Johnson County Master Gardeners, Shawnee collaborate to build new learning garden in West Flanders Park

More than two dozen volunteers with the Johnson County Master Gardeners helped build the learning garden at West Flanders Park in Shawnee. Photo courtesy Cindy Hobbs.

The Johnson County Master Gardeners and Shawnee Parks and Recreation recently partnered to create a learning garden at West Flanders Park.

The roughly 300-square-foot garden features a range of vegetation and flowers, a shed and walking paths through the area. Its located in the same general area as the city’s historic rose garden and features its own small selection of newly planted roses.

Shawnee resident Cindy Hobbs, a volunteer with the gardeners and co-chair for the project, said the garden provides opportunities for residents to learn how to grow their own vegetables, flowers and other vegetation. The garden also features bird pollinator plants, children’s learning area and ornamental native plants.

Hobbs said the COVID-19 pandemic presented some challenges for volunteers during the project. For instance, volunteers were prohibited from entering gardens until about May 1, which lands in the middle of planting season. Volunteers also had to maintain a 10-foot distance from each other while in the gardens.

The learning garden features a variety of vegetation, including flowers and vegetables, all with a Belgian theme in honor of West Flanders, Shawnee’s sister city in Belgium.

“We’re quite proud, quite pleased that we were able even to complete the garden,” Hobbs said, noting its currently about half-full and will be filled out more this fall or as plants become available. “We are so happy and so thrilled. To see some of these plants start blooming is just quite special.”

Hobbs said the design and selection of plants, and even the shed, resemble a Belgian cottage garden in honor of West Flanders, Shawnee’s sister city in Belgium. The vegetable garden is also a demonstration of raised plant beds.

Contractors hired by Shawnee collaborated with more than two dozen volunteers to build the garden, Hobbs said. Work began in October 2019 and was completed in mid-June.

The Johnson County Master Gardeners previously had a learning garden on the site of the Wonderscope Children’s Museum. Since the museum moved to Kansas City, Missouri, the gardeners began looking for a new location for a learning garden in northern Johnson County.

Neil Holman, director of parks and recreation for Shawnee, said the partnership presents a neat opportunity for the public.

“You never have to worry about that garden looking bad; it looks beautiful anytime you go down there,” Holman said. “It’s a nice partnership with the master gardener program. I think it’s a win-win for the community.”

The new garden in West Flanders Park is one iteration of the volunteers’ work to provide research and learning opportunities for the public to observe and enjoy.

“The other thing that has just been so delightful is that park is full of curious people that want to learn about gardening,” Hobbs said. “So our desire to have it as a true teaching, learning garden has started from the day we started construction. It’s been just wonderful.”

Hobbs said the garden may grow to a larger footprint sometime next spring.