EDWARDSVILLE — The all-volunteer staff at The Gardens at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville is enjoying some hard-earned recognition.
In its April 2023 edition, AAA magazine listed The Gardens at SIUE among “10 beautiful botanical gardens to explore” in the Midwest and the South.
“We’re delighted to earn this honor because they approached us about it,” said Carol Gardner, who is the volunteer coordinator for The Gardens at SIUE. “We want people to realize that this is an all-volunteer effort.”
The 36-acre botanical garden serves a dual function as a living laboratory for education and research at SIUE and as a place of beauty for the university population and the public to enjoy.
The property includes a variety of natural areas, gardens, bridges and student-designed sculpture in a landscaped setting. Paved walking paths and plentiful benches are located throughout.
A group of Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists, mostly retirees, are responsible for planning, planting and maintaining the grounds after the university suffered a budget crunch seven years ago.
“Cougar Lake isn’t part of the Gardens, but it’s right next to us and we have also a path that leads right to the campus, so we get a lot of walking traffic,” Gardner said. “We have 25 Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists that work out here and we’re all under the supervision of the University of Illinois Extension. On a good day, 15 of them might be here.
“The Master Naturalists are interested in native plants, trees and environmental issues and they do a lot of the heavy work for us. This is a busy time for us, and it will be for the next month or so. In about two weeks, we’ll plant all our annuals.”
‘People who love it’
For Gardner, the volunteers are the lifeblood of The Gardens at SIUE.
“We have great volunteers,” Gardner said. “They’re all people who love it out here and they do a lot more than they have to do. Master Gardeners are required to work a certain number of hours every year for their certification, but they go way beyond that.
“We’re all people that like things to look nice and we’re all gardeners. We can always find something else that needs to be fixed.”
Among the many features of The Gardens at SIUE are the Hardy Family Wind Forest, which features a set of kinetic sculptures that are set in motion by the wind; the Butterfly Garden, which was added in 2014; and the Prairie Portal, a one-acre garden created by the Edwardsville Rotary Club.
“We have a prairie section that’s what Illinois would have looked like originally,” Gardner said. “We’re not able to do prescribed burns, but we maintain it as best we can. The prairie has a lot of wildflowers but they’re not blooming yet.
“July is one of the best times to visit because the butterflies are everywhere, and the flowers are in full bloom. One of our Master Naturalists does the pruning for the trees on our Presidents Walkway and he has it looking so beautiful.
“The university does the big mowing, but we pay to have somebody do the finished mowing.”
The Gardens at SIUE offers seasonal activities and nature education classes for campus and community visitors. They also assist school classes, Scout groups, and garden clubs with visits to The Gardens, as well as other community groups of 15 or more.
To register large group events, including weddings, call the Educational Outreach at 618-650-3210.
“Education is one of the components of being a Master Gardener and we can answer questions for a lot of people,” Gardner said.
The Gardens at SIUE also attracts a lot of student volunteers, many of whom are looking for ways fulfill their college requirements for volunteer work.
“If they don’t have a car and they can’t go somewhere to volunteer, they can walk over here and get their volunteer hours,” Gardner said.
For more information, visit https://www.siue.edu/gardens/, call 618-650-3070, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to The Gardens at SIUE on Facebook.