The cold of winter is absent in the Danville Area Community College greenhouses right now, making them a wonderful oasis of green plants and horticulture in action.
The 6,125-square-foot facility, located in the heart of the Danville college's campus, is operated by various students and instructors in the horticulture program. It not only serves as a lush collection of beautiful tropical plants, but also houses a number of ongoing experiments related to coursework or specific projects developed by the DACC horticulture staff.
Last week, I was fortunate enough to connect with DACC horticulture instructor Amanda Krabbe for a tour of the facilities, and I could not have enjoyed my time there more. Between Amanda and other horticulture instructors, along with students, there is a great variety of ongoing experiments and projects that were so great to explore on a cold February day. There is nothing quite like a dose of plant life to cure the lassitude of winter.
"The greenhouses really help us add a hands-on element to much of our coursework," Krabbe said. "I think almost every horticulture class uses the greenhouse in one way or another."
Krabbe and her cohort of plant people at DACC have quite the assortment of horticulture going on to keep everyone busy in the off-season. From their hydroponics project and shitake mushroom logs to the many tree seedlings they have started in order to plant a "food forest" outdoors later this year, there is certainly no lack of variety.
Throughout the semester, there are various course-specific experiments that come and go as well.
The strong horticulture program at DACC has bridged a unique connection to our Master Gardener Program that has led to many collaborative projects over the years. The largest of these efforts is the annual Garden Day Festival and Spring Festival, graciously hosted by DACC each year.
On March 9, DACC will host the annual Garden Day and Spring Festival, which features a variety of interesting workshops as well as a collection of garden-themed vendors that will all be of interest to area horticulture enthusiasts. Topping it all off will be a delectable lunch menu designed and prepared by the DACC culinary arts school.
This year's keynote speaker is Jo Ellen Sharp, who has authored the Hoosier Gardening column in the Indianapolis Star since 1989. Sharp will cover strategies to address white-tailed deer and their impact to our gardens and landscapes in her presentation titled, "Deer can cost you a lot of doe."
Krabbe will provide some excellent tips for designing a "downsized" garden featuring various aspects of sustainability and simplification to help fit gardening into our busy lives.
Landscaper and horticulturalist Mary Ann Metz will present information about hydrangeas to answer the age old question of "Why won't my hydrangeas bloom?"
Finally, I will give a presentation on invasive species, covering many aspects of how these exotic plants infiltrate our gardens and natural areas, with significant negative impacts, and how you can stop the spread.
The festival features vendors, a silent auction, raffle baskets and door prizes. This portion of the event is free and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., allowing some great gardening-focused activities for those who cannot commit to a whole day of workshops.
In addition, Krabbe will lead free tours of the DACC greenhouses throughout the day for those seeking closer contact with plant life.
No registration is required for the festival, but attendees must register for the workshops. Registration can be completed at go.illinois.edu/GardenDay or by calling the Vermilion County University of Illinois Extension office at 217-442-8615.
We do expect this event to sell out as it has in the past, so please register soon.
Ryan Pankau is a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension, serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties.