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Hosta Garden in Springfield is the result of a labor of love by local volunteers

The Hosta Garden at the Springfield Botanical Gardens
Michele Skalicky
The Hosta Garden at the Springfield Botanical Gardens

The Hosta Garden, a project of the Greater Ozarks Hosta Society, is at the Springfield Botanical Gardens.

Many people walk through the Hosta Garden at Close-Memorial Park each day. Some even get married there – but few people know how the garden came to be and that it relies on volunteers and donated funds.

The Springfield Botanical Gardens, 2400 S. Scenic in Springfield, showcase a variety of plants. There are several gardens created and maintained by area volunteer groups united under the Friends of the Garden. One of those groups is the Greater Ozarks Hosta Society or GOHS, which is responsible for the Hosta Garden. It's a peaceful, shady area just north of Lake Drummond made up of a variety of shade plants, including, of course, a wide selection of hostas. And there’s a large water feature that’s a popular spot at Close-Memorial Park.

The plants are surrounded by a wooden fence to keep out Canada Geese – and that fence is falling apart. More on that later. First, we'll tell you about the history of the Hosta Garden.

According to Tom Lakowske, past president of GOHS, the group was founded in the fall of 1996 by Dr. Bill and Judy Roston, Ernest and Mary Lou Braswell, Oscar Cross and other hosta lovers. Their goal was “to foster and promote knowledge of and interest in the genus Hosta.”

For awhile, they held a hosta show at the Northtown Mall, which was at the corner of Kearney and Glenstone – where the Walmart Supercenter is today.

They looked into building a hosta display garden at Nathanael Greene Park but eventually settled on a spot at Dickerson Park Zoo. Bob Childress, president of GOHS and one of the founders of Friends of the Garden takes over the story from here.

"And so, we got in touch with the zoo," he said. "And Oscar Cross, who's now retired but who used to have a nursery, donated a number of plants along with some other members, and we put in a garden at the zoo, but they had a large flock of geese out there. Geese love hostas, and so, within two weeks, the garden was gone."

That’s when the group decided it had to find another location. Major Close had bought land adjacent to Nathanael Greene Park and was creating a garden here, Childress told me as target shooting practice on the nearby Federal Medical Center grounds began.

"The first garden was the rose garden, and a guy named (Sam) McGowan took care of the rose garden and created the very first garden in Close-Memorial Park, and that's what it was called originally," he said. "We approached Major, and, of course, he was very happy to have a hosta garden here, and so, ours was the second garden, and we built it, and it was finished in 2001."

Dr. Bill Roston working on the water feature at the Hosta Garden at Springfield Botanical Gardens
Photo provided by George Deatz
Dr. Bill Roston working on the water feature at the Hosta Garden at Springfield Botanical Gardens

At first, the Hosta Garden was half the size it is today. The rest was added in 2004. Childress says Doc Roston (as he called Bill) had 60 acres he named Garden of Dreams near Ava. He hauled rocks from there to create the water feature for the Hosta Garden.

"He and I placed all those rocks," he said, "and I worked at that time for Associated Electric over on Golden, and we had a tractor with a front loader on it. And we had all this dirt hauled in, and I brought the tractor over, and we piled this dirt up and created this water feature. "

The two were in their upper 60s at the time and did most of the work on the garden.

Childress said it was always the dream of Close and his sister Annette Close Pennell to have a garden. She wanted the land to be a natural site, but Childress said it was so thick with undergrowth, you couldn’t walk through it. Close had the lake drained and dredged, and they took down the undergrowth.

"That was the beginning of Close-Memorial Park and ultimately the botanical gardens," he said.

Major Close donated the land on which the Hosta Garden sits to the Springfield-Greene County Park Board. Since then, improvements to the land have continued, and the gardens have greatly expanded.

In 2013, the Hosta Garden was named a National Display Garden of the American Hosta Society — there are 24 in the U.S., and Springfield's was number 18, according to George Deatz, a member of Friends of the Garden.

Bob Childress, JJ Averett and George Deatz at the Hosta Garden at Springfield Botanical Gardens (photo taken October, 2023)
Michele Skalicky
Bob Childress, JJ Averett and George Deatz at the Hosta Garden at Springfield Botanical Gardens (photo taken October, 2023)

Childress pointed out the many cars in a nearby parking lot.

"Even on a cool day like this there are just dozens and dozens of people out here," he said, "so, I think we have created a really nice attraction, and it's a place where people can come sit, walk their dogs, and so, I'm really pleased with what's happened."

One person who cares deeply about the Hosta Garden is JJ Averett, a master gardener and member of the Greater Ozarks Hosta Society. She’s been a volunteer for Friends of the Garden for years and quickly found herself drawn to the Hosta Garden "and I started coming down here — by myself — and weeding and just taking care of hostas," she said. "Since I had so many at home I felt I knew what to do, so I didn't ask anybody. I just helped myself to working here. I've been doing it ever since."

The garden is a popular spot at the park, and Averett has the chance to interact with a lot of people. She said she's witnessed more than one wedding there, thinking back to one in particular.

"They got married in front of the fountain," she said. "The workers that were here — we were sitting right here having a break at the time, and so they did their thing. Pretty soon they said, 'will one of you take photos of us?' So, I did."

And she’s been asked to be a witness for two other weddings.

Another person who loves the Hosta Garden is George Deatz. He became involved with Friends of the Garden when he met Major Close while riding his bicycle on the South Creek Greenway Trail, which runs alongside the park.

"One day I stopped. They were working on the water feature at the time, and Major (Close) and I got to talking, and I gave them a contribution," said Deatz, "and he was nice enough to invite me to one of their meetings, and the rest was history for me."

Deatz even served as president of Friends of the Garden for three years beginning in 2009. He became a master gardener in 2012 – two years after the area was given the name Springfield Botanical Gardens.

The wooden fence around the Hosta Garden at the Springfield Botanical Gardens is currently held up by boards due to its deteriorating condition (photo taken October, 2023)
Michele Skalicky
The wooden fence around the Hosta Garden at the Springfield Botanical Gardens is currently held up by boards due to its deteriorating condition (photo taken October, 2023)

When he learned the wooden fence surrounding the Hosta Garden was in disrepair, and the Hosta Society needed to raise $40,000 for a new steel fence, he got involved in helping to raise funds. The fence has been in the ground 22 years, and the posts are rotting.

Even though the Parks Department owns the land, it’s up to the volunteer groups to take care of the gardens.

"Most of what you see out here is done by volunteer contributions and donor time and funds," Deatz said.

Not only are donations needed to keep up the Springfield Botanical Gardens, he said, they need new volunteers, too.

"People age out," he said. "They'll work here until they physically cannot work any longer. It's amazing. And then somebody needs to take their place."

Nearly all of the money needed for the fence has been donated, but there’s still about $3000 left to raise. You can find out how to donate toward the fence purchase at gohs.org.

Deatz said, if you’d like to learn how to volunteer at Springfield Botanical Gardens, call the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center at 417-891-1515.