The acreage went unused for 25 years, until 1932, when Parks Department horticulturalist Henry Walters began development on the regional park and 30-acre garden.
Much of the beauty of Will Rogers Horticultural Gardens can be attributed to Walters' hard work and dedication.
He designed and planted a majority of the trees and planting beds you still see throughout the park. Through the 1930’s Mr. Walters worked closely with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Work Projects Administration (WPA) to build the garden’s rock arbors, overlooks, lake and other structures.
The first garden club in Oklahoma City was created by Mrs. J. E. Hoopes in 1921 and, as interest in gardening grew, additional garden clubs were developed in rapid succession. In an effort to coordinate gardening events and activities, Mrs. A. L. Foote established the Oklahoma City Council of Garden Clubs in 1929. Will Rogers Park became home to the Oklahoma City Council of Garden Clubs in 1938. The clubs moved to Will Rogers Garden Exhibition Center after it was built in 1963.
The Ed Lycan Conservatory
The most unusual structure in Will Rogers Horticultural Gardens is the Ed Lycan Conservatory. The conservatory was designed by renowned architects Lord and Burnham and was first erected in Douglass Park in 1924. In 1936 the conservatory was moved to Will Rogers Park. The greenhouse was named after Ed Lycan, the first employee for the Oklahoma City Parks Department. He worked for the department from 1912 to 1954, spending much of his time at the gardens.
Thanks to efforts made by the Central Oklahoma Cacti and Succulent Society, the conservatory received a significant cacti and succulent collection in 1987. The collection came as a gift from the estate of long-time collectors Charles and Mary Polaski.
The 2-acre Rose Garden, featuring 3,000 rose bushes, was planned and planted by the Oklahoma Rose Society in 1938. It was dedicated in 1940 as the Oklahoma City Municipal Rose Garden and modernized in 1950. This garden was one of the largest rose gardens in the United States until the 1970’s. The garden was renamed the Charles E. Sparks Rose Garden in 1986 in honor of a Parks Department supervisor that worked in the rose garden.
A 6-foot tall bronze sculpture of a mother and daughter is a prominent feature in the rose garden. It was donated to the parks department in the 1930’s by art collector J.J. Culberson Jr. Mr. Culberson purchased the bronze from Munich artist Richard Aigner while visiting Paris.
The bronze is said to depict a mother’s struggle to keep her daughter from crossing the threshold into adulthood. The fish in the mother’s left hand is a metaphor for womanhood.
A bust of Will Rogers is on the north side of the garden’s lake. It was commissioned by the DeMolays of Tulsa and created by Lawrence Tenny Stevens. It was dedicated in 1955.