buettner & Associates, Landscape Architects and planners in Fox Point, Wisconsin, to prepare a master plan for Rotary Gardens. At that time, the English Cottage Garden, Formal Gardens, Japanese Garden, as well as, the Gazebo and Japanese Bridge construction had either been completed or were in the future stages of development.

Our budget has grown from $0 to over $270,000 in nine years. "Although many volunteers still continue to work in all capacities, we needed a staff to bring continuity to all areas of operations," remarks Yahr.

Today, Rotary Gardens features fifteen themed and specialty gardens. Our mission is to demonstrate several garden styles and plants suitable for use in various ethnic gardens and to provide environmental education to schoolchildren and horticultural/gardening education to the entire community.

Citizens with all types of backgrounds, skills and interests have taken their own piece of Dr. Yahr's dream and, together, created a beautiful garden for local residents and visitors world-wide to enjoy. I encourage you to find these ingredients in your own community, mix equal parts together, and see what you can grow! LASN

***LASN publishes exclusive material only. If you are going to reproduce any article, you must cite the publication volume and month, which are provided on the heading of each article. Back issues of magazines and reprints of individual articles with full graphics may be available by calling the LASN Editorial Staff at 714-979-5276 for availability and pricing.

SIDEBAR:

Design/Build for the Community

and the Children

 
A tribute to generosity and fellowship, the Haley Nance Memorial Playground in Fyffe, AL captures the spirit of the beloved little girl. Photo provided courtesy of GameTime.

The creation of a playground is one way of providing children in neighborhoods across the country with new experiences in a safe and educaationally supportive environment. The community build process offers corporate America and local communities the opportunity to come together and put into practice the principles that are fundamental to our country and our futures. Many vendors across the nation help communities design, raise funds for and install the play equipment of their dreams.

Recently, GameTime employees came together to donate their time for the construction of a unit for the town of Fyffe, Alabama. This project was inspired by the death of a GameTime employee's special needs daughter. The entire community came together to build this accessible play environment for all children. The resulting experience has been fantastic. One special girl with spina bifida took her very first steps on the unit's bridge; one little girl, who was ocnfined to a small, shaded porch only hundreds of yards away from the playground is now participating and interacting with others.

In conjunction with GameTime, Inc., Fibar, Inc. has provided its Fibar System for over 400 Robert Leathers Community-built playgrounds, as well as other local projects. The company has participated in the Ronald MacDonald House, Institutes for the Blind, and Facilities for Special Needs Children.

At the kick-off event for the President's Summit for America's future, a bare plot of ground in the Germantown area of Philadelphia was transformed into Nicetown Playground. Sponsored in part by Playground Environments, Kimberly-Clark Corporation and the Philadelphia Eagles, the community-built playground was designed by the children of the area who participated in a "Design Day" last March. LASN

Landscape Architects who want to contribute their tremendous skills and vision to community build projects in their own neighborhoods may contact:

GameTime 800-235-2440 www.gametime.com

Playground Environments800-662-0922

Fibar, Inc. 800-342-2721


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