MCC's Arboretum, a Nebraska
Statewide Arboretum site, is comprised of six venues located throughout the 70-acre
campus. Among them is the General Crook House with its original Victorian-era garden.
General Crook House Victorian Heirloom Garden
|Photo by Janice Rutledge
(click for larger image)
The Crook House Victorian Heirloom Garden is the only garden of its kind in this
region. It blooms among century-old trees at an authentically restored home built in
1879 for a frontier general. The garden features more than 110 varieties of flowers,
some trees and shrubs were carried here on wagon trains and were available by catalog
in the 1880s, or were native to Nebraska. The garden overlooks the majestic parade
ground and historic buildings of Fort Omaha, and at the rear, along the back drive,
are natural wild flowers and prairie grasses.
Every home during this Victorian period of the late 1800s, however modest, included
some form of garden fenced or bordered by shrubs to define an outside living space.
Gardens provided a welcome escape from summer's heat. The Crook House Garden is edged
with Privet, Alpine Currant, Rose trellis and hedges, and the Bridal Wreath Spirea.
|Photo by Rita Jerins
A unique feature is that it was designed to resemble a parlor rug. Carpet beds
(the four center areas) are accented with the patterns and bright colors of an Oriental
Four other features in the Crook House Victorian Heirloom Garden are original to the
garden: the limestone steps and the rock steps, the birdbath fountain and the Eastern
Cedar tree near the grape arbor.
|Photo by Janice Rutledge
(click for larger image)
This garden is both formal and prairie in its design. Perennial gardens, which border
the house, were favored by homeowners of the late 1800s since seeds were scarce, expensive
and had to be ordered. Cuttings often were traded or brought from the East to grace the
barren yards of a new homesteader.
Of special interest are:
- Fern Leaf Peony or Pioneer Peony: a double, deep red flower in the spring
and delicate fern-like foliage until late summer. Rarely found in Omaha (at your
right, southeast corner of the house as you enter the full garden).
- Rosa rugosa hedge: a pink flower resembling a single petaled wild rose followed
by colorful red hips, separates the formal garden from the fruit, vegetable, herb
and cutting gardens (elevated west section), just as the kitchen and servant’s
quarters are separated from the main part of the house.
- Herb garden: an essential part of every kitchen garden. A typical design was
a lover’s knot, having no beginning or ending. Oyster shell was used to maintain
the pattern, and plants frequently were shorn to show the intricate design.
- Practical fruits: at most homes for jellies, jam, pies and canning of cherry,
crab apple, boysenberry, gooseberries and small fruit bushes (near the arbor
planted with grapes).
- Cutting beds: no wider than four feet for easy cutting from both sides (near
the south porch).
- Fragrant flowers: helped during an age that lacked air conditioning and
deodorants. A favorite was the wide-leaf Grandiflora Hosta (northwest side);
foliage of the Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) helped repel ants and other insects.
- Award-winning Sass Iris: historically significant and collected worldwide
(south side of the garage). Several varieties were developed by brothers Hans P.
and Jacob Sass, who emigrated to Douglas County from Alt Duvestedt, Germany.
Jacob’s son Henry also won several awards for the “historic Sass Iris.”
The Victorian Era was dominated by industrialization and a rising interest in science,
and it was during this time that most natural history museums were founded. Both Old World
and Midwestern gardeners wanted examples of an exotic bird or plant to show that they, too,
were cultured and “modern.” As a result, such strange-sounding names as False Dragonhead,
Bugbane and Dropwort were featured in the 1888 Burpee’s Catalogue. Sultana (Impatiens),
available only in red, was a new exotic flower from South Africa. Also new and rare was the
romantic Love-Lies-Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus), whose long drooping shoots are covered
with deep red blossoms resembling drops of blood.
The Burpee’s Catalogue offered more than seeds. Upon request, readers could receive
the Burpee’s Manual of Thoroughbred Stock, which listed choice young pigs for “$20.00 to
$25.00 per pair, with larger stock at proportionate prices,” as well as Scotch Collie dogs,
pigs, chickens, sheep and ducks!
The Heirloom Plants
(Includes annuals, perennials, biennials, flowering bulbs, and vines)
Flowers bloom in their own season, and some may not be visible today if you're visiting
the garden today. Return during another season! Members of the Crook House Garden Advisory
Council and the Garden Society will point out specific locations during Crook House Garden
General Crook House
The General Crook House Museum, an Italianate style home, is authentically restored and
furnished in the Victorian style of that era. It is named for its first occupant, Gen.
George Crook, Commander of the Department of the Platte, which was headquartered at Fort
Omaha. He was a Civil War hero and called “the nation’s finest Indian fighter” by Gen.
William Sherman. Crook spoke on behalf of Ponca Chief Standing Bear during the 1879
landmark trial that, for the first time, recognized the Indian as a person with rights
within the eyes of the law.
The Crook House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is operated by
the Douglas County Historical
Society. The Historical Society also operates the
Center, which is located north of the Crook House. As one of the Metropolitan Community
College Arboretum venues, it is part of the Nebraska
Crook House Garden Walks are held annually the last weekends in June and August, and include
a tour of the House, the Garden, Museum Shop and changing exhibits. The Museum is available for
private functions such as weddings, receptions, teas, dining business meetings or “Try on History”
costume birthday parties. Conducted tours and group rates are available.
Open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
- $5 Adults ($6 holidays and special events)
- $3 ages 6 to 12
- $4 Students (with ID)