Straddling the bluffs on the west side of the Missouri River are the Lauritzen Gardens. They've always been somewhat of an enigma to me, those one hundred acres of grass and plants and petals. My parents had been more of the "let's go to the zoo crowd," which was just as well, as the Henry Doorly was named the world's best zoo this year. But since the zoo is just downriver from the Gardens, and off the same Interstate exit, I'd always see the Gardens' visitor center and greenhouses tucked into the hills, overlooking the rush of Nebraska and Iowa drivers.
In other words, I'd never been.
Over Labor Day weekend, however, the Gardens offered free admission. Since Ty and I were in the area already, visiting my family, we took advantage of the opportunity. And so, on Labor Day itself, we crossed the Missouri and spent our afternoon in Omaha.
Overall, the gardens were beautiful. Ty and I stopped in the peony garden (who knew there were so many varieties?), the rose garden (which was still stunning, despite roses being "out of season"), and the herb garden, where he and I teased our hands through the sprigs of rosemary and thyme, savoring the aromas left on our fingertips. We also wandered through the bird sanctuary, a secluded sort of walk with prairie grass taller than I. We held hands as we walked, swinging our arms back and forth, back and forth, like children in a spirited game of Red Rover.
Red Rover, Red Rover, Ty is already over. See? We're already linked.
Out of the corner of my eye, I looked up at him and smiled. Ty didn't notice at first. His head was up, his chin thrust forward like it always is when he's visually curious. When he finally did feel my gaze, he raised his eyebrow in an exaggerated, What?
"Nothing," I giggled.
We came upon a married couple then, a pair who were looking to take photos in the area. Ty and I paused for them at first, but they shook their heads and laughingly shooed us along. "No, no, really; you first!"
They insisted, we complied, and Ty took my hand once more. "I don't want to photobomb the background of their photos," he said, walking a little more quickly than we had been just minutes before.
"We'll be okay," I said.
"Well, I just don't want them to look back at their photos and see a sasquatch like me with a mysteriously attractive girlfriend."
"You are not a sasquatch."
"Okay, maybe a little bit." I looked at Ty, who nodded.
"Damn straight," he said.
I rolled my eyes. "You know I think you're pretty."
"Not as pretty as you," he replied.
After exiting the bird sanctuary, we continued toward the Sunpu Castle Gate and Mt. Fuji replica. As we neared the replica, we could see that children had bypassed the ropes lining the path and had climbed to the top of the hill. It was steep, I could tell, and I worried that the children's ascent had damaged the replica. That area of the country had seen high and heavy amounts of rain, and so it was with prude mentality that I looked at the children, their climb, and the slicks of mud and thought erosion, erosion, erosion.
The Japanese garden had yet to be finished; there were signs explaining its future and how it would be, upon completion, the largest Japanese garden between Chicago and Denver. The garden's design actually had been a gift to the city of Omaha in 1996, when Omaha celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with sister city Shizuoka, Japan. It wasn't until 2005, however, that the Sunpu Castle Gate and Mt. Fuji replica were dedicated. The gate, too, is a replica, and was modeled after after the gate at Sunpu Castle in Shizuoka. And while the Mt. Fuji replica was quite stunning, it was still fun to imagine how large the real volcano is (approximately 400 times larger than the replica at Lauritzen Gardens).
Our favorite garden, however, was the model railroad garden. Tracks of railroad wrapped around rocks, trees, and bushes. Trains snaked through hollow logs and alongside miniature streams. They were below our feet and above our heads, whistling, clicking, chugging on and on and on. The structural elements in the garden—the bridges, the trestles—were all constructed from natural materials. The trains also weave around replicas of Omaha landmarks, such as the Durham Museum, the Woodmen of the World Building, and the St. Cecilia Cathedral. Ty and I marveled at the use of sticks and twigs and twine, and, once again, were giddy with childlike wonder.
Overall, Ty and I greatly enjoyed the Lauritzen Gardens. We plan to go back in the future—whenever that may be—so we can tour the finished conservatory. (The $20 million project will finish later this year, and will offer a winding path through both a temperate area and a tropical plant area.) Though neither of us had visited the Gardens before, we were pleased to discover that it was exactly as described on the website: "an urban oasis of beauty and tranquility."