This gate leads visitors into our managed Demonstration Gardens and Plant Trial sections and into the Butterfly and Pollinator stop-over, and more! Give the children some freedom to roam the pathways and learn how to be careful around thorny roses, respectful to vegetables and berries and to be delighted when they discover that herbs can smell like “spaghetti for dinner!” Nestled down a shady lane and found after an adventurous tour of the pathways is a more playful garden especially for children. Keep an eye on the kiddos and enjoy the fun with them. Your visit can easily be self-guided. You’ll find maps in the barn-red mailbox that explain each garden. Chances are very good you’ll find one or a few of our Volunteers tending their specific Demonstration Gardens or mowing grass or just working where it’s needed. They’ll also answer questions and may even ask if you’re interested in becoming a volunteer! Scheduled and structured tours for clubs, schools or organizations can also be arranged.
The Ray Baker Rose Garden
This beautiful Ray Baker Rose, a hybrid tea rose, was developed, propagated and patented by the Fort Smith Rose Society in honor of the late Ray Baker, Mayor of Fort Smith. In August of 2018, the 20 remaining Ray Baker Rose bushes from the original Ray Baker Rose Garden were lovingly transported to and replanted by the Rose Society in their new home here in The Learning Fields. They have thrived under the care of both the Learning Fields and FSRS members and in September of 2019 the The Ray Baker Rose won Grand Champion at the Crawford County Fair’s floriculture competition in Mulberry. RAY BAKER was elected Fort Smith’s Mayor in 1990, and was re-elected four more times to serve 20 years. His love for the community he served guided his actions as he honored and recognized the citizens he represented with thoughtfulness and kindness, and often through cards, letters, and flowers. Receiving a rose from the Mayor was special, his sincerity was unforgettable.
Butterfly Habitat Garden
Our Butterfly Habitat Garden showcases plants that attract butterflies and also host their caterpillars. With growing concern for pollinator health, more people are planting and decorating their yards and gardens with milkweed and other pollinator-friendly annuals and perennials. These are pretty, smell nice and bring in butterflies which are BEAUTIFUL. The National Pollinator Health Strategy (NPHS), initiated in 2015 by President Obama, brought to everyone’s attention the steady decline of the MONARCH butterfly over the past few decades. Our Monarch Waystation incorporates milkweed and nectar plants. Milkweed is important to Monarchs because of the chemical protection it provides, but it’s also the ONLY group of plants on which the caterpillars can develop. Waystations provided by sympathetic humans along the Monarchs’ 2,000 plus mile migrations to and from overwintering sites in Mexico, are lifesavers to the five generations of Monarchs required for the round trip. Studies and research continue to determine the best ways to help and conserve monarch butterflies, and pollinators in general. QUESTIONS? We can help you.
Family Vegetable Garden
This Demonstration Garden would be typical to meet the needs of a family of four. The soil of this 20 x 40-foot bed is tested each year by the University of Arkansas Extension Office. Healthy plant growth requires 17 elements, 14 of which are acquired primarily through the soil. Performing a soil test before you plant a vegetable garden tells you how many of these essential elements your soil contains and which ones are lacking. Soil testing also gives you information about your soil’s texture and pH levels. Very GOOD NEWS is that this testing service is free to every resident of Arkansas! This family garden typically contains vegetables that a majority of families would like to grow and eat! The crops are rotated and seasonal planting accommodates the early vegetables with the late fall harvests! Always included in our Family Vegetable Garden is an unfamiliar vegetable, perfect for a new learning experience as well as discovering what could become a NEW FAVORITE vegetable! Also included in our Family Vegetable Garden area is a raised bed. This narrow, 16 ft long bed may be a favorite of Senior Citizens, but as Gramps sits in the shade and nods knowingly when asked about this special area, he’s got science on his side! Raised beds typically offer a longer growing season as the ground warms up more quickly in spring and drains better year-round. The bending over to work the earth, tend the plants and harvest the more prolific crop isn’t as stressful and strolling along a mowed or gravel pathway between rows is actually pleasant! While not organic, we use minimal pesticides and use compost to improve the soil. Information provided by UA Extension Office allows us to supplement our soil as necessary.
Your Cutting Garden
The beauty of your cutting garden is the “no-guilt” strategy of growing beautiful flowers that beg to be cut and enjoyed inside. That is, after they’ve done all the right things for the places you plant them! Whether annuals or perennials, you’re going to cut them, so their soil needs to be rich in organic matter. They’ll need a spot with good water retention and drainage and several inches of good compost or leaf mold worked into the soil before planting. Blooming can be blooming hard work, so keep them strong! TIP: If their blooming doesn’t seem to keep up, give them a bit of liquid fertilizer and a bit more tender loving tending! You may even choose to put your Cutting Garden in an out-of-the-way spot, sunny, and meeting soil requirements. These flowers will be all the more wonderful when you cut, arrange and bring inside! Or, you may select a few rows or parts of several rows in your vegetable garden. Certain bright and cheerful flowers discourage bugs. Others attract those busy pollinators to your veggies, and they’ll all help keep a smile on your face! But don’t forget to CUT them and enjoy inside! TIP: Whether out of the way or along a pathway, make sure you keep your Cutting Garden weed free! Annuals or perennials? Annuals are beautiful, but don’t last the entire growing season, so have extra seeds to replenish. If a particular group of plants is fading or just not doing well, use Tough Love and remove them. Perennials will last the entire season, from early spring through late fall. In the long haul, you may find yourself defaulting to perennials! TIP: Organize your space. Since flowers don’t all bloom at the same time, try arranging them in the order they bloom. Early, mid-season, or later. Enjoy!
The Herb Spiral
Blending beauty with efficient food production has been around since monasteries in Europe mingled edibles and their desire for contemplative walks into productive, peaceful gardens. Today, the circle or European spiral herb garden can provide a neighborhood-approved aesthetic in your front yard while multi-tasking as an efficient, low-maintenance provider of wonderful flavors in your kitchen! The raised bed provides good drainage and warm soil. The water feature at the end of the spiral helps cool the bed in summer and warm it a little in the spring.
The Fig Trial Orchard
In the spring of 2015 we planted 40 fig trees in the trial orchard and added another 40 varieties in the spring of 2016. This 10-year project will help determine the types of fig trees which will grow and produce in the Arkansas River Valley area. Preliminary results will be published the end of 2020 with a final report in 2025.
Medicinal Herb Garden
The second oldest use of herbs is for treating ailments. From soothing chamomile tea during times of stress to the “brain-booster” gingko said to aid in slowing cognition decline in dementia and provide beneficial properties to treat diabetes, humans have searched for ways to promote and treat their mental and physical health. Our herb garden is designed in the four-quarter quadrant layout used within medieval monastery walls to cultivate valuable medicinal plants. These apothecary gardens, tended and guarded by Benedictine Monks were ravaged by ongoing war and looting. Many of the well-known herbs commonly used by a designated monk educated in the healing arts have disappeared from modern cultivation. This garden is a collection of ancient herbs, of precious antiques with stories and mysteries that date back some 200 million years to the unchanged ginkgo, a living fossil, known for its beauty and longevity and still-valuable medicinal properties. This Herb Garden, an apothecary repository, should be treated with respect, care and caution. There is always a sense of awe and a bit of fear associated with the handling and use of herbal remedies. This is not without cause. THESE BEDS ARE FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. We discourage the use of any plant for medical purposes without prior consultation with your trusted medical provider. Any medication, natural or chemical, used without medical supervision could be counter-productive, non-productive or deadly. Often herbs, as well as other plants, cross the borders of medicinal, culinary and decorative uses. Herbs fit the bill beautifully, and can become wonderful additions to most any garden and landscaping project. To make the cultivation of herbs even more wonderful, they offer one more much-needed excuse to go outside, play in the dirt and have some fun!
The Children's Garden
Children like to play, learn and have fun! The Learning Fields offers opportunities for children of all ages to discover the hundreds of secrets that every garden holds. Many children don’t have the “old-fashion” advantage of a family garden or even a back yard. Many parents bring their children to The Learning Fields and are surprised at the fun they have watching their kiddos “discover” the Children’s Garden. This kind of “togetherness time” can become even more magic when parents find themselves answering countless questions their kids have about flowers, berries, butterflies and “Is this where we get the strawberries we had for breakfast?” Bring the kids! Just for fun and love and being outdoors. Keep learning fun, and you and your children will want to learn forever!
The Labyrinth Garden
Labyrinths date back thousands of years to ancient cultures worldwide, including American Indian, African, Celtic, Greek, French and Italian. The Old Farmer’s Almanac tells us that in a labyrinth, you follow a curving pathway that winds to a center. It is NOT a maze, which has false paths and dead ends. Labyrinths are not designed to be difficult to navigate. Once at the center, you simply take the same path out. Our single path labyrinth allows you to mindfully travel a calming route leading you past beautiful plants with names that sound like poetry. There is Green Santolina, Gold Bar Miscanthus and other grasses, Silver Mound Artemisia, Germander, Platinum Blond Lavender, Echinacea, Black-eyed Susans and Red Hot Poker. Enjoy the rock bench seat beneath the Muscadine grapevine. Take your time, relax, enjoy and leave your stress behind.
Our Native Garden
A plant is considered native if it has occurred naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human introduction. Natives are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions and provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds and other animals. This Native Garden encourages habitat biodiversity as it gives back and interacts with insects, birds, bees and other native neighbors. Hopefully, this rustic Native Garden will help you appreciate the necessity of native consideration when you choose the plants which will grow well in your yard or garden and be good native neighbors.
Compost Demonstration Garden
From ROUGH to READY, our "Garbage to Black Gold" open compost bin is an example of a method for treating organic waste gathered from the garden, yard, kitchen, around the house, or barns so that it is broken down by microorganisms in the presence of oxygen to a point where it can be safely stored, handled, and applied to the environment. Through proper decomposition, the resulting compost is used to enrich your garden by helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests. This black gold reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material. Think of compost not as a fertilizer, but rather as a biological stimulant or "enabler" which feeds your garden life, and enables soil organisms to help plant roots find and better use food and moisture. Like many garden and lawn environments, your compost area can be neat one day and the next you've filled up the rough pile with clippings that aren't yet ready for the REFINING bins or the center READY bin. Composting isn't hard work, but it's steady work and the yield is pure black gold. A couple of years ago, it was calculated that a cubic yard of high-quality compost provides over the same value as $562 worth of other products combined! That's a great turnaround when we do the right thing and control the decomposition of organic material. In fact, food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 28 percent of what we throw away that should be composted instead. Visit our Demonstration Gardens on a regular basis and discover how gardens change throughout the seasons and how your own "Compost Garden" helps with cleanup, organization and the care and feeding of all your other yard and garden spaces and plants.