There are some big changes taking place at Stillwater’s best kept secret – also known as The Botanic Garden at Oklahoma State University.

This 100-acre wonder, located just west of Stillwater on the north side of Highway 51, is a quiet little gem that is part of Stillwater’s cultural identity. The garden is home to walking trails and OSU horticultural research, as well as the luscious garden that serves as the set for the popular television program Oklahoma Gardening.

Garden Director Lou Anella said the new additions will enhance not only the enjoyment of the venue but the convenience of visiting the garden itself.

“With more than 40,000 people visiting the garden annually, we want to make this space the best it can be. The biggest change right now is one of convenience,” Anella said. “When visitors entered the property from the south entrance, they had a bit of a hike from the parking lot down into the garden itself. With the installation of a paved road that leads from the south parking lot directly to a new parking lot at the heart of the garden, visitors will now have an easier time getting into the space, especially those with limited mobility.”

Parking at the garden was somewhat limited, especially during big events such as the concerts in the garden series, open houses and the annual GardenFest. As a result, Anella said overflow parking was in the grass, and vendor vehicles often had to drive on unpaved paths to reach the staging areas for events.

Botanic Garden road construction.

A new paved road leading from the south parking lot will hep enhance the experience of those visiting The Botanic Garden. (Photo by Todd Johnson, OSU Agricultural Communications Services)

“The new road will eliminate both of these issues while creating a safer entrance for our garden guests,” he said. “There are three components that are important to a botanic garden, including the garden itself, programming and infrastructure. We’ve had great gardens and programming for many years, but our infrastructure hasn’t been what it should be. The paved road and parking lot will change that and now we can start dreaming about a visitor center and even more educational programming.”

About three-fourths of the $425,000 cost of the road is being covered by the university, as well as OSU’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. The remaining 25% is being funded through donations.

Individuals who would like to make a tax-deductible donation can email Heidi Williams, senior director of principal gifts with the OSU Foundation, or email Anella for more information.

Ray Campbell, the first host of Oklahoma Gardening, said from the time the land was located for The Botanic Garden at OSU, the goal has always been to make it as accessible as possible.

“I was pleased when we were able to provide access to the garden from West 6th Street with a walking trail. Today I’m glad again to be part of the road enhancement project,” Campbell said.

Anella said he expects the new road project to be completed by Aug. 1.

Stillwater resident Tracy Richardson enjoys spending time at the garden and sometimes brings her lunch to enjoy outdoors.

“Anytime we have guests from out of town, we always bring them here,” Richardson said. “It’s so pretty and such a positive aspect of OSU and the Stillwater community. If you haven’t been here yet, make plans to visit soon. It’s a great place to get some new ideas for your own garden. I’m excited about the new road and how much easier it will be to get into the garden from the south entrance.”

Another new feature at the garden will be especially exciting for kids. With the help of a Recreational Trails Grant from the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, the first part of the new Treewalk Village has been installed. Anella said this structure is a series of ramps and platforms in the pin oak trees just south of the labyrinth and is partially disability accessible.

“The platforms are connected by rope bridges. We’ve applied for another Recreational Trails Grant and hopefully we can expand Treewalk Village to include even more fun elements,” Anella said. “We’re always trying to do things to get children interested in horticulture and think of the botanic garden as a fun place to go. The garden is a great place to introduce kids to horticulture, hiking and the great outdoors.”

Anella said the garden has had various points of interest for children over the years, but Treewalk Village is a permanent feature.

“People love the garden and in this time of COVID-19, we’re seeing more families coming to the garden because it’s easy to socially distance here,” he said. “The garden is a great safe escape and refuge for families needing to get out of the house. Because we’re a university garden, we’re much smaller than other botanic gardens people may have visited. But, we have lots of beauty to share. An advantage of being small is we can focus on things people can do at home in their own garden.”