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Features

July 3, 2013

Botanical paradise

26 themed gardens in Wichita, Kan., have something for everyone

— The botanical garden in the heart of Wichita, Kan., called Botanica, is more than 17 acres of gardens traced with walking paths, sculptures, ponds, fountains and flowers.

Though they are open all year, the flower season begins in the spring with 54,000 tulips and 110,000 daffodils and ends with the fall colors in October.

With 26 themed gardens, there is something to please everyone. The Cissy Wise Wildflower Meadow is filled with flowers, grasses and shrubs typical of a prairie including coneflowers, asters, gayfeather and penstemons.

The Frank Smith Woodland Garden in the Woodland Walk has places to sit and enjoy the waterfall and pool. The Butterfly Garden has been planted with flowers to attract native and migratory butterflies and a shallow puddle fountain is in place for them, too.

Botanica’s landscape supervisor Pat McKernan said that his planting selections in the Butterfly Garden are chosen to support the entire butterfly lifecycle.

“We put in lots of flat blooms to make it easy for butterflies to land and find nectar,” said McKernan. “The nectar plants include lantana, zinnias and pentas. Then we put in plenty of plants from the carrot family such as parsley, for the caterpillars of the swallowtail butterflies to eat, plus milkweed for the monarch butterflies.”

McKernan started with Botanica 27 years ago when there was only one building and land.

“Now we have six full-time year-round gardeners, five more gardeners from March to November, and lots of volunteers,” McKernan said. “People want to be here, working with the plants and socializing.”

On Tuesdays, a group of 12 to 15 retired gentlemen work from 8 a.m. to noon and a group of nine to 12 ladies work on separate projects. In addition to those weekly groups, the first Tuesday of every month, they are joined by more volunteers who come to pull out plants that are past their prime and install new ones. McKernan provides mid-morning snacks and lunch for all the groups.

The one acre Downing Children’s Garden is the most recent addition. It is filled with learning activity features including a farm with raised beds, a tree house to climb, a story telling glen with a place for puppet shows, a musical maze, and a pond. Botanica also has a butterfly house that is popular with children.

The Jayne Milburn Aquatic Collection has water lilies, lotus flowers, water iris, cattails, water hyacinth, water lettuce, etc.

“We grow a unique collection of water plants,” McKernan said. “This year we added Victoria Water-Platters that are so large that a person could stand on the flower.”

The Water Platter’s hollow stems underwater are covered with thorns and the platter-like flower has a 3 inch lip around the outer edge. The Longwood Hybrid was not available this year so McKernan is growing a Victoria cruziana instead.

“Botanica has an unusual emphasis on color in the gardens,” McKernan said. “I plan the tulip planting in Nov. to make a splash in the spring. I do the same with the pansies, mums and summer annuals that we use to make each garden into a unique room.”

Tall plants are used to create a feeling of being inside a garden room. McKernan likes to surround areas with red or green leaf castor bean plants and Cassia alata (candlebush or emperor/empress candle plant) that has a tropical look all summer and blooms in September. Candlebush grows quickly into a 10-foot tall shrub with spikes of bright yellow flowers.

“I like a big wow at every turn,” McKernan said.

There are lots of classes and events at the garden, including live music, lectures at lunchtime, junior gardeners, craft days, birding, etc. Check the schedule at www.botanica.org or on their Facebook page.

If you go

WHAT: Botanica: Wichita Botanical Gardens.

WHERE: 701 Amidon St., Wichita, Kan.

HOURS: Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

COST: $5 to $7 fee to enter. Free parking.

INFORMATION: (316) 264-0448.

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