Taking a break from harvesting German camomile, Barb Emge offers an impromptu tour of the 15 themed herb plots at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park.
She knows nearly every plant’s name, how they’re used and even their scents.
“This herb garden is meant to be smelled,” she said, crushing a leaf with her fingers and sharing the lemony aroma.
Emge, a master gardener with a passion for herbs, is one of hundreds of people who donate time to maintaining the Springfield Botanical Gardens, making the city’s largest public park a hot spot for locals and visitors.
Barb Emge tends to the herb garden at Nathanael/Close Memorial Park.
While Emge tended the herbs in the Master Gardeners Demonstration Gardens, Tom Lakowske was down the hill taking care of hostas. With more than 250 varieties on display, the garden is one of only a few in the country to earn the designation of American Hosta Society National Display Garden.
Nathanael/Close Memorial Park includes a number of attractive water gardens and unique decorative features.
It’s a peaceful place to enjoy quiet repose, and frequent setting for weddings thanks to a canopy of shade, small waterfall and flower-adorned platform where the bride, groom and wedding party can stand during the ceremony. The hosta garden also is a popular spot for people to record their visit.
“All day long people will be in here taking photos of their families,” Lakowske said.
Knowing his work results in a delightful setting that appeals to so many is a source of pride and satisfaction for Lakowske, who plans to volunteer in the gardens for years to come.
A waterfall in the hosta garden at Nathanael/Close Memorial Park.
“This is the most beautiful place in Springfield,” Lakowske said, gazing at the shade-loving plants he tends. “If a visitor doesn’t come here, they’ve missed the beauty of Springfield.”
The park is, indeed, a garden lover’s Eden thanks to dozens of themed and collection gardens such as lilies, irises, peonies, roses, dwarf conifers, native plants, ornamental grasses, a butterfly garden and many others where something is in season nearly every day of the year.
Along with the gardens, the following are found at the park:
- The Botanical Center
- Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden
- Dr. Bill Rosten Native Butterfly House
- Gray-Campbell Farmstead
Walking trails, a small lake, playground equipment, picnic areas and everything else you expect at a park complete the scene for a pleasant way to enjoy the outdoors. “This place is magnificent,” Lakowske said. “I love it here.”
Something is always in season at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park.
- January-February - Witchhazel, crocus and early fruits and veggies
- Mid March - Daffodils, redbuds and woodland flowers
- Early April - Dogwood, azaleas and bulbs
- Early May - Irises, peonies and roses
- June - Trial gardens, English Garden, White Garden and summer annuals
- Mid June - Daylilies and Asiatic lilies
- Mid July - Hostas
- August - Tropical plants and flowering bushes, including cannas, hibiscus, crepe myrtle, hydrangea, butterfly bush and rose of Sharon; annuals and wildflowers
- September - Ornamental Grass Garden; Japanese Fall Festival; Gray-Campbell Farmstead 1860's Life Expo; Monarch Butterfly tagging and closing of the Butterfly House
- October - Mums and roses; Enjoy colorful fall foliage and prairie activity
- November - Birds harvest seeds from the Ornamental Grass Garden and the Dwarf Conifer Garden in evergreen
- December - Holiday activities and train display in the Botanical Center