When community activists in Warrensburg, Mo., decided to reclaim an abandoned town park, it was a stroke of luck that someone called Marie Frye. As a horticulturist at Powell Gardens in nearby Kansas City, Marie considers herself a bona fide plant nut. "They asked me to plant a little color by the entrance of the park," says Marie. But she went far beyond a little color, to create a network of native plant and prairie gardens that have become a key feature of the restored park.
The Blind Boone Park was named after "Blind" Boone, a famous ragtime pianist during the late 1800s, who hailed from Warrensburg. The 3-acre park was established during segregation as a place where local African-Americans could enjoy picnicking and concerts. When segregation ended, residents and the town lost interest in the park and it was abandoned to weeds, invasive shrubs and trees. In 2000, local residents took on the project of reclaiming the park.
"When I was asked to design a garden for the park's entrance, I thought it would be a good opportunity to create an educational garden with native plants," says Marie. She and a number of volunteers carved out an 80- by 15-foot area for planting. "We got many plants donated and I was also able to get some from work," says Marie. Some of the plants installed included prairie phlox, lanceleaf coreopsis, purple coneflower, liatris, showy goldenrod, rudbeckia, New England aster and, her favorite, prairie dropseed. "I love prairie dropseed because when the sun shines on the maturing seed heads they give off a smell like roasting popcorn," she says.
Once the entrance garden was established, Marie turned her attention to an eroded bank inside the park. Much of the bank had already been cleared and mulched, which offered Marie the opportunity to start anew. "The first order of business was getting rid of invasive exotics, such as multiflora rose, sweet-autumn clematis and Japanese honeysuckle," says Marie. "Since nature abhors a vacuum, the battle is ongoing."
Marie and other volunteers planted a diversity of trees and shrubs, such as hickory, redbud, oak, persimmon, hydrangea, American beautyberry and American smokebush. The purpose of these woody plants, was to hold the bank and also create wildlife habitat. "This garden is a work in progress," says Marie. As plants are donated or purchased, they get planted. "As the native species begin gaining a foothold, the invasive species have started to decline," she says. "This project has really grabbed me and it won't let go," she says.
Although Marie has volunteered hundreds of hours of her own time to this project, she is quick to say that she's had lots of help. "We have eight demonstration beds, including a gazebo garden and an herb garden and butterfly garden, that have been adopted and are maintained by individuals," she says. Marie also has help from the local college and garden clubs. A history professor at Central Missouri State University requires that all her students volunteer in the park during the semester. "As we dig, plant and mulch," says Marie, "I teach the students about plants and planting techniques. I hope they have a good experience that will serve them in later life as well. I know that the more you dig in the dirt, the more you gain respect for the earth."
The Blind Boone Park was officially reopened in 2005. Today, it features a number of beautiful gardens for all to enjoy, including a bronze statue of "Blind" Boone, a wind harp, walkways, picnic tables and a gazebo. But Marie is a perfectionist and would like to make the park and plantings even better. "I love native plants and want to educate people about their beauty and usefulness," says Marie. "We're working on better signage in the park so people will look at the bank we've planted, and realize it's full of plants that are native to Missouri," she says. In 2005, maintaining the park was officially turned over to Warrensburg's Parks and Recreation Department. Hopefully this will allow Marie more time to focus on new plantings. "Maybe I'll even have a little time to work on the native plantings in my own garden," she says.
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