Bartlett Arboretum

Imagine you’re driving around south central Kansas in 1997 and you get lost. While trying to find your way again, you stumble upon a For Sale sign in front of a small neglected forest. Inspired by the “bare bones” of a once grand wooded garden, you put a contract on the place that day, and then ultimately buy it.¬† Foolish and risky some might think, but for Robin Macy, getting lost meant finding something that has made her heart sing for 14 years now.

Robin, with the help of a group of volunteers (so-called “soil sisters”), and friends, cut back the overgrowth, took out dead trees, replaced bridges, planted gardens, and converted a gift shop at the edge of the garden¬† into a lovely home.

Born of 15 acres of prairie at the edge of Belle Plaine Kansas, Bartlett Arboretum was the dream of Dr. Walter Bartlett. In 1910 he purchased the land, and started planting trees. In the following years, the young forest grew and Dr. Bartlett added a baseball field so the town could have a place to play America’s favorite pastime.

In 1937, care of the arboretum passed to the next generation, Dr. Bartlett’s son, Glenn. Inspired by the gardens of Europe, Glenn and his wife Margaret built bridges over the lake, invited brides to be wed in the shade of the trees, and began an annual tradition of Tulip Time when they planted thousands of tulip bulbs.

Upon Glenn and Margaret’s death, their daughters, Glenna and Mary, continued to care for the arboretum.

Sadly, as the years passed, all the work that it required became too much for the sisters, and they regretfully put it up for sale.

For 3 years no one showed an interest in buying the crumbling forest, until in the words of Mary, “this cute little blonde elf, Robin Macy, came knocking at the door. We didn’t lose an arboretum, we gained another daughter”.

Today the garden sings again. The tall stately trees sway in the breeze. Visitors enjoy the live music of bluegrass bands every summer, and brides once again say “I do” in the shade of the trees.

When asked if she will stay, Robin replies with an impish grin, “I’ll pass away here while working in the garden.”

For more information about the Bartlett Arboretum, visit their website here.


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Cattle, corn, wheat, beans, mud, snow, ice, and drought. Plenty of fresh air and quiet. Our life is sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes joyous, but never boring.

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11 Responses

  1. Sally Bishop says:

    I have a sister who lives in Wichita and I believe I’ll try to find this arb next time we are there. I love that she stumbled on to such a treasure.

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Sally,
      Belle Plaine is about 20 minutes south of Wichita, and is a small town so it’s not hard to find. Just look on their website for directions. You’ll love it.

  2. What a wonderful and interesting story. The grounds are absolutely beautiful! I can just imagine myself sitting on that white wicker swing…enjoying a cup of coffee and looking at the pond. I just love places like that. It just looks so peaceful.

  3. Pam K. says:

    My parents were both born near Belle Plaine and grew up in Mulvane. They are both gone now, but I wish I could ask them if they’ve ever been to the Bartlett Arboretum!

  4. Glenda says:

    What a lovely story and great photos! Why didn’t you take me? Oh, you just did! Thanks!

  5. Tina says:

    How beautiful!I would love to crawl up in that wicker swing and read the afternoon away….ahhh. Suzanne these beautiful pictures would make great screen savers for us worker bees. Have you thought of maybe compling some of your pics onto a CD and selling them? Or it would make a great prize for a giveaway!

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Tina,
      Setting up a site to sell photos is on the list of things to do, but in the meantime, feel free to use my pics as screensavers or wallpaper. I don’t mind.

  6. Laura says:

    Love the CD idea. Thanks for this one, reminds us on those crazy work days of God’s beauty and that there is still peace and beauty out there.

  7. Marilyn says:

    Suzanne ~ How beautiful — Your pictures show so much. Now I have another place in Kansas to put on my list!! So many of the places I want to see, I’ve found here.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Marilyn in Missouri

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