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Welcome, new gardeners!

Many people are discovering the joys and practicality of gardening this spring/summer. You can feed yourself physically and spiritually. You can also include some extra plants for the butterflies and bees and your neighbors. Getting outside can make you feel better.

I recommend new gardeners start small. Keep it doable. Weeds can overtake an area quickly, and when we have the really hot days we’ve been having, new plantings will need to be watered.

It is too late in the season to start everything from seed, but vegetable, flower and herb plants are available at our local nurseries and the farmers’ markets. Read the labels carefully, and ask the growers for help when choosing plants. Some vegetables will be small enough that you can grow them in containers. My favorite combinations in containers are tomatoes, herbs and marigolds.

Gardeners tend to be very generous. Many of them will be willing to give you advice and, if they have extra, plants. Some plants will be easy to divide, and parts of the clump can be transplanted into a new garden.

Some native plants that divide easily for me or make new seedlings for sharing include mountain mint, penstemon, anise hyssop, bee balm (Monarda), spiderwort and black-eyed Susan (can be invasive). The penstemon (white flowers) and spiderwort (purple flowers) are blooming in the prairies right now.

Some other plants do not grow fast or divide well, and for those, you will need to start from seeds or buy a new plant from a nursery. Please be respectful. Proper etiquette is to ask before you dig a plant or take flowers and vegetables from another garden or place. This includes public gardens as well as private gardens.

We also need to be respectful of working and visiting distance. This may mean more than

6 feet in some cases. Let people know what you are comfortable with, and respect their wishes.

I add herbs to my beds and containers for several reasons. I like to cook with them. My favorites are sage, basil and rosemary. I also like the different scents when you brush against them while gardening.

I plant a lot of lemon thyme so I can scruff the plants on purpose to get that nice, fresh fragrance. I plant extra dill and fennel because swallowtail butterfly caterpillars will eat it. And last but not least, let the herbs go to bloom and the bees will love it.

Come and visit the Pollinatarium. Walk the prairie and find some new friends. Get some ideas for your garden. I will also answer gardening and pollinator questions.

Please bring a mask. The plant exchange table will be at the front of our building. If you have extra seedlings at the moment, you can leave them there to share. On Monday, there will be Amish paste tomatoes to start the exchange.

Hope to see you soon!

Dr. Lesley Deem is director and teacher at the University of Illinois Pollinatarium and Department of Entomology. For more information about scheduling a visit to the Pollinatarium virtually or in person, email lesleyd@illinois.edu.