- Associated Press - Saturday, September 5, 2020

NORMAL, Ill. (AP) - How many of you have driven past the Illinois State University Horticulture Center on Raab Road and wondered, “What is that place?”

Wonder no more. Go there and explore.

While the center is “first and foremost” a lab for ISU students and site for research, it is also part of the university’s outreach to the community, explained Jessica Chambers, the center’s coordinator.

Visitors are welcome most of the year from dawn to dusk. The parking lot entrance off Raab Road is across from the Corn Crib stadium. It is also near Constitution Trail and a yellow route Connect Transit bus stop.

You may get ideas for what to plant in your own yard - whether it’s flowers or vegetables.

You may enjoy the variety of colors and textures or birds, butterflies and dragonflies that also visit the center.

You may just find a shady spot to sit and contemplate.

There’s even a special children’s garden with a structure that looks like a barn, a “log cabin” and a “sod” house that brings to mind “The Little House on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Wilder is among 11 Midwestern authors featured on informative signs placed near the plants that inspired their writing.

Walking into the middle of the prairie, with cup plants, compass plants and ironweed around her, Chambers declared it to be her favorite spot.

“You can hear the life. You can hear the insects and the children (in the nearby Children’s Garden). There’s life all around you,” she said.

The children’s garden is the largest of the gardens at the center and it includes a variety of sections.

Its “enchanted garden” has giant fake mushrooms, fairy houses and places for kids to sit. The reading garden, shaded by a cherry tree, has chairs, benches and a little library.

“We have a lot of little nooks where kids can come in contact with nature,” said Chambers.

The center is in the midst of preparing for its annual autumnal festival, scheduled for Sept. 12. Check the Illinois State University Horticulture Center Facebook page for more details as the event approaches. Tickets must be purchased in advance and numbers will be limited. The center will be closed during the week preceding the festival while preparation is underway.

This is the center’s 15th year. The site used to be a nursery used by ISU grounds department and farm fields.

“When we started it had 10 acres; now we have 23,” said Chambers.

The various gardens range from formal to informal and include a vegetable garden, a shade garden and a rose garden with 15 varieties of roses.

“There’s no garden that takes more work than the vegetable garden,” said Chambers, as sunflowers towered over her head. “We harvest every week.”

Vegetables include artichokes, heirloom tomatoes, basil, peppers, okra, eggplant and paprika. Some are planted in containers and raised beds to show you don’t need to have a yard to have a garden.

The pinetum has a collection of cone-bearing trees, including a weeping white pine that looks like a friendly Muppet monster.

The herb garden is a collaboration with the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners. Trees along Raab Road are part of a partnership with the Children and Elders Forest.

Whether you love looking at flowers, trees, veggies or prairies; listening to children’s laughter or finding your own special spot amid nature, the ISU Horticulture Center may be worth exploring.


Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, https://bit.ly/2YvYBX6

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