Tour: Linnaeus Teaching Garden


The May 2007 program featured a program on, and a tour of, the Linnaeus Teaching Garden. Our host and tour guide was Barry Fugatt, Director of Horticulture for the Tulsa Garden Center and a columnist for the Tulsa World. The luncheon portion of the program was an historical overview of the Tulsa Garden Center and the Linnaues Gardens.

Barry shared the following historical data:

  • The entire parcel of land from 21st Street to 25th Street, that is now the Woodward Park Complex, was originally a 160 acre Creek Indian land allotment belonging to Helen Woodward Slemp (for whom Woodward Park is named).
  • The Italianate-style villa was designed by noted Tulsa architect Nobel B. Flemming. The house was built with 21 rooms and 10 bathrooms. Construction was begun in 1919 and completed in 1921 at a cost of more than $100,000.00.
  • It was built by David R. Travis (originally known as David Rabinowitz), a Russian immigrant. Mr. Travis and his family moved to Tulsa in 1913 from Ohio where he had been successful in the scrap metal business. Mr. Travis became quite wealthy in the oil field equipment salvage business.
  • The Ballroom (lower level) was the location for Jewish services during the time the Travises were in residence.
  • Mr. Travis and is brother Samuel built the cobblestone driveway themselves.
  • Samuel Travis built the house immediately south of this one, which is currently headquarters for the Tulsa Historical Society.
  • The Arboretum parking lot was originally a swimming pool. The ceiling in the original library on the first floor is gold leaf. The stained glass ceiling was originally a skylight.
  • In 1923 J. Arthur Hull purchased the home and built the "Lord & Burnham" Conservatory and its accompanying sunken garden between 1924 and 1926.
  • In 1934 Mr. George Snedden purchased the distressed mansion and his family remained in the home until 1949.
  • Mr. W.G. Skelly bought the property in 1950, though he never resided here. He sold the home in 1954, providing an educational resource center and a meeting place for horticultural and environmental organizations in Tulsa and surrounding communities.
  • Since 1954, well over a million people have visited Tulsa Garden Center from all 50 states and 71 foreign countries.

Following the luncheon presentation, we took a tour of the Linnaeus Teaching Gardens. Some of the history of the Linnaeus Teaching Gardens was shared not only during the luncheon, but during the tour as well.

A little about the Linnaeus Teaching Gardens:

  • Named after Carl Linnaeus, Swedish naturalist and the father of botany
  • The Linnaeus Teaching Garden, a gift to northeastern Oklahoma, was dedicated on June 8, 2006
  • The vision began with the idea of teaching homeowners the possibilities for their own backyards. But the vision at first lacked the components necessary to make it a success – funds, location, plants and products, and volunteers.

Then…slowly, but surely, between 2005 and early 2006, the pieces fell into place:

  • First, finds were donated through nearly 3000 individual donations equaling more than $800,000.00.
  • Second, the Tulsa Parks Department provided the location, authorizing the use of 1.55 acres of prime real estate located in Woodward Park.
  • Third, industry sponsors up to donate products and services for landscaping and planting having a value of more than $500,000. More than 4,000 individual plants comprise the garden, and they have all been donated. These donations have been ongoing over the life of the garden.
  • Last but not least, over 180 people volunteered to become the initial group of Linnaeus Gardeners. It was these volunteers who contributed their time and effort to prepare the beds and plant the trees, shrubs and flowers that grace the garden.

Our thanks to Barry Fugatt and the staff of the Tulsa Garden Center for a wonderful program.