In the Garden | Awaiting a grand tour


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June weather in Illinois is some of the best of the year. After our overly wet spring, I am sure most area gardeners are looking forward to sunny skies ahead and eager to wrap up any spring gardening plans that were delayed.

Sunny June skies will be a welcome addition to the 2019 Vermilion County Garden Walk, as last year was a bit rainy. This year's event features a number of garden spaces that Master Gardeners are well acquainted with but the general public often doesn't visit.

I am excited to see all eight of the featured gardens this year, with several "bonus gardens" identified along the walk as well. This remarkable event highlights the start of the gardening season, providing gardeners with inspiration from a carefully selected group of area gardens that showcase unique and exquisite gardening practices for one special day each year.

In addition to the private homes on the walk, ticket holders will have a unique opportunity to tour other gardens rarely open to the public. A number of the superb garden resources available to veterans at the Danville VA will be highlighted on the Garden Walk this year.

Master Gardener Rhonda Ruhnow calls the VA Healing Garden, "The best-kept secret at the VA." Ruhnow has been deeply involved since 2013, providing leadership and organization to the project. It's hard to imagine this beautiful and diverse garden as the gravel service drive it once was prior to extensive investment by the VA to develop the space we see today.

Garden Walk visitors will enjoy the aesthetically beautiful and fully accessible garden space on their tour on June 9, offering a rare opportunity for the general public to view the Healing Garden.

Veterans use the area daily, with various spaces such as a picnic area, putting green, shuffle board, basketball hoop and gazebo all intertwined with a wide selection of ornamental plants to provide a recreational area that is also therapeutic.

For years, Master Gardeners have organized several monthly horticulture therapy sessions at the VA, providing both education and therapeutic interactions with plants to enhance the lives of veterans. In recent years, veterans have been offered weekly opportunities to interact with Master Gardeners as well, enabling the vets to work right alongside Master Gardeners who maintain the space.

The interesting and historic VA Greenhouse will also be included in the Garden Walk. Constructed in the early 1900s, this greenhouse has long served the Danville VA. For somewhere around the last 20 years, Master Gardeners have actively participated in plant production to support the VA. Master Gardener Carol Miller, has been the leader of this project, coordinating the efforts of others while devoting many hours of work each year to the project herself.

Every year, hundreds of plants are propagated and carefully tended by Miller and her crew until large enough to be planted into various containers around the VA. These plants beautify the grounds and also provide horticulture therapy for veterans and visitors alike.

All veterans are invited to visit the greenhouse for tours led by Master Gardeners or contribute by helping out with various activities. Any vet that comes by is allowed to select plants from a specially propagated stock of take-home plants. This program has successfully introduced horticulture to the many veterans who participate each year by allowing them to take home a few plants of their own.

The Danville Area Community College Land Lab and Sustainable Farm will be another featured garden, which typically is not open to the public. It is normally more focused on student use and research, supporting numerous educational projects related to curriculum across several departments at the college.

Horticulture students have the opportunity participate in a variety of class projects and research at the farm, while helping to grow veggies that are donated to both the student body and community food banks.

Last year, vegetable production at the farm supported a Farm to Fork dinner, including a delectable menu planned and prepared by the DACC Culinary Arts Program. The dinner is actually part of a Farm to Fork class co-taught by instructors in the Horticulture and Culinary Arts Program.

Visitors to the land lab and sustainable farm will get to see more than just sustainable vegetable production, with other highlights including permaculture plantings, prairie restoration, beehives and chickens.

The 19th annual Vermilion County Garden Walk runs from noon to 5 p.m. June 9. Tickets are $10 and are available at the Vermilion County Extension Office in Danville, 3164 N. Vermilion, 217-442-8615; Berry's Garden Center; Big R in Danville and Tilton; and Danville Gardens North and the main store on Cleary Avenue.

Tickets also will be available at Douglas Discovery Garden on the day of the walk. Proceeds from the Garden Walk fund Master Gardener involvement and educational programs with veterans, children and community donation gardens in Vermilion County.

Ryan Pankau is a horticulture educator with the UI Extension, serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties.