Figuratively speaking, Jane Drake's vision is to make the bridge in The Gardens at SIUE stretch well into Edwardsville and throughout the Metro East Area.
That's because Drake, the new director of the Gardens at SIUE, wants to grow community awareness and involvement in the Signature Garden through outreach programming and events.
"I hope to bring more exposure to The Gardens," said Drake, who began her new job Jan. 3. "Our previous director (Doug Conley) did a fabulous job. With support from community members and a strong master plan, he established The Gardens. I will continue to develop the horticultural character of the property and find new and exciting ways to connect The Gardens to the broader community. I look forward to what we'll grow into."
Drake first cultivated a love of horticulture as owner/operator of a small farm in Northeast Kansas. She graduated in 2001 with a Bachelor of Science in horticulture from Kansas State University. After relocating with her family to Edwardsville, she connected with The Gardens when she volunteered there as a graduate student.
"And I fell in love with it," she said. "I know there are many people who don't realize what a treasure we have here." The horticulturalist graduated from SIUE in 2009 with a Master of Science in biological sciences with an emphasis in science education.
After graduating from SIUE, Drake went to work at The Audubon Center at Riverlands, West Alton, MO, where she was the education director. She was responsible for collaborating with project partners, establishing a volunteer program, assisting with Center development and grant coordination, and establishing nature-based outreach programming for all ages. "I enjoy helping people connect to nature," she said. "A well appointed, thoughtfully designed public garden is much more than its horticultural collections and meandering paths. It is a place for folks to come together, to learn from each other, to remember our history, to be observant in the moment and to engage in our future."
The Gardens at SIUE is a 35-acre public botanical garden and is recognized by the Missouri Botanical Garden as a Signature Garden. Included in the Gardens are natural areas, gardens, sculptures and a walking path. The Garden also includes The Lantern, an Asian-influenced garden pergola embraced by white pines. Near Turtle Pond, a winding path lands in a plaza surrounded by a small amphitheater creating an intimate space for special events and contemplation.
The Prairie House, scheduled for 2012-13 and part of SIUE's Defining Excellence Campaign, will be an exciting new addition to The Gardens. SIUE began a major gifts campaign last year to thrust the University to a new level of prominence and performance. The Gardens remains a major part of the fundraising efforts, as SIUE expects philanthropic support to transform it into a major educational and cultural resource, which will attract regional visitors and support the academic and social life of the University.
The Prairie House will offer both indoor and outdoor classroom space and be a stunning venue for events and celebrations. The surrounding Prairie Garden will both delight visitors with its iconic landscape of the Midwest, and provide students with a living laboratory in which to study and explore one of the most productive plant communities on earth.