Why it’s a garden, not a park

One of the most common reactions of first-time visitors to Lincoln Memorial Garden is, “I thought this was a garden; where are the vegetable and flower beds?” Or after walking the trails at LMG, people remark, “To me this seems like a park, not a garden.”

Why, in the early 1930s, did LMG’s founders use the term garden instead of park? Kent Massie, landscape architect and former LMG board member, helped me differentiate between a garden and a park.

“For me, a garden—big or small, private or public—is a planted landscape where the intent is for visitors to enjoy and appreciate plants for their aesthetic and/or consumption purposes,” Massie explained. “A garden is planted by humans, and technically the cornfields of central Illinois are gardens. Any garden requires care to maintain the landscape; otherwise, nature eventually takes control in some form of succession.”

In the 1930s, the shoreline of the then-new Lake Springfield was mostly pastured hillsides. Thanks to the efforts of Jens Jensen, Harriet Knudson and Myrtle Walgreen, along with numerous garden club members and teams of volunteers, thousands of hours were spent planting the area set aside for Lincoln Memorial Garden. Intentionally selected plants were placed in specific locations to create a sequence of planned spaces for people to enjoy.

There are more than 100 types of gardens in the world today, from kitchen and balcony gardens to backyard, flower, greenhouse, sacred and therapeutic gardens and the formal botanical gardens and arboretums. Many formal gardens support plant research, conservation, habitat and horticulture purposes, as well as educational activities. Lincoln Memorial Garden was founded on most of these purposes.

In contrast, Massie said a park is a broad term most often associated with a landscape or open space established for public (or sometimes private) use, enjoyment and recreation, which may dictate the construction of facilities such as play and picnic areas or campgrounds.

“While parks usually are manipulated landscapes, they can contain areas where special natural landscapes or cultural features are present and need protected,” he said. “One could say the Cawley Meadow (purchased in 2000) and the Ostermeier Prairie Center (purchased in 1995) might be classified as park lands.”

Other aspects used to differentiate between gardens and parks include:

• Use: Gardens generally do not have a sports orientation, and dogs are not permitted; parks most often focus on entertainment of visitors through recreational activities, including walking leashed dogs.

• Ownership: Most gardens are owned by individuals or foundations with operating budgets based on donations; parks are usually owned by federal, state, county and city governments and operated on the tax dollar.

• Size: Gardens are typically small in size; parks can be lot-sized or, in the case of the largest national parks, cover millions of acres.

• Biodiversity: Plants selected for gardens create biologically diverse environments; many parks are monocultures and have little plant diversity in order to maximize their recreational aspects.