Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park is a 112-acre property located on South Scenic Avenue in Springfield, across the street from Horton Smith Golf Course.
Among its numerous attractions: a lake named after Springfield business pioneer Anne Drummond; the Gray-Campbell Farmstead, featuring the oldest cabin in Springfield—built in 1856—and a one-room schoolhouse; the Dr. Bill Roston Native Butterfly House; and the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center, home to some 40 different gardens, including the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden, where I went to record this feature earlier this month during one of the park’s biggest annual events, the Japanese Fall Festival.
The park is also home to the Springfield Sister Cities Association, which stages the Japanese Fall Festival as an annual fundraiser. Newly installed Director of Sister Cities, Lisa Bakerink, took me around the Japanese Stroll Garden as the busy, crowded Festival was underway, and talked about what elements make Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park so special.
The Springfield Botanical Gardens
“The Springfield Botanical Gardens, of which the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden makes up seven and a half acres of the 112 [acres], is a special place because of all the diversity that’s here,” Bakerink said.
“There are 40 different garden areas. We‘ve got some major attractions, including the Stroll Garden, the Gray-Campbell Farmstead, the all-native Butterfly House. People need to connect with nature, and this hundred and twelve acres really allows people to do that,” she said.
“They have several different garden areas to visit, they can play on our playground—which is closed right now, but will re-open with some much-needed repairs. But there are some play pods all around the lake—there’s one devoted to trees, one devoted to leaves, one devoted to mushrooms and dragonflies. So just lots of fun little areas that kids can play in. I mentioned the Butterfly House—lots of science, really great information about metamorphosis and hands-on experience at our Butterfly House,” Bakerink said.
Visitors can also come to the Japanese Stroll Garden, she said, which is open from sunrise to sundown.
“And we have a beautiful Botanical Center building as well, and some educational opportunities there with ‘Understanding Horticulture.’ Of course, one of our great partners is the University of Missouri Extension
and their Master Gardener program. So you can ask questions to certified Master Gardeners for your growing indoor or outdoor plants,” Bakerink said.
I asked Bakerink when and why the Sister Cities Association relocated to the park.
“About four years ago or so; and it’s really because they have an anchor here with the Japanese Stroll Garden. And of course, the Fall Festival is a primary fundraiser for that particular garden. And then, we also have, just in the last three years, a new outdoor pavilion and amphitheater. And Sister Cities contributed to the construction of that. Because of that, it’s named the ‘Peace Through People Pavillion’—which is the Sister Cities motto,” she said.
Also, we wanted to know: How do the Springfield Botanical Gardens compare with the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis?
“Of course, the Missouri Botanical Garden has been around for 150 years, so they have a lot more time on us to have developed. I think the main difference is: we’re a free public park, and we aspire to be a botanical garden. We don’t necessarily have any greenhouses where we can grow tropicals over the winter. And so that’s something we’re continuing to look at and work toward, because we’d like to be able to do that. In the wintertime there’s still a lot of interest in the garden areas, and the snow of course will be beautiful. But we don’t have those indoor spaces to come and view plants, necessarily, in the off-season,” Bakering said.
Options for disability access at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park
When asked what level of physical activity is required to navigate the gardens, Bakerink said there are options for people with varying levels of physical ability.
“Of course, there are a lot of trails to walk here, you can imagine, with 112 acres. We have three-plus miles of trails just around the main building and around the lake, and of course the Japanese Stroll Garden, that’s even in addition to that. So it’s mostly walking. There are paved paths,” she said.
“[At] the Botanical Center, you can rent a motorized scooter, and of course, you’re welcome to bring your own motorized scooter out to be able to get around as well. We do have a tram that runs as well, a free tram on Saturdays and Sundays from 1:00 to 5:00pm, and that’s from April through October,” she said.
There’s an entrance fee for the Japanese Stroll Garden
As Lisa Bakerink mentioned, Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park is free and open to the public, but there is an admission charge for the Japanese Stroll Garden.
“Regular admission during the season to the Stroll Garden, it’s $4; children 12 and under are free. And if you have a membership to either Sister Cities Association or Friends of the Garden, you get in free. The park in general gets around 800,000 visitors a year. And the Japanese Stroll Garden during the Festival, it’s about 17,000. And we probably have about that many or more throughout the season as well that come through. So it’s a very popular place,” she said.
I chatted with several attendees of the Japanese Fall Festival, including Lillian and Joshua from Conway, Missouri.
Joshua told me it was his first time visiting the park or the festival. “My wife came to this little park and she said it was really nice, and she wanted to bring me to it.” Added Lillian, “it’s one of our favorite places to be in Springfield to go look at stuff.”
For information on Springfield Botanical Gardens, visit www.friendsofthegarden.org or call 891-1515.