Gardens and flower farms in Champaign-Urbana and beyond

Gardening has had a moment as people rediscover the appeal of spending time close to home

We’ve highlighted 3 favorite Champaign-Urbana area flower gardens to visit and 4 area farms that grow flowers for you.

According to a 2020 article in The Washington Post, “People are starving for safe outdoor activities. People are hungry for something that refreshes the soul. No wonder gardening still has a moment. We could describe the vegetable gardens people grow in their backyards or the landscaping projects people have pursued while stuck at home. But for this article, we wanted to focus on flower gardening in public spaces and marketplaces, where we can socially distance while being part of a shared community that craves beauty and renewal.

1 – Garden of Ideas, Japan House and Arboretum (southeast of Lincoln Avenue/Florida Avenue intersection, Urbana)

The first stop on this “Tour of Bloom” offers a wide range of gardening experiences, all under the auspices of the University of Illinois. Each area of ​​the Arboretum has an educational mission and the visit is FREE. Take in the serene landscape that surrounds Japan House, browse the variety of formal and open spaces in the Arboretum, or focus on your visit to the Garden of Ideas.

Urban Garden Idea

The Idea Garden is an ongoing project of the U of I Extension’s Champaign County Master Gardener Volunteers, and so it changes every year. It usually highlights different gardening themes such as vegetable garden, rock garden, rose garden, tropical garden, sensory garden, berry garden or serenity garden. Like moths to a flame, children will be drawn to the kindergarten, which encourages interactive fun (like hiding, smelling or touching). Detailed plant and design information is available for each section of the idea garden…or just relax in the gazebo and enjoy it all. Metered parking (and disabled parking) is available at Japan House, the Garden of Ideas, and along Lincoln Avenue. .

2 — Allerton Park and Retreat Center (515 Old Timber Road, Monticello)

Less of an educational venue than a functional venue, Allerton is currently operated by the University of Illinois as an event and accommodation space. It began its existence as the private estate of artist and philanthropist Robert Henry Allerton around 1900. Its public outreach today focuses on art, nature and history. Visitors can explore 14 miles of hiking trails, stroll through several formal gardens (the best known of which is the Peony Garden), play “pose like your favorite statue” all over the grounds, or take part in organized programs including outdoor concerts, youth games, summer camps, themed dinners and educational events, nature hikes and tours. (Did we mention the gardens are FREE?)

Irises in bloom in Allerton

3 — Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden at Lake of the Woods Forest Reserve (950 N. Lombard, Mahomet)

With this garden, we leave the properties managed by the university and enter another non-profit world, that of the district of the forest reserve of the county of Champaign. Your taxes again pay for your FREE admission to this garden, as well as the nearby Grande Prairie Museum. Like the gardens of Allerton Mansion, the creation of the Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden was led by one man – HI Gelvin, the founder of the Forest Preserve District. The garden is named after his late wife Mabery.

Red Bridge at Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden

The 8-acre garden features beautiful flowerbeds as well as several Instagram-worthy spots: the bridge pictured above, the man-made waterfall, the giant chair in the woods lake, or the gazebo pictured below. Its educational focus is not on its flowers, but on its trees. Each tree – and each Mabery Gelvin tree appears to be a large, attractive specimen – receives its own informative plaque. The garden also offers fun activities for the youngest: giant tic-tac-toe and checkers, tree stumps and rocks to climb on, and a nature trail in the shade. Free parking (and disabled parking) available at the Grande Prairie Museum as well as a small lot a little further along the access road.

Gazebo at the Mavery Gelvin Botanical Garden

Now that we’ve visited three local flower gardens, let’s visit four local farms that grow flowers.

4 — Delightful Flower Farm (1472 county road 500 E, Champagne)

Perhaps you saw them (below) at the Urbana market in the square? Founded in 2011, Delight Flower Farm is a sustainable, women-owned flower farm. They grow a wide variety of cut flowers to sell wholesale, as well as through commercial subscriptions, farmers markets, CSA memberships and their online store. Other products from their farm include CBD hemp, edible flowers, medicinal herbs, and winter evergreen wreaths. They teach a variety of workshops and provide flowers for weddings.

Delight Flower Farm at Urbana Market

Look for Delight Flower Farm bouquets in CU at Harvest Market, Common Ground Food Coop, Hopscotch Bakery & Market, West Kirby County Market and Rose Bowl Tavern. And keep an eye on their social media for events held on their farm, which often sell out.

5 – Illinois willows (1477 County Road 200 E, Seymour)

Since 1999, Kent Miles has operated Illinois Willows as a specialty cut flower grower with material for sale year-round, through direct-to-consumer sales and wholesale. He’s another familiar face at Urbana’s market in the square, where his lucky customers enjoy more than 60 kinds of flowers, foliage and woody ornamental branches from his farm. Or consider buying a share in a CSA, so that every two weeks during the summer and fall, you get a big, farm-fresh bunch. (And note that it currently offers free shipping to Champaign, Urbana, Savoy, and Muhammad for orders placed on its site.) Illinois Willows also offers various levels of training to help independent farmers/growers start their own successful agricultural businesses. .

illinois willows
Photo by Illinois Willows on Facebook.

What about farmers who want YOU to garden?

The final two stops on our Tour of Bloom are farms that have both chosen a particular focus – flowering plants of the genus daylilycommonly called daylilies, for cultivation and sale to the home gardener.

It’s no coincidence that both farms chose the humble daylily: it’s hardy, easy to transplant, thrives in good and bad soils, doesn’t need a lot of watering, comes back every year in bigger tufts, and above all? According to the American Daylily Society, there are over 89,000 registered cultivars.

6 – The Flowering Idiot (1477 County Road 200 E, Seymour)

Idiot in Bloom at Urbana Market

Ben Montez can be frequently found at the Urbana Market in the plaza, selling pre-dug daylily plants – as well as several varieties of hostas – ready to take home and plant out. However, in the field where he grows (next to Illinois willows), he grows 350 varieties of daylilies, along with another 250 varieties at home. He sells the plants either by pre-order (and he will bring them to the Urbana market), by appointment, or during two open houses: one for early bloomers/mid-season, and one for late bloomers. On these open days, your plants are actually dug up while you wait. He rates his daylilies based on how many plants you buy: 1 for $8, 3 for $20, 4 for $25, 10 for $50. The first open day of 2021 will take place on July 3, so don’t miss it!

7 – 5 Acre Farm Daylilies (1578 County Road 300 N, Tolono)

A visit to Rod Kroemer and Jim Wuersch firm is something to savor. 5-Acre Farm Daylilies is like a botanical garden, farm, business and home all rolled into one idyllic unit (off High Cross Road, south of Philo). Here they grow more than 700 varieties of daylilies, some of which have hybridized themselves.

Daylily flowers at 5 Acre Farm Daylilies

The routine for customers during daylily season (roughly, June-September) looks like this – you show up on a weekend (or by appointment) during daylily season, stroll through landscaped flowerbeds as well than in the more utilitarian fields, ooh-ing and ah-ing over the endless variety of colors, shapes, sizes and smells. You write the names of your favorites, found on tags buried at the base of each plant. Then you sit in the shade, sip some water, go through your list, and find out the price of each plant. (Prices range from about $11 to $75; in the past few years they’ve grown at least one named cultivar that’s over $100! Rarity and novelty have their price.) Then you look in your wallet, sigh, narrow down your list and make your final decision. You’ll need to plan another trip back to the farm to pick up your new babies from the garden.

Owner of 5 Acre Farm Daylilies with Sarah Christine

In case you were wondering, the daylily pictured above is the Sarah Christine, its gigantic bloom is 6 inches in diameter and a double fan would have cost you just $19 in 2020.

5-Acre Farm Daylilies also has a robust mail-order business, which is why they don’t usually go to markets, unlike the other three farms in this article.

May you all flourish where you are planted. Happy gardening!

All photos by Kathy Richards unless otherwise noted.

Did you enjoy this Tour of Bloom? Email us to suggest other flower gardens or flower farms in our area.

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