My "royal" visitor was Cheryl of Take Time to Smell the Flowers, who decided to come to the States, along with her delightful husband Mr. P, to see some of the Midwest and visit Beckie and myself as well as Sherry of Q's Corner. Cheryl commented on my very first post over two years ago, and we have been visiting faithfully ever since, developing a true friendship along the way. When she heard Cheryl was coming, Lisa of Greenbow and her husband DB made plans to make the three-hour trip up to Illinois to meet Cheryl as well.
So there we were, five of us--Beckie's husband joined us for a few hours Tuesday morning--eagerly waiting to meet a couple who bravely made a trans-Atlantic journey to meet total strangers. That sounds a bit strange and even dangerous in this day and age, and yet as we bloggers know, we weren't really strangers at all. I've been amazed every time I've met a blogging friend in person how much a person's voice comes through in a blog. Oh, I may have pictured someone's physical appearance differently, but the personality I knew from blogging has always rung true. Cheryl was exactly the caring, lovely person I had expected to meet. And lest you think I'm leaving out Lisa, I did meet Lisa at Spring Fling last year where we spent time together enjoying the weekend's activities.
Beckie and I spent many hours over coffee at our favorite hangout before Cheryl came, thinking of activities during her stay. What attractions in the middle of Corn Country could possibly interest an English gardener? Knowing Cheryl's interest in nature, we decided a walk through one of my favorite places, Meadowbrook Park, would be a good place to start. The sun was shining brightly on a very, very warm day as we made our way around part of the Prairie Restoration.
Not much was still in bloom other than the goldenrod and a few Helianthus, but the tall grasses swayed in the slight breeze, and Cheryl found plenty of butterflies and bees for photo ops. Lisa came prepared for the blazing sun with her umbrella, but I wilted as usual and soon found a shady spot to escape from the heat.
Mr. P and DB also opted for a shady bench while the women discussed flora and fauna. I'm not sure what they were talking about, but it probably wasn't gardening:) These two were such troopers! Though both are helpful garden assistants, neither is a gardening enthusiast, yet nary a complaint was heard as we led them from one garden venue to another during their two-day stay.
Following the trail at Meadowbrook, one comes to a restored farmstead complete with windmill and--what else--a garden. Beckie and Cheryl stroll down the path discussing plant varieties, while DB (in the background) finds a photogenic butterfly.
Viewing gardens is an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon, but we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to just sit and chat as well. From Meadowbrook we headed to my house, where my own Mr. P had a chance to meet our special guests.After a quick tour around my small garden areas, we sat on my front porch drinking tea and coffee and watching the tree swallows swoop down and hordes of dragonflies fly about, all in search of insects. My friendly hummingbird obliged us with a visit so that Cheryl and Mr. P could see these North American natives in their habitat. I'm looking forward to seeing her photos, which I'm sure will be far better than anything I've ever taken here.
As we chatted and waited for the lasagna to finish baking, I noticed a special envelope in the mail, one that I knew the others would be interested in--a package from Frances with some seeds I have been coveting.
Hopefully, in another year or two I'll have my very own blackberry lilies like these that we saw at Meadowbrook Park. Thanks, Frances!
We had more activities planned for the next day, starting with the Master Gardeners' Idea Garden. I always seem to take visitors here, but it's a great place to see a variety of plants and planting styles within a relatively small space. The Annual Color Garden still looks good in spite of the drought. Of course, it helps to have 40+ interns eager to water and weed regularly in order to complete their volunteer hours:)
It was Cheryl who first made me aware of the importance of bees in our ecosystem as well as their plight today. The Idea Garden, though, is an Eden for bees and is filled with all kinds, like these honeybees on the sedum.
It's a mecca, too, for butterflies. Fortunately, the Monarchs haven't yet begun to migrate, so Cheryl had ample opportunity to observe and photograph these magnificent creatures.
One area of the garden that has been really striking the past few weeks is this planting of Globe Amaranth along one part of the picket fence. I love this look and have been thinking about where I could copy this idea in my own garden. It really picks up the color of Lisa'a blouse, don't you think?
I'm not sure what Lisa and Cheryl were so intently examining here in the Children's Garden . . .
. . . because Beckie and I were nearby, our eyes caught by this deep purple sweet pea. Add this one to our plant wish list!
All four of us, though, were delighted by the purple hyacinth bean vine which has not only covered its trellis, but grown up into a nearby tree!
Leaving the Idea Garden, we strolled through a shady lane of poplars to see some of the nearby plantings maintained by the University's landscaping staff.
At the end of the path, we discovered an area that neither Beckie and I had ever seen before. A sunken garden, much larger than the Idea Garden, was filled with masses of annuals and perennials. It turns out these are test plots for the University, probably the horticulture department. We just took a quick glance here, as a class was in session.
Our next stop was a surprise for Cheryl. I don't think many people in this area are even aware of what this small building hidden behind trees and fields is. Can you guess from its painted outside wall? It's the University Pollinatarium, a research and educational facility devoted to pollinators.
|Everyone is looking for the queen bee.|
Inside are different exhibits on butterflies, bees, and other pollinators, but we told the curator we were primarily interested in bees. An enclosed hive is displayed for visitors to get a close look at the bees at work. A tube from the hive runs directly outdoors so that the bees can travel freely--these bees always fly north, which I found interesting. Probably many of the honeybees we saw at the Idea Garden came from this hive, since it is less than two miles away.
The curator was very informative and enthusiastic, even after spending all morning teaching visiting second graders about bees. I certainly learned a lot--I had no idea there were such things as nurse bees and undertaker bees, for example. Even Cheryl and Lisa, who are much more knowledgeable on the subject, said they had gained some new insights into bee behavior. I think all six of us really enjoyed our brief stop here; sometimes you don't even know what wonderful places are in your own hometown!
After a leisurely lunch filled with more talk and laughter, our final stop of the day was at one of our favorite garden centers where Mr. P and Cheryl insisted on buying Beckie, Lisa, and me a plant for our own gardens. Lisa and I both chose a new hydrangea, 'Strawberry Vanilla.' Thanks again, Cheryl and Mr. P for your generosity--I'll think of both of you every time I look at this beautiful plant.
Then we were off to spend the evening at Beckie's, touring her garden and meeting some of her grandchildren. Thanks to our earlier stop at the Pollinatarium, we could now identify the bee on her Obedient plant above--a carpenter bee, which is bigger than an ordinary bumble and has a smooth body.
Wanting to take advantage of every possible minute of their visit, we gathered the next morning for coffee and a final chat before Mr. P and Cheryl had to leave for Missouri. We all agreed what a wonderful time we had had, getting to know each other. Cheryl promised to try to visit again, and I--well, I hope to one day make my dream of visiting the English countryside a reality. Meeting Cheryl and Mr. P, as well as getting to spend time again with Lisa and meeting her aptly named Dearly Beloved, was definitely the highlight of my summer. It was a special time that I will never forget.