Explore a Green Urban Jungle in Summer at Gathering Place
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Horticulture Stories


Stories from the park's horticulture team

Take a Walk on the Wild Side in a Green Urban Jungle

By Stacie Martin

After spring rains, Gathering Place blooms. Then, as the spring wildflowers start to set seed and the summer wildflowers kick in, something almost magical happens: Gathering Place transforms. This tidy landscape becomes a green urban jungle, masquerading as a garden that takes on a life of its own. The plantings at Gathering Place are lush and wild, and after five years of growth, the 1.2 million plants are large and in-charge (and stunning!). This green jungle has a natural aesthetic with unique maintenance needs that supports wildlife and inspires imperfection.


This planting of sumacs and false spirea looks both lovely and remote. Williams Lodge is the only reminder of civilization! Sumacs are native species that are drought tolerant and provide flowers for foraging bees.

Another favorite jungle-like planting is the Wetland Garden. We love Monarda’s beautiful, nectar rich flowers. The landscape at Gathering Place never looks the same, and this area will fill in with beautiful grasses as the flowers go to seed.

This native elderberry on the River Trail reminds me of pillowy clouds! Elderberry shrubs are planted in our bioswales, which are basins designed to catch stormwater. Water-loving plants like elderberry filter nutrients out of the water before entering the Arkansas River.

Maintenance techniques are specified to keep the gardens looking wild. Every year, the horticulture team spends most of June pruning. During spring rains, plants grow exponentially faster. We prune tall prairie plants, bamboo that likes to flop, and shrubs as they grow into pathways.

Many prairie species, such as goldenrod, boneset, and sunflowers grow really tall. While desirable, controlling their height lets us see a more diverse selection of flowers. We trimmed this goldenrod back, and now we can see milkweed, verbena, and blanketflower!

We are often asked about the bamboo at Gathering Place. It is nonnative and can be quite invasive. At Gathering Place, we installed bamboo barrier to prevent it from jumping into unwanted places (bamboo groves are often 25’ wide). While it is slightly uncontrollable, we prune bamboo back so that it flops less in critical areas.

Gathering Place is not an original pristine wilderness but an example of the power of landscape. The work is worth it; the wild attracts birds, bees, bugs, butterflies, and more!

And, we have frog eggs!

To enjoy a wild landscape is to love the jungle aesthetic, to embrace imperfections, and to wondrously watch wildlife.

To experience Gathering Place's wild landscape, go on a Self-Guided Horticulture Tour