There is a gorgeous garden situated in front of the Lawrence Visitor Center, 402 N. Second St., that frames the faÃ§ade of the century-old building and complements the aesthetics of its architecture.
The French-themed design of the garden is quite authentic. I had to pinch myself to remember that I was not in Toulouse or Nice but instead just across the mighty Kansas River, standing in the shade of a sycamore in good old Lawrence.
This serene garden is a surprise on all three counts, considering that it is rooted at the corner of a bustling intersection. While the everyday life of commerce and trade was rumbling across the bridge, I was happily seated in a flowering, remote-feeling epicenter. While I'll admit that I was expecting to battle the noises of the traffic, I was elated to realize the sounds that resonated were of the whipping American flag frantically moving in the breeze, the rushing water from the eye-catching sculpture that is a centerpiece to this magnificent garden and the deep, reverberating sounds of trains rolling down the tracks.
The Union Pacific Depot gardens are a study in what to plant for hot Kansas summers. This garden is a perennial showstopper in the heat of the year. While many gardens are baking and becoming crispy, this one is thriving as the yellow rays of the sun, only make it more spectacular.
Established by an ISTEA Highway enhancement project in 1997, garden construction was completed by a subcontractor, Lawrence Landscape, according to Crystal Miles, horticulture manager for Lawrence Parks and Recreation.
The gardens that greet company to the Visitor Center are sectioned off into nine beds that are divided by large gray stones and with pea gravel separating the beds and used as a functional walkway for guests.
"The curb stones are original to Lawrence's older neighborhoods and many were recycled from a former city landfill," Miles says. "They were used as edging to match the building and because of the vibrations to the soils from the train movements."
The building is equally as fascinating as the garden. The building originally opened to the public in 1889; it survived two floods - one in 1903 and another in 1951, when the stately structure was standing in 30 inches of water. The depot continued to send passengers off until 1971.
Time and the elements had taken their toll on the building. The steeple had fallen off, the walls were crumbling, its hallways were empty, and the buildings' future seemed quite dim. The French vernacular architecture, with masonry inspirations of Richardsonian Romanesque, was rapidly crumbling back to the earth.
The community rallied to repair the historic building, and the Union Pacific sold it to the city of Lawrence for $1. The $1 million in renovations began in 1991, and the doors were reopened in 1996 as the Lawrence Visitor Center.
Miles explains how the garden and building work together
"The garden style was created by the late John Lee in efforts to complement the original style of the building's architecture," she says. "The garden contains ornamental grasses to simulate the Kansas winds and upright junipers to simulate soldiers marching towards the steeple."
In the center of the nine beds stands a sleek, modern sculpture. It's "Mobility" by Shellie Bender. It not only is a stirring show of steel glinting in the sun but a water feature as well. Black curved benches hug the artwork, leaving many options of a pleasant place to sit and listen to the moving water.
The garden is sowed with plants that are native and adapted to Kansas. It contains more than 600 perennials and hundreds of annuals. What you will see during the summer growing period:
¢ June - Caesars brother iris, coronation gold yarrow, coreopsis, gold flame spirea.
¢ July/August - Summer wine hemerocallis, Russian sage, echinacea purpurea magnus, goldsturm rudibeckia, several sedums, powis castle artemisia, eupatorium gateway, longwood blue caryopteris, Becky shasta daisy and miscanthus gracillimus.
¢ Summer roses - Madison, pink knockout, red knockout, pink floral carpet and nearly wild.
A train rumbled by, carrying giant farming implements as I went to observe another focal point of this garden: the sculpture "From the Ashes" by Jim Brothers. This sculpture depicts a human figure sweeping and contorting around itself. It is rising from the smoke and flames of a burning building and taking flight.
A quote by J. Musgrave is emblazoned on a plaque, "From the Ashes of each generation heroes come forth to serve the needs of their nation."
What a wonderful garden. The sculptures are beautiful and both extremely fitting at their given locations. The plants are robust and complement the historic architecture, the plants around them and the French theme of the garden. Truly a lovely, serene spot to take up residence for a couple of hours some afternoon and just another testament of the amazing gardens Lawrence has to offer.