- Associated Press - Monday, September 28, 2015

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A $3.5 million art garden has opened outside the Wichita Art Museum after about three years of planning and installation.

Hundreds of people attended a grand opening and dedication event on Saturday. Museum benefactors Paula Downing and Martie Walker came up with the idea to install the art garden in 2012.

“We had lawn, we had trees, we had shrubs - it was all pretty average,” museum director Patricia McDonnell said. “It wasn’t memorable, and that wasn’t acceptable for them. Between them, we had a million dollars. We knew that … for gardens, that would go a long way.”

The garden is designed to represent a natural prairie environment, The Wichita Eagle (https://bit.ly/1KKBBT9 ) reported. It features 13 new tree varieties, seven deciduous shrub varieties, 37 perennial varieties and 14 grass varieties.

“We didn’t want a manicured French garden, we didn’t want an English rose garden,” McDonnell said. “People will see a lot of familiar plantings, and yet there are any number that are really pretty special.”

McDonnell hopes the garden will be a “welcome mat” for the community to access the art museum.

“Somebody asked me ‘What are the (art garden’s) hours?’ and it really stumped me for a minute,” she said. “Hours? Oh, you think this is going to be like Botanica. There’s no gate, there’s no hours, there’s no charge. It’s here for you morning, noon and night.”

Additionally, the art garden will help soften the perception of the building, which some people refer to as “an imposing fortress,” McDonnell said.

“This garden softens that,” she said. “Really, I think it improves the architecture by quite a bit because it just makes it a warmer building.”

The art garden was funded entirely by private donors.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com


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