We found Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens near Kansas City, Kansas, as the sky approached sunset. The tall trees and sprawling shrubs cast long shadows around Margaret’s Pond where turtles swim.
Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens first opened in 1996 with the design of the young public garden centered on reclaiming the prairies and rejuvenating the wild grasses and native plants. Visitors to the city of Overland Park learn about its lands and garden plants at the arboretum that grow in the eastern section of Kansas.
Prairie Arboretum Revitalized with Botanical Gardens
Gardeners call the biggest plants of the botanical world the “bones” of a garden. Trees and shrubs give gardens a natural structure and create a backdrop for the smaller plantings in a landscape.
Prairies in a temperate climate, such as found in Kansas, are landscapes dominated with as many grasses as trees. Midwest prairies appealed to our ancestors who wanted to farm because they found the good drainage and soil moisture properties of the mesic prairies useful.
The Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens revitalized its landscape with stands of trees and rare plant species throughout and uses it to tell a story of the area’s land development. The small botanical gardens north and south of Margaret’s Pond blend well with the characteristics of the arboretum.
Interspersed among flowers planted in containers and small beds of garden plants are the wide sweeping trees and shrubs. We heard water bubbling around a man-made wooden bridge that cut across the pond filled with fish, turtles and frogs. Clematis vines fills the base of a series of metal arbors near the water.
The remainder of the Dry-Mesic prairie is west of Margaret’s Pond. Visitors find native plant species such as bluestem, little bluestem and Indian grasses still growing.
The arboretum’s first botanical garden was the Erickson Water Garden. The garden uses waterfalls, which tumble from massive slabs of limestone, for its “bones” and wildflowers to attract pollinators. Around the smaller pond during the spring, the water garden is a showcase of yellow from its 40 varieties of blooming daffodils.
The Xeriscape Garden welcomes visitors near the Visitors’ Center at the entrance; it contains the Cohen Iris Garden with around 300 varieties of plants and a Monet Garden and Herb Garden all well-labeled.
Native Ecosystems at Overland Park Arboretum
Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens identified eight native ecosystems in the park. The arboretum’s staff uses the grounds and their plants to teach new generations about what to reclaim, what is sustainable and what we have lost to the ages. Old growth trees create a huge shady oasis that casts shadows over walk paths leading in and out from open fields around each bend.
A half-mile asphalt walking path encircles the International Sculpture Garden Trail and a Dry-Oak Savanna area in the eastern section. Widely spaced trees define a savanna. Today, the trees have understories filled with non-native woody plants and create a span between prairie and forest.
Wolf Creek edges the Riparian Woodland with mulched trails on each side. Dog walkers often stroll along the path. You will experience the full canopies of silver maple, honey locust, bur oak and Osage orange trees. Dry Oak-Hickory sits above the flood plain. It grows black oak and shagbark hickory and vividly depicts how invasive species push out native plants.
The Mesic Oak-Hickory Forest has limestone cliffs and very large trees growing in very deep moist soils: Trees such as red oak, hackberry and butternut with a ground floor of blooming wildflowers in spring. The Rocky Ridge trail is another mulched pathway also framed by limestone bluffs on the southern banks, another wood-chipped pathway for dog walkers. The arboretum welcomes leashed dogs with the expectation that their owners will remove their pet’s waste from the arboretum’s grounds.
The arboretum calls Old Field a “severely disturbed zone,” which is the result of over-grazing and over-farming by past generations. The park’s volunteers are in the midst of reseeding, haying and burning 160 acres in hopes of returning the lands to pre-pioneer days.
Rough leaf dogwood, red cedar and some prairie natives such as prickly pear and pale purple coneflower grow in the Wooded Draws.
Visiting the Overland Park Arboretum near Kansas City
Overland Park Arboretum is a 300-acre public garden southwest of Kansas City in Overland Park, Kansas.
The native lands once brimmed with the iconic Midwestern wind-swept prairie grasses. Infrequently dotted with clumps of trees, citizens might have considered the prairie grasses the structures of their landscape – the bones of their native gardens.
Today, Overland Park Arboretum has reclaimed and preserved 85 percent of the restored property by developing eight natural ecosystems. Botanical gardens cover the remaining land with approximately five miles of paved and unpaved hiking trails and two 75-feet bridges that visitors use to span the Wolf Creek.
The design of Overland Park Arboretum focuses on local residents, as well as tourists, who want to experience an outdoor Midwestern public garden while in the Kansas City area. Concrete, asphalt and gravel surfaces make up the walking paths.
Overland Park Arboretum: Inexpensive View of Local Ecosystems
As most botanical gardens and public arboretums go, Overland Park Arboretum is an inexpensive adventure fit for people and families of any age who value the perpetuation of local native ecosystems. The sidewalks and the parking lot meet the Americans with Disabilities Act standards for accessibility.