The Ensley Gardens began construction in 1978 from an idea from Theodore D. “Ted” Ensley, Director of Parks & Recreation to get a rose garden started. Many junipers were planted and manicured, and a water system was put in to support the garden. In 1980, Julie Trowbridge, Horticulturist, started to develop a formal rose garden that included extensive varieties and about 1500 roses total. Julie started with a blank field with mushroom shaped junipers and privet hedge. She used welfare workers to accomplish the construction and maintenance.
In 1989, Dave Bartels, Park Supervisor proposed the gazebo, waterfalls and the ponds. Topeka Beautification Association (TBA) paid for the gazebo and the Georgetown pavers in the patio and sidewalk to the parking lot, a total of about $25,000. In 1990, the fence by the parking lot was removed and replaced with the berms and trees. At that time there was a new irrigation system that was set up to run automatically. In 1993, TBA donated trees and shrubs for berms on the south end of the rose garden. The Day Lily Club donated several beds, giving plant materials including those that are hard to find.
Ted Ensley, now County Commissioner and Jerold Binkley suggested the “Garden by the Lake” in 2000. John Knight, Director of Parks & Recreation and Dave Bartels, Park Supervisor met with them and many other garden enthusiasts to come up with the basis of what a garden should mean to the public. Accessible sidewalks, water gardens and waterfalls, shade gardens, woodland gardens, use of color, use of all seasons, use of space and overlapping beds to create the overall view and to have places to sit were some of the suggestions.
The plan was presented to the Board of County Commissioners on January 4th 2001 and approved to start when money could be raised. On July 10th 2001, the dirt was excavated for the rough sidewalk and the main water lines were started. Over 1200 yards of dirt was brought into the area to cover the shallow soil and build up areas to plant. The streams were roughed in, pergola was built, the bridges were built, the ponds were dug, irrigation was finished, the lines for the lights were placed and the sidewalks were poured by January 2002. Rock walls were built, annual beds were planted, trees and shrubs were planted, pumps were installed and the streams were put into use by July 4th 2002. Soils were then amended and more beds were further developed. In 2003, the deck took shape, the lake edge geo web and flowers were planted and the lights were installed. The total cost of this phase was around $105,000.00. Approximately 400 volunteer hours were used to build this phase.
In 2004, plans were discussed, out of necessity, of where to build parking to fit the usage. As the trail around the lake was being discussed, the logical place brought the parking to the west side of the ravine west of the original parking area. A covered bridge was developed and the entrance to the garden was to be through the bridge. A visually less busy garden was developed and the design goal became to bring the Rose garden, the Lake Garden and the new phase The Serenity Garden together. The use of the old parking lot provided a nice gathering area and a future water fountain will accent where the gardens meet. This plan was set into place in September of 2006. Volunteers gave about 2800 hours to help the construction and maintenance.
A new metal gazebo was installed in the spring of 2006 and the old patio was moved to a new patio in the serenity garden. Rock was removed from the old spillway before the reconstruction and rock walls were built in the lower section of the garden.
The parking lot was removed and the bridge footings were installed in preparation for the bridge delivery in November. The sidewalks were installed over the winter and early spring. The irrigation lines were installed as the final grades were placed and grass and beds were installed. Rock walls were installed in the old parking area and the circle sidewalk where the fountain will be placed. The pump and waterfalls are currently being built as weather is allowing. The full affect of the new area will be better felt when beds can be placed after the construction equipment can be eliminated. The total cost of the latest project is around $220,000. Already this year we have benefited from over 4000 hours of volunteer work to both build and maintain the gardens.