Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that the Peggy Helmerich Horticultural Center would be dedicated Thursday, Oct. 1. The city of Tulsa has postponed the dedication because construction of the center is not completed. The dedication has not been rescheduled.
If you haven’t been to Linnaeus Teaching Garden, go.
Even if you don’t know the difference between a tulip and a tomato, go.
The place is beautiful.
The two-acre oasis, nestled behind the Tulsa Garden Center in Woodward Park, is home to seemingly every kind of horticultural wonder one could imagine, with a koi pond, an outdoor patio, a water sculpture and more mixed in to give visitors something to dream about.
“The idea when we designed this was, a homeowner could come here, because of the scale of it, and say, ‘Gosh, I would like to do that,’” said horticulturist Barry Fugatt, who oversees Linnaeus for the Garden Center.
And so they have. Fugatt estimates 20,000 to 30,000 people a year visit the teaching garden, 2435 S. Peoria Ave. (Find details on visitor information here.)
Many, like the wheelchair-bound woman who comes by to see the koi fish she donated, simply love being there.
Others — including Linnaeus’ 300-plus volunteers — come to learn something. It is, after all, a teaching garden.
Yet, since it opened more than nine years ago, it has never had its own teaching space. Until now.
Tulsa Parks and Recreation Department plans to dedicate the teaching garden’s new classroom soon.
The Peggy Helmerich Horticultural Center — along with a separate storage facility — were made possible by an $894,406 donation from the Helmerich Foundation. The city of Tulsa is paying $660,888 for the site work and utilities.
“It is another example of a public-private partnership,” said Parks Director Lucy Dolman. “We couldn’t have done it alone. We worked together and came back with something that is going to be really special to the citizens of Tulsa.”
The classroom is a 1,940-square-foot red structure that looks just like a barn. The 1,650 square-foot maintenance building has an identical look.
The wooden buildings were designed to match the teaching garden’s office building and a small storage shed.
Fugatt, who likes to refer to Linnaeus as an outdoor classroom, now has an indoor classroom to match. He used to have to hold classes and volunteer training sessions at the Garden Center.
“This gives us a chance to do it in the garden,” he said. “So I can take classes into the garden and back into the classroom very seamlessly.”
For Fugatt, 72, Thursday’s dedication ceremony marks another milestone in Linnaeus’ tremendous growth in the past nine years.
“Nine years ago there was nothing here except an old green barn that needed lots of work,” Fugatt said. “You never saw anybody walking the dog, you never saw any activity. … I thought, ‘What if you could turn that into a teaching garden?’”
Not that Fugatt has done it alone. In fact, whenever possible he stresses that the endeavor has been a cooperative one. The park system, volunteers, suppliers and others have all made it happen, he says.
“I don’t know if I could find a place where more people have come together to make something happen,” Fugatt said.
Dolman hopes there will be a big turnout for the dedication, and not just because she wants to show off the new classroom. She wants people to find their way beyond the beautiful azaleas and rose gardens one associates with Woodwark Park and discover the wonders of Linnaeus.
“It (the teaching garden) kind of gives a purpose to Woodward Park besides the aesthetics,” Dolman said. “You really have to get back here to get the feel of it. Driving by you would never know there was this little oasis in there.”