ELKHART — In the Wellfield Botanic Gardens, magnolia trees and forsythia bushes in the recently completed Spring Garden are already starting to bloom.
Little green shoots poke through the mulch in one of the many daffodil beds.
The warm weather this winter, including a high of 50 degrees Monday afternoon, is causing the plants to bloom sooner than usual, said Eric Amt, executive director of the gardens. Several changes await visitors to the gardens this year, Amt said.
The Visitors’ Cottage at the front of the 36-acre property will be completed in late April and the gardens will start charging $5 admission on May 1, Amt said. The gardens will be open for free to Elkhart city residents every Tuesday.
The Spring Garden, completed last fall, should be in full bloom from late March through early May.
“We have 32,000 daffodil and crocus bulbs and 36 flowering trees,” Amt said of the new garden. “This 500-foot corridor should be filled with color.”
The garden will be fully established in about three years.
Another addition to the garden is a series of four new interpretive panels behind the massive tan water tank near the garden’s entrance explaining the water cycle and the history of the well fields as the city’s main water source.
Amt said there are several projects lined up for this summer.
Just behind the Spring Gardens is the Woodland Conservation Garden, where volunteers will remove invasive species from around the native hickory and oak trees. Interpretive panels in the wooded area will explain the history of the Great Lakes and the hardwood forests that surround them, Amt said.
On the hill overlooking the large pond in the center of the gardens will be a quilt garden.
The garden will be part of the Elkhart County Quilt Gardens Tour, but visitors will need to pay admission to see it. There will be a mural outside the entrance to the gardens as part of the Quilt Gardens Tour which can be viewed for free.
This year crews will begin work on the Waterfall Garden with a glass pavilion and Sensory Garden, Amt said.
Amt said the pavilion will be a “small-event space.”
“It will be a charming place for weddings and small receptions,” he said.
Later this summer, the gardens will begin accepting bids from engineering firms to design and build the Adventure Path and Children’s Gardens. The project will take about two years to complete, Amt said.
Annual memberships to the gardens start at $20 for students and run up to $1,000 for the “Perennial Partner” membership.
Visitors can also purchase a dog membership to allow their canine companions to enjoy the gardens. A $20 “family dog” membership comes with a membership tag to be attached to the dog’s collar.
“We have 47 dog memberships already,” Amt said.
Amt said he hopes to increase the gardens’ volunteer staff this year.
“I’d say we have a pool of about 70 (volunteers) right now,” he said. “We’re hoping to get over 100 this year, especially when we’ll need to staff the Visitors’ Cottage.”
Summer events at the Wellfield Botanic Gardens
May 4: Summer Market
July 18: Envirofest
Early August: Shakespeare in the Gardens
August 24: Taste of the Gardens