|Lisa couldn't wait to take pictures!|
I've often mentioned the Idea Garden in this blog, but in case you don't know what I'm referring to, a little background is in order. The Idea Garden was established in 1997 by a few Master Gardeners as an educational tool "to promote environmentally responsible gardening practices, to demonstrate ideas of garden planning and maintenance," and in general be a resource for the entire community. It is maintained entirely by volunteers--the county Master Gardeners group--and is funded through donations and the main MG fundraiser, the annual garden walk.
The Idea Garden is located on the far south end of the University of Illinois campus with plenty of nearby available parking (a rarity on campus!). It is open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I've been surprised since I first started working here just how many people come through the garden every day. Some are just strolling through on their daily walk or on their way to another destination and stop to admire the plantings, while others come prepared with cameras in hand. Professional photographers have used the landscape as a setting for wedding photos or children's photos. Once, we even had a gentleman reserve it for an evening to "pop the question" to his bride-to-be!
As an educational garden, the IG is a great place for non-gardeners and gardeners alike to see a wide variety of plants that are suitable for our Zone 5b (now zone 6) area. Even veteran gardeners are bound to find something new and unusual, such as this ornamental millet.
I.D. stakes are located by nearly every plant, so that visitors can easily take notes if they spy something unusual or a cultivar that they would like to add to their own gardens.
Oftentimes, as the garden fills in over the summer, these stakes become hidden, but if you're lucky to be there when volunteers are working, you will find someone more than willing to answer questions for you. We were fortunate that co-chair Tracy happened to be in the South Border when we spied this unusual plant, a Cardoon. Also known as Artichoke Thistle, the Cardoon has very dramatic foliage as well as these interesting flowers. It's hardy only to zone 7, but Tracy told us that this one--one of three original plants--actually overwintered this year. That is one of the purposes, too, of the garden--trying new plants and "pushing the envelope" sometimes to see what can survive our tough winters in order to pass along this information to local gardeners.
Usually, when I come to work in the garden, I stay in my area, the Sensory Garden, and don't get a chance to stroll through the rest of the garden. I don't make it every week, however, and so I often find something new in bloom even in my little corner of the garden. These lilies--wouldn't you know I forgot to check the tag to see what they were--weren't even in bloom the week before.
The Idea Garden is also a showcase for trial plants that may not yet be on the market. Seed plugs provided by Proven Winners and Ball are grown in the Parkland College greenhouses, again by local MG's. The plants' progress is closely monitored throughout the season by one of our most diligent and knowledgeable MG's, and in the fall, she publishes a list of top performers that is available on the Extension website. I'm thinking this beautiful petunia--Flash Mob 'Bluerific'--is definitely going to be on the list!
I'm trying to fathom how this garden began with just three energetic gardeners in charge. Of course, the Garden has grown since then to over 15,000 square feet, and it is now divided into 12+ sections, with a co-chair or two and a team working in each section. The Tropical Section in the back and the Theme Garden in the foreground take up the northeast quadrant of the Garden.
One of my favorite sections is the East Border. If I wasn't so loyal to the Sensory Garden where I started as an intern, I would definitely volunteer here. I was never a big fan of oranges and reds in the garden before, but these hot, hot colors have changed my mind. This area is a blaze of color all season long.
Though perennials and shrubs form the backbone of the Idea Garden, the Garden is always changing. Nowhere is this more evident this year than in the Children's garden, where a new seating area has taken center stage, drawing attention from every visitor, not just children.
Built by students in a construction class at our local community college, the pergola/bench features a living roof planted with different varieties of sweet potato vine. The slogan on the front expresses the purpose of this area, because it truly is a place where children can play and learn about nature.
A small vegetable garden, a hoop tunnel to crawl through, lots of fun sunflowers, and of course, plants that attract butterflies are all part of this inviting area.
Notice the sandbox to the left of the Joe Pye weed. One morning when I and another volunteer came to work, we found sand covering the walkway in our nearby area and little trucks scattered about the Sensory Garden. Some little visitor obviously had a good time the day before:)
It would be impossible to show you every part of the Idea Garden in one post, and on this muggy Saturday morning, my mind was thinking ahead to Wildflower Wednesday this week. Native plants play a large role in the garden and are probably one reason it is usually full of bees and butterflies. Along with the Joe Pye weed here, coneflowers, liatris, butterfly weed, and milkweed in the previous photo are all butterfly magnets.
In the East Border tall Rudbeckia laciniata and a type of Helianthus (I think--the tags were hidden from view) provide a dramatic backdrop for the colorful display below, reaching 10 to 12 feet skyward.
Several specimens of Hypericum, or St. John's Wort, are located in different sections of the garden. Gail has featured this plant several times in her wildflower posts, and I've always admired its blooms, but the foliage is also attractive in its own right.
I also didn't realize it also featured these little berries. I'm not sure if either of these plants are natives or cultivars, but they still are attractive to the bees . . . and unfortunately, if you look closely enough, to Japanese beetles as well.
And finally, one last image--Agastache 'Golden Jubilee,' a cultivar of the native Agastache foeniculum. The Idea Garden has a mixture of all kinds of plants from natives to exotics, but it is definitely a bee-friendly place. If you are ever in the Champaign-Urbana area, be sure to stop by for a visit.
There are some natives blooming in my own garden, but we will save them for another day. In the meantime, why not stop by Gail's for a look at wildflowers and natives growing in gardens across the country on this Wildflower Wednesday.