The Sunken Gardens staff perseveres through heat waves

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) -The Sunken Gardens’ bowl-like shape blocks the wind and traps humidity, making it a perfect place for tropical plants to grow. However, this means the gardeners are working in temperatures 10 to 20 degrees hotter than the garden’s outskirts.

During heat waves, they rely on an abandoned well, sprinklers and hard work to keep the plants hydrated.

“Each morning, our irrigation system rolls through,” said Zac Halley, gardener for the City of Lincoln Public Garden Sanction. “It’s about 10 minutes per section on the annuals, and then on these hot days like today, we’re doing additional hand watering.”

Where the sprinklers fall short, the staff members are there to hand-water any dry spots that were missed. A riser system is implemented when the plants get too tall for the water droplets to reach.

This water comes from an abandoned city well.

When Lincoln transitioned to city water, the water structure was available for the Sunken Gardens to take advantage of for no cost.

“They abandoned it, nobody wanted it, nobody was going to use it, so we said, ‘Well we want it,’” said Alice Reed, the head gardener at Sunken Gardens. “Because our fish suffered when we used to fill our ponds every year. You have to get the chlorine out and there’s this thick chlorine film that sticks to them.”

Reed did not have an exact quantity for how much water is used at Sunken Gardens, but she knows that 34,000 gallons is needed to fill the two ponds.

Thought the Sunken Gardens has a surplus of water, there is a slight staff shortage.

“We really need about four more people at least,” Reed said. “Every year, it grows and grows. The parks department just keeps on growing and we need to catch up with people that they hire because we have all these new gardens going in.”

The gardening team consists of approximately 16 workers with six of them working full-time from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aside from watering, much of their work consists of pulling out weeds, since the garden is maintained without chemicals.

These efforts are meant to immerse visitors in the Sunken Garden designs, which have a theme each year. This summer’s theme is called “A Wonderland” with designs similar to the Mad Hatter’s tea tables, mushrooms, smoking caterpillars, hearts and roses. These fixtures are surrounded with tropical plants from places as far as South America.

The Sunken Gardens holds a special place in the hearts of many visitors.

“It’s got a lot of memories,” said visitor Terri Kuzelka, who married her husband in the Sunken Gardens. “The flowers here are absolutely gorgeous. I’d hate to think what you’d have to pay for flowers like this at an inside wedding.”

The garden’s base is planted by 150 volunteers earlier in the year, and it takes them about three hours. Halley is also the volunteer coordinator for a group called “Garden Gab.” This group dead-heads flowers, pulls weeds, works in the ponds and learns about horticulture on Tuesday and Thursdays.

To find Sunken Gardens volunteer or internship opportunities, visit and contact Zac Halley. Those who are interested can also contact Zac Halley at (402)326-9045 or email

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