In the north eastern corner of Wintersmith Park resides a lonely acre of land inhabiting leaning birdhouses, empty flower beds and beautiful sculptures. This seemingly forgotten gem is known as a few different things; a Bird Sanctuary, Sculpture Garden, and most commonly an Arboretum. I have spent my entire twenty two years living in the city of Ada, and I only discovered its existence while taking a walk just last year. Since my discovery, many of my sunny afternoons have been spent crisscross in a patch of grass underneath a tree I adopted as my reading nook. I have hammocked and picnicked aplenty. My curiosity grew, I needed to know more about how this enchanted garden came to be idle. Alongside my curiosity a grown attachment has led me to feel discomfort as the space slowly accumulates more metal scraps, machinery and junk from the workers next door to it. As it seems, the Arboretum has a patchy history, one in which a google search cannot mend. After digging for information that did not exist on the internet I contacted an acquaintance who works for the City of Ada, Lisa Bratcher, who in turn directed me to Randy McFarland, claiming him as an expert on all things Wintersmith Park. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the soil was rich in history.
Sometime between the 1940s and 50s, The City Council of Ada Garden Clubs was organized in relation to the State Association of Garden Clubs, and thus the Arboretum took its first breath. The clubs consisted of middle aged women divided into floral units; similar to how cub scouts are divided by packs or dens. These ladies devoted care to the arboretum. Landscaping was designed to showcase each unit's devotion, all of which were designated to the flower bed corresponding to their name; irises, azaleas, lilies.. Etcetera. The ladies of the Iris Unit would tend to the irises in the garden and the same narrative applied to the others. During this era it was not uncommon for women to be unemployed, and a rarity for women to be employed. With time the flames of the garden clubs weakened, women joined the workforce and by the 80s and 90s the ladies of the garden club dissolved, becoming what McFarlane described, “a phenomenon.” Since the clubs evaporation, groups few and far between will volunteer to spruce to the space. The sculptures seen there now were donated and installed by East Central’s art department, and a young man looking to do community service may offer to paint the signs around the garden. It’s been a few years since anybody has volunteered to clean the space up, in the spring you may see an iris or two having survived in years past. Park management cuts the grass in growing seasons, but the scraps pile higher coveting more space every time I visit.