LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) -The bowl-like shape of the Mixed Gardens blocks wind and retains moisture, making it the perfect place for tropical plants to grow. However, this means gardeners are working in temperatures 10-20 degrees warmer than outside the garden.

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

“Every morning our irrigation system goes through,” said Zac Halley, gardener at the Lincoln City Public Garden. “On annuals it’s about 10 minutes per section, and then on these hot days like today, we do additional hand watering.”

If sprinklers are not available, staff members manually water missed dry spots. When the plants are too tall to reach the water droplets, a lifting system is applied.

This water comes from an abandoned city well.

When Lincoln switched to city water, the water structure was available for Sunken Gardens to benefit at no cost.

“They left it, no one wanted it, no one was going to use it, so we said, ‘OK, we want it,'” said Alice Reed, head gardener at Sunken Gardens. “Because every year when we filled our ponds, our fish suffered. You have to remove the chlorine and there’s a thick film of chlorine sticking to them.”

Reed didn’t have an exact figure for how much water is used in the Sunken Gardens, but he knows it takes 34,000 gallons to fill the two ponds.

I thought there was an excess of water in the Sunken Gardens, and there was a slight shortage of workers.

“We need at least four people,” Reed said. “Every year it grows and grows. The parks department continues to grow and we need to keep the people they hire because we have all these new parks.

The gardening team consists of about 16 staff, six of whom work full-time from 7am to 4pm, as the garden is kept chemical-free, apart from watering, most of their work involves weeding.

These efforts are designed to immerse visitors in the Sunken Garden designs, which each year have a theme. This summer’s theme is ‘Wonderland’ with Mad Hatter tea party designs, mushrooms, smoking caterpillars, hearts and roses. These installations are surrounded by tropical plants from places as far away as South America.

The sunken gardens hold a special place in the hearts of many visitors.

“It has a lot of memories,” said guest Terri Kuzelka, who married her husband in the sunken gardens. “The flowers here are absolutely beautiful. I hate to think what you would have to pay for such flowers at a domestic wedding.”

The foundation of the garden was planted at the beginning of the year by 150 volunteers and it took them about three hours. Halley is also a volunteer coordinator for a group called Garden Gab. This group spends Tuesdays and Thursdays dying flowers, pulling weeds, working on ponds and gardening.

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

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