Our Views: Give so the Rotary Botanical Gardens continue to grow

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

It’s easy to plant seeds and seedlings and watch them grow. The hard work is nurturing and maintaining a garden so it bears optimum fruit and beauty.

So it is with Janesville’s Rotary Botanical Gardens. They can be likened to the loveliest orchids in the woods. Still, one wonders whether founder Dr. Robert Yahr, a retired orthodontist, could have envisioned in 1988 all that the gardens have become. This crown jewel of Janesville is a major Midwest tourist attraction.

To keep the gardens strong and healthy, the board of directors has wisely launched a 25th anniversary capital campaign.

Rotary Gardens thrive atop an abandoned gravel quarry sandwiched between Lions Beach and Kiwanis Pond on Palmer Drive. The nonprofit, award-winning botanical showcase has spread across 20 acres and welcomes 100,000 visitors annually. While the gardens grow on leased city-owned land, they get no tax dollars. Instead, they rely on admissions and donations.

The late businessman Duane Rath donated $160,000 to help renovate a dilapidated brick building. A 2002 capital campaign raised $3.2 million to expand the building into the Parker Visitor/Educational Center and add the horticultural building. Generous people, groups and businesses in and around Janesville continue to give time and money.

This 25th anniversary year, Rotary Gardens is celebrating its founding by devoting its annual display area to one of our nation’s founders, Thomas Jefferson. The spread features vegetables, herbs and plants that Jefferson, our nation’s third president and a devoted botanist and farmer, planted and grew at his Virginia home.

The popular “Pollinators Paradise” has returned and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds to the Nancy Yahr Memorial Children’s Garden. An anniversary project features 25 Adirondack chairs that local artists painted. These add color among the 150,000 annuals, representing 700 varieties, and 500 varieties of perennials.

Rotary Botanical Gardens lure not only residents but visitors from around the world. They host educational programs, family-friendly events, community gatherings and weddings. In recent winters, the holiday light show has attracted more than 13,000 visitors annually.

The gardens spread knowledge and ideas that pop up at homes and businesses throughout our community.

Still, every gardener is at Mother Nature’s mercy. Her whims can help gardens thrive or whither. Flooding damaged Rotary Gardens in 2008. Drought struck in 2012. Both pinched revenues and pushed expenses.

Those concerns, in part, are why the board started this new capital campaign with hopes of raising $250,000 for a reserve fund. Since the June 8 Founders Day Dinner, board members, staff, Friends of the Gardens, other volunteers, businesses and corporations have donated or pledged half the money.

The Janesville Foundation is matching every donation dollar for dollar up to $250,000. So if the campaign meets its goal, this generous foundation gift will double the money for a reserve of $500,000.

Maybe you’ve contributed time or money before. Maybe you or a loved one started married life with a lovely ceremony on the grounds. Or maybe you’ve just enjoyed a quiet evening stroll, soaking in all the peace and serenity of this retreat.

Whatever the case, Rotary Botanical Gardens deserve continued support. Please give generously.

Gazette editorials express the views of the newspaper’s editorial board. Readers are encouraged to comment on editorials through letters to the editor.

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