When the temperatures are warmer than usual but you still need your nature-fix, best to head to the wilds of Indiana. The tall trees, shade on the forest floor, and cooler breezes tease the senses with smells of fresh earth, fragrant wildflowers and the sound of wind through the trees. And you needn’t look any further than the Woodland Conservation Garden at Wellfield Botanic Gardens in the heart of Elkhart to find it.
This three acre oasis on the north side of Wellfield was once a neglected, overgrown and weedy area, where decades of dredgings from the ponds were discarded. Through a generous gift from Max and Elizabeth Walker, this area was transformed, with the ultimate goal of rehabilitating this area, restoring it to a healthy, Oak-Hickory forest filled with native Indiana shrubs, trees, and wildflowers. After nearly 60 dump truck loads of unhealthy sediment (the dredgings from the pond built up over decades) were removed, thousands of volunteer hours spent mechanically removing unwanted and invasive species, and developing a master plan for returning this forest to a native woodland, the Woodland Conservation Garden was opened to the public in 2013.
A quarter-mile loop trail winds through the forest, showcasing tall trees, openings in the canopy where understory growth can flourish, and small wildflower meadows. Interpretive panels explaining the glacial history of northern Indiana, a brief Native American history of our area, and what woodland creatures abound, can be found along the soft, recycled-tire surface of the trail. The Woodland Conservation Garden is very different from most areas of Wellfield – it’s wilder; you won’t feel like you’re in the middle of Elkhart, but removed from civilization, truly enjoying nature, the sounds of birds in the trees and the buzzing of insects as they pollinate the abundant flowers found in the area.
Ongoing restoration efforts include working with Orbis Environmental Consulting to monitor both invasive and desired species, as well as providing education to staff, volunteers, and guests about the importance of native species for ecosystem health. Integrative Pest Management practices help select for desired species to flourish, out-competing undesired weeds and invasives in the woodland. The restoration efforts will take time, with one of the ultimate goals being to restore a strong, healthy forest overstory canopy, which in turn supports native species below.
In the meantime, enjoy Indiana’s native plants and wildlife – – enjoy the beauty of the Woodland Conservation Garden; the trees, shrubs, and wildflowers are incredible across the seasons. Prolific goldenrods are just beginning, the late summer and early fall are one of my favorite times in the Woodland. Watching and listening to sound of native bumblebees as they go from flower to flower is mesmerizing and can take you away from life’s little stresses.
See you in the Garden. For a preview, check out the slideshow below!
Robert and Peggy Weed Executive Director