McCrory Gardens is located on the South Dakota State University (SDSU) campus in Brookings. Named for Horticulture Department professor S.A. McCrory, who served as chair from 1947 to 1964, initial development began in 1965, when two acres were dedicated to a formal annual, perennial, and ground-cover garden. It later expanded an additional ten acres for woody ornamental plant research and instructional purposes by the Horticulture Department, and then again in 1982, with a forty-five–acre site to the north dedicated to the planting and testing of ornamental trees and shrubs (designated the South Dakota State Arboretum in 1988).
Construction on the Education and Visitors Center began in 2010 on the east side of McCrory Gardens. The $4.2 million building contains 9,350 square feet for classrooms, conference and meeting space, and administrative offices. The roughly L-shaped building is approached from a ring-shaped parking lot on the north. Perspective, Inc., a Sioux Falls firm, designed the LEED-Silver building, which features high insulation-value walls and roof; high-performance glazing; high-efficiency, centralized geothermal heating and cooling; demand-control ventilation; and energy-efficient lighting. A 3,000-square-foot great hall with vaulted ceilings and oversize windows forms the southeast portion of the building, and opens onto a terrace garden to the west and event lawns to the south, designed by Confluence, a landscape architecture firm also from Sioux Falls. A straw bale house southwest of the Education and Visitor Center, which was constructed as a student project in 2008, provides an additional 900 square feet of classroom and multipurpose space.
A seven-and-a-half-foot bronze statue of Harvey Dunn’s Prairie is My Garden, created by Dee Clements of Armour, sits in the landscaped center of the parking lot. Dunn, who was born and raised on a farm near Manchester, South Dakota, became a well-known American illustrator and painter. His original painting of the same name is part of the permanent Harvey Dunn Collection at SDSU’s South Dakota Art Museum.
The Education and Visitor Center continues to serve many functions: orienting visitors, educating the public and SDSU students, and serving as a special events venue.