Wife plants seeds to allow late husband's legacy to grow at Allerton

Wife plants seeds to allow late husband's legacy to grow at Allerton

MONTICELLO — In the late '70s, Christie Roszkowski's husband, Mark, introduced her to Allerton Park. From then on, the couple spent a lot of time there, believing nature is good for the psyche.

In fact, Mr. Roszkowski became a Master Naturalist, aiming to do volunteer work on the trails at Allerton. A Master Gardener, his wife planned to volunteer in the gardens.

Then, Mr. Roszkowski died suddenly in March 2016, at age 66.

Eventually, after discussing Allerton Park's master plan with park officials, Christie Roszkowski decided to renovate the bulb garden in his memory. The dedication ceremony for the Mark E. Roszkowski Memorial Garden is at 4:30 p.m. today, his birthday.

"Christie had a vision, and we were able to help form that vision and create something beautiful and historic," said Allerton director Derek Peterson. "It takes the park in a different direction because it's so unique to the park."

And, the bulb garden needed renovation — it had been one of the gardens that had been lost in time, Peterson said.

What's cool about the renewed garden, Christie Roszkowski said, is that its plants bloom from early spring through the fall.

Robert Allerton, who bequeathed his estate to the university in 1948, had planted the original bulb garden in 1908 as one of four seasonal gardens on his grounds.

However, over the decades the bulb garden, overlooking the Meadow, was mowed over.

"I didn't even know it was there," Christie Roszkowski said.

Allerton's original bulb-planting list also was lost, and the university hadn't updated the garden since taking over the estate in 1948.

Keeping in mind that the climate has changed since then, Allerton Park sought advice from horticulturist James Schmidt on how to renew the bulb garden. He suggested bulbs and other perennials and where to buy them.

He also designed the garden, following the principles of Gertrude Jekyll, an influential British horticulturist and landscape architect in the early 20th century, when Allerton designed his mansion and gardens.

Christie Roszkowski bought the 4,500 bulbs for the garden. Along with Allerton staff and volunteers, she planted the bulbs as well as perennials.

Among them are Allium, daffodils, tulips, Asiatic lilies, canna lilies, hyacinth and dahlias. The dahlia tubers (or bulbs) must be dug up each fall because they don't overwinter.

"They're so gorgeous," Christie Roszkowski said. "I insisted on dahlias."

The plants that produce cool-colored blooms were planted on one side of the garden, while warm-colored flowers found their home on the other side.

A wide, curvilinear paved path winds its way through the renewed garden. It doesn't dead end but instead takes users to the Sunken Garden nearby.

Christie Roszkowski noted that most states don't fund gardens, and many private citizens don't think about doing so. She and her husband didn't have children, so the garden is their legacy.

"In my estimation," she said, "it's almost the most lasting legacy you can make."

If you go

What: Dedication ceremony for the Mark E. Roszkowski Memorial Garden, established in his memory by his wife, Christie Roszkowski of Champaign.

When: 4:30 p.m. today.

Where: Just west of the Visitor Center, along the Meadow at Allerton Park and Retreat Center near Monticello.

Admission: Free, and open to the public.

More: Mr. Roszkowski was a professor of business at the University of Illinois from 1979 to 2013. He died in March 2016. Christie Roszkowski is a retired Eastern Illinois University business professor who has a law degree from the UI College of Law. She was a law student when her husband first took her to Allerton Park.