From Abandoned To Beautiful: Sunken Gardens

Lincoln, Nebraska Sunken Gardens – This 1.5 acre was once nothing more than a dumpsite where houses once dotted the area before the Depression. Then, employing the unemployed and to create beauty in this area, the Faulkners, the Freys, and the Seacrest families would donate this land to become the Sunken Gardens in 1930.

For the times, it was a massive undertaking, and each man worked for $6.40 a week, 8-hour shifts twice a week to create “Rock Garden,” the original name. At this time, rock gardens were popular across the country, and some would be varying heights of retaining walls and others would water fountains. These gardens would give the locals something pleasing to look at in a time when things seemed hopeless.

By 1931, there were more than 400 trees and shrubs in bloom, and after spending $2,500, the project was considered complete. Then 73 years later, several improvements were made, making it the only public one of National Geographic Guide’s “300 Best Gardens to Visit in the U.S. and Canada.”

A Campaign For “Polishing the Gem”

Then in 2003, a campaign of almost 2 million dollars was spent to give the Gardens a much-needed facelift. This would be the first-ever major renovation in which a partial endowment was established on that behalf, which became known as “Polish the Gem”, which would become known as Lincoln’s Sunken Gardens. The goal was met in under a year.

Two new programs were developed because of the “Polishing the Gem” campaign:

  • One Flower Forever
  • Paving the Path

Both programs allow the residents of Lincoln Nebraska to provide ongoing support for the Sunken Gardens, contributing recognition of friends and loved ones. By 2005, the major renovation was completed, and two new sculptures were introduced in July of that year.

The improvements made during that renovation included:

  • Handicap accessibility
  • Entry garden pavilion
  • New sculptural elements
  • Restrooms
  • Renovated lily ponds
  • Restored cascading water feature
  • Additional space for events on the lawn

These additions and renovations made the Sunken Gardens a place for weddings, a view of the Gardens from the pavilion, and more.  What was once an abandoned, depressed land is now beauty and pride for the residents of Lincoln, Nebraska.

The Gardens

Within the Sunken Gardens, you’ll find these areas with their purpose:

Healing Garden

The Healing Garden was inspired by Kent, England’s famous White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle. Created by Vita Sackville West and Harold Nicholson in the 1930s, this has become a beautiful gathering of white blossoms that inspire calm, meditation, and serenity with an ethereal quality of the garden enjoyed on a moonlit summer evening.

Perennial Garden

All through the Sunken Gardens are perennials with a featured area in the upper level. There, you will see multiple varieties of hydrangeas, hostas, and viburnum.

Annual Garden
Many volunteers work this garden planting and tending to thousands of annuals, creating a different theme every spring.

Primarily serving as design inspiration, garden themes have included Tropicalismo, Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, Hachimaki – a stylized Japanese headband, “Power of the Peacock,” “Purple Haze” and “Solar Flare.”

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