Wellfield Botanic Gardens
By Jackie Hughes
Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau
A small non-profit organization in Elkhart, Indiana has transformed the city’s well field, a water and hydraulic energy source since the mid-1800s, into a public, art-filled botanic garden. Wellfield Botanic Gardens, six blocks north of downtown Elkhart, encompasses 36 acres including 18 acres of water. It still serves as the city’s largest source of drinking water.
“The seed was planted when members of the Elkhart Rotary Club agreed to fund a master plan to create a botanic garden in the city’s urban center as a fitting tribute to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Rotary International taking place in 2005,” says Wellfield Botanic Gardens Executive Director, Eric Amt.
Now seven years later, this project boasts six themed gardens (with more than a dozen still planned); eight bronze, copper and steel sculptures crafted by noted artists plus event spaces. A Visitors Center is being built, and a Horticultural Center is planned to cooperatively work with the City’s Public Works’ mandate and the site’s natural attributes.
“Most public gardens are affiliated with a foundation, estate, as part of a municipality or attached to an institution; Wellfield is one of only a handful of public gardens supported by donations and modest admission fees,” says Amt. He adds that all the money donated so far has basically come from the Elkhart area. That in itself is remarkable considering that Elkhart is perceived as the white-hot center of the recession. Amt observes that there seems to be a community-wide hunger for a spiritual sense of place like the Gardens.
Themed events also generate interest and support for Wellfield. Two major public events are planned this year. Tulips & Tunes, an outdoor living marketplace combined with music, food and a display of 15,000 tulips takes place throughout the Gardens on May 5, 2012. Taste of the Gardens, a Gardens-wide event showcasing the works of regional artists and talents of area chefs and local musicians happens August 25, 2012.
Amt is enthusiastic about the future and says that if the same level of passion continues Wellfield Botanic Gardens can be one of the finest gardens in the Midwest within the next twenty years. You believe him when he affirms, “We’re just beginning!”