Master gardener plans improvements to downtown Baldwin City park
Jane Akob has big plans for a downtown outdoor “room” nearly hidden by the Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce building and the Lumberyard Arts Center.
As she walked Monday on newly placed decorative pavers into the triangular space, Akob shared her vision of a coming makeover. She sees an arbor with bench overlooking a shade garden behind the chamber office’s stucco rear wall. A tiered, raised-bed scented garden would be built in front of the brick wall of the arts center and a water feature added at the space’s narrow end.
“It will be a little garden room,” Akob said. “You can sit and enjoy the park.”
For the past two years, Akob, a Douglas County master gardener, has been taking care of Tom Swan Park, named for the late owner of Baldwin Lumber. That task is mostly finished for the year. Even the hardy mums, the last flowers to take the seasonal stage, have lost their brilliance.
“There’s not much left this year,” Akob said. “Wednesday, I’ll put in daffodils and tulips for spring.”
With the change in season, Akob has time for a gardener’s winter pursuit of planning for the year ahead. And she has big plans for the little pocket park near the Eighth and High streets intersection, plans which will have Tom Swam Park bloom brighter with its new designation as a Douglas County Master Gardeners demonstration garden.
“It’s the first demonstration garden outside of Lawrence,” she said.
Akob moved to Baldwin City three years ago with her husband, George, putting down roots for the first time after his Navy career and then nine years on the road in a motor home.
With a new home on 25 acres, Akob, a retired nurse, had the time and space to pursue a hobby that was always an interest. She jumped in big, enrolling in a Douglas County Master Gardeners class.
“I always wanted to take master gardeners class,” she said. “People don’t understand what a master gardener is. You don’t have to be an expert.”
Akob is also a member of the Baldwin City Garden Club, whose members take care of the downtown planters. When she visited downtown, she was attracted to Tom Swan Park.
“It’s a pretty little park,” she said. “Susan Baker, who was with the chamber then, was trying to take care of it, but she didn’t really have the time.”
Akob started helping out, and at the suggestion of her husband, requested that the 100 or so hours she donates to the park each season count toward the 20 hours master gardeners are required to volunteer annually.
“I usually work early in the morning after going to the gym,” she said. “This summer with the drought, I had to do a lot of watering. I would sometimes take water from the fountain in buckets because that was faster.”
The slice between the chamber office and arts center is not the only part of the park Akob plans to improve. With the park’s new designation as a selling point, she has been looking for donations to help with the makeover.
A Lions Club member, Akob has secured a donation from the Baldwin City Lions for soil for the raised beds and the help of one of her fellow members to build the arbor.
Akob has approached the Lumberyard Arts Center board about installing two rain barrels to the center’s downspouts and plans a children’s activity or contest to get them painted. She’s also seeking approval from Baldwin City public works director Bill Winegar to place decorative covers on two utility boxes on the property and plans another raised bed in on the park’s north side, which will become a butterfly garden.
Although City Administrator Chris Lowe couldn’t comment on Akob’s specifics plans, he said adding to Tom Swan Park fits nicely with the downtown beautification foreseen in the Baldwin City Council’s recent 2020 visioning study.
The small park will be a peaceful place to enjoy the beauty of nature, Akob said. But there will also serve as an example to other gardeners.
“That will be a butterfly garden,” she said. “It, the shade bed and the scented bed are all to show people what they can do. That’s what a demonstration garden is for.”