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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