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$500 reward offered for information leading to an arrest in garden

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SPRINGFIELD – One of Springfield’s most popular “teaching” gardens was heavily damaged by vandals during the evening of Sunday, May 29. Significant damage to the Master Gardener’s Demonstration and Kitchen Garden at the Springfield Botanical Center has prompted a $500 reward to anyone providing information that leads to an arrest.

“Right now, we are estimating a total of around $1000 worth of damage,” says Kelly McGowan, horticulture educator with University of Missouri Extension who co-leads the Master Gardener program. “Our Master Gardeners raise funds to equip and maintain that garden and invest thousands of volunteers hours too so we take this very personally.”

Kelly McGowan digs for garlic in the Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden at the Springfield Botanical Gardens. Garlic will be the center of attention during a festival on Sept. 2.

Kelly McGowan digs for garlic in the Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden at the Springfield Botanical Gardens. The garden was heavily damaged by vandals on May 29, and a $500 reward is offered for information leading to an arrest.

Because of the dollar value of the damage done, the crime is considered a felony.

“Our volunteers recently held a plant sale and raised nearly $12,000, but those funds are all budgeted in the next 12 months for the purchase of new plants and to fund public education programs. Additional funds will be needed for these repairs,” says McGowan.

In the demonstration garden, the low tunnel covering was destroyed and plants pulled out. Vandals overturned the work bench and broke the legs. The cold frame was broken and plants removed. A new roof to the shed was damaged, the work table was overturned, and the top broken. Several terra cotta pots were broken and plastic pots crushed, other plants destroyed, and the plant cart was removed to the railroad tracks.

Master Gardeners Pat DeWitt and Bryan Braley filed a report with the Springfield Police Department and a park ranger. Information about the damage has also spread among area volunteers via social media.

“Although vandalism is not a new problem in the Park, this is particularly disturbing because of the amount of damage done. Our volunteers put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make these gardens look beautiful for the public and I struggle to comprehend what motivates people to do things like this,” says Patrick Byers, horticulture specialist with MU Extension and co-leader of the Master Gardeners of Greene County.

Tips on the identity of the vandals can be reported to the Springfield Police Department through Crime Stoppers tip line at 417-869-8477.

Master Gardeners of Greene County developed the original demonstration garden in 1994 on land provided by the Springfield-Greene County Park Board.

In 2001, the garden was completely reworked and expanded to include a semi-formal turf plot, a 2,300 square foot vegetable garden with harvested produce donated to the Ozark Food Harvest.

Expansion of the garden added a native Missouri wildflower section, a mixed border area of trees, perennials and shrubs, and a herb garden divided into culinary, scented, medicinal, and dying herbs, demonstrating best practices in gardening to anyone interested.

The Master Gardener program is a popular statewide volunteer community-service organization administered through University of Missouri Extension. The organization’s goal is to train gardeners who are willing to share their knowledge with others. Master Gardeners become volunteers of University of Missouri Extension and donate hours for community educational projects in horticulture.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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