By ANNA MARIE LUX
JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) — For 17 years, Ruth Ann Potts had demonstrated her love of Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville by volunteering there.
The retired schoolteacher worked with volunteers, helped plan weddings and served on committees and served on the board of directors for the gardens. She has nothing but praise for her experiences and the people she met.
But that’s only one reason she gave more than $100,000 to build a new Wellness Garden at the site. Another one was her desire to give back to her city.
“I have lived in Janesville more than 60 years,” Potts told the Janesville Gazette . “I hope people will come to the garden and find peace. It’s something different from the other gardens that are there.”
Potts and Mercyhealth were the primary donors to the $207,000 project, which was dedicated last week, said Becky Kronberg, executive director of Rotary Botanical Gardens.
Officials at the Rotary Botanical Gardens officials have talked some time about wanting to have a wellness garden.
“The gifts from Ruth Ann and Mercyhealth finally made it happen,” Kronberg said. “We are so grateful for their support. They were incredibly generous.”
Mercyhealth made its donation in honor of Rowland “Rollie” McClellan, who has been a member of the Mercyhealth board for 47 years and a volunteer at the gardens since it was opened in 1989.
“Despite an extremely busy career, Rollie has always made time for making our community a better place,” said Javon Bea, Mercyhealth president and CEO. “It is fitting that his name will grace this garden, designed to engage the senses with full accessibility for all to enjoy.”
A plaque at the garden honors both Potts and McClellan for their longtime community service.
One feature in the new garden is a labyrinth. Elaine Strassburg gave money to have the meandering circular path to honor Vietnam veterans.
Everyone is welcome at the new garden, which has wide concrete paths and raised beds. But it is especially designed to be accessible to people with disabilities.
Mark Dwyer, director of horticulture at the gardens, said it can be argued that all gardens have restorative properties.
“But this garden is specifically designed to accommodate programs to promote wellness,” he said. “It is not just a pretty space.”
Visitors who have a hard time get around can move about freely in the garden.
They also can reach four raised beds. Each of the beds has two levels. Their 24-inch levels are at a good height both for people in wheelchairs and for children. The 36-inch level is for people most comfortable doing “belly-button gardening.”
“Some folks can’t bend at the knees or bend over anymore,” Dwyer said. “But they can garden from waist level.”
Cognitive- and mobility-impaired students from Chestnut House helped plant the beds in the spring. Chestnut House is a center for disabled people ages 18 to 21 in the Janesville School District.
“Some of these young people could not take part in traditional gardening, but they were able to engage in these raised spaces,” Dwyer said.
The beds are filled with colorful annuals, vegetables and herbs, which are in full summer bloom and appeal to the eye. They also present 20 varieties of scented geraniums and other fragrant plants.
Plants have also been chosen for their tactile qualities.
“We have done programs for students who are visually impaired, which include touching smooth, prickly and furry plants,” Dwyer said.
The raised beds are on the outer edge of the round garden and are separated by four pathways leading to the gardens’ center. There lies a four-tiered fountain, which provides the continuous soothing sound of falling water.
“The intent is sensory engagement,” Dwyer said.
In August, Rotary Gardens will be the site of the fourth annual horticulture-therapy symposium.
“We will have volunteers from Chestnut House show the benefits of raised gardens,” Dwyer said. “We will show how to garden as we age and how to garden with mobility issues.”
The Wellness Garden is the first new garden at Rotary Gardens in seven years and the 26th garden to be developed. It replaces an arboretum, “which had become an obsolete space,” Dwyer said.
Eventually, the garden could expand over three acres and will have a fresh look annually.
Dwyer sketched a design for the garden, and Katie Udel, a landscape architect with Angus-Young Associates, refined the design.
“Everyone who comes to the new garden will get something out of it,” Dwyer said. “They may enjoy how beautiful it is, but it is being developed for so much more.”