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GARDEN MAIDEN: Growing Together at IVCC

I remember fondly my first University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener class. The yearning to grow food set afire an urgency to learn everything I needed to know as quick as I possibly could to get my body healthy and feed vibrance into my community. Master, right? Well, come to find out, the intensive program, similar to the U of I Extension Master Naturalist curriculum, is just the bud on the tip of the branch at the top of a quaking aspen connected for miles beneath the surface of a single organism’s 106 acre spread.

For me, nature and the interrelatedness of the world sparks life-long learning. Whether leading a group or living by example mentoring community and personal sharing, our Illinois Valley is rich in opportunity to advance our love of gardening.

On Saturday, Feb. 22, at Illinois Valley Community College Oglesby campus, the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener and Master Naturalist Programs will present “Growing Together,” an educational seminar open to the public with 16 class offerings.

Candice Hart, State Master Gardener Specialist of The University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator (UIHortEd) team, is set to deliver a keynote presentation — "The Urban Tree Landscape" — followed by a piece on producing summer blooms from spring bulbs. An avid flower farmer with a certification as both a professional florist and a floral designer, Ms. Hart shows us how to capitalize on year after year possibilities for canna, dahlia and gladiola care.

If indoor propagation of succulents is more your idea of keeping tender plants alive, meet Peyton Lamps, proprietor of Petals by Peyton in La Salle. Since her job at a greenhouse in Mendota watering plants at the age of 14 through her education at Kishwaukee college to pursue a career in floral design, she grew her business by taking orders for custom arrangements and selling them out of her garage. “I didn’t want to leave the people who had supported me,” she says as we chat about the importance of establishing locally owned brick and mortar small business. In her session, beginners learn about the succulent trend, including which varieties make great windowsill filler.

If filling a garage with pumps and barrels and lights and things better suits your idea of fun and function, sign up to hear Ken Johnson (UIHortEd) discuss the basic setup, maintenance and which foods you can grow using home hydroponics.

Those less structurally inclined might rather hear Chris Enroth (UIHortEd) discuss how to make every drop of rainwater count in the landscape by integrating Xeriscaping.

It seems no matter the ease of technology, I prefer actual research and regional facts in direct balance to snap and click. Whether observing interactions in nature or gardening indoors or out, environmental health including pest control, species identification and promoting beneficial interactions remain the core of basic knowledge.

Wondering if going organic pays off? Chris Evans (UIHortEd) compares natural and synthetic pesticide use in lawn and garden. What is that bug, anyway? Is that disease harmful or can I let it run its course? Kelly Allsup (UIHortEd) teaches how to identify garden insects and offers a second session on how to avoid common garden crop diseases.

Wondering why existing blooms are not attracting pollinators? Perhaps you’re too close to a polluted water source or counting on hybrid pollenless sunflowers. Enroll to hear Ellen Starr, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service biologist, if your 2020 garden plan includes a pollinator patch.

While tossing just about any seed into Illinois soil produces decent results, a lot of times what is sold to us is not a responsible choice. You know those amazingly bright red shrubs readily available at garden centers? Well, they are a great example of ornamentals that have become invasive species in Illinois. When I learned that burning bush has taken over the woodlands, it was a simple choice to plant native chokeberry bush at the suggestion of The Conservation Foundation. Chris Evans, Extension Forester (UIHortEd), explores how common ornamental plants become invasive and how we can protect natural species while landscaping.

One of the best ways to honor nature is by volunteering at a state park. From mounds of massive soil-born artworks to bison companions and raptor reunions, our natural treasures provide events and activity robust with wildlife and rich in natural history.

If people and cultural interaction is the history lesson you seek, sign up to hear Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie Archaeologist Joe Wheeler, of the USDA Forest Service, trace the history of how glaciers, bison, prairies and explorers shaped restoration of the former Joliet arsenal into the nation’s first treasured prairie peninsula preserve.

If your interaction with nature includes guided hikes along Starved Rock State Park trails, you already know nature enthusiast Joe Jacupcak. “It’s a whole different world out here in the winter,” he says. Though you can engage his “Get Up, Go Outside!” call for physical and mental fitness by regularly attending the park’s guided hikes, to learn the origins of those frozen over falls, attend his presentation on the last ice sheet advance, the Wisconsin Glacial Epoch, to learn how it formed our Illinois River Valley.

My husband and I sat with another park volunteer and Master Naturalist, Tom Williams, listening to the timeline of how the Illinois Audubon Society and The Wetlands Initiative restored a 302-acre wetland in Lee County into Amboy Marsh Nature Preserve and Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary since its acquisition in 2012. I’ve been there a few times, but listening to firsthand efforts heightened my interest in marsh life, savanna, sedge meadow and dry sand prairie. Deb Carey, VP Illinois Audubon Society, delivers an overview of the natural complex.

While on a tour of the fragile ecosystem of Amboy Marsh, I first saw a Blanding's turtle. It was docile and not nearly as defensive as the snapper my husband discovered while restoring our in-ground pool. Unlike protected nesting turtles in Amboy, I dared not get any closer as he hollered how beaks take off digits with a single snap. Instead, we set it free, hoping snappers thrive in creek water. Wildlife Ecologist Seth M. LaGrange presents identifying characteristics of turtles and conservation efforts within their natural Illinois habitat.

I’m still amazed that after decades exploring nature, I still see many firsts. As fulfilling as picking a petal from the bucket list bloom is catching a glimpse of short-lived, rare species like luna moths and wild ramps. As nature enthusiast Tom Williams described his rare sighting in Starved Rock’s Kaskaskia Canyon of pepper and salt wildflowers, I could envision it vividly. Commonly called Harbinger of Spring, this low grower spotted by its reddish stems uplifting bright white petals with deep black poppy-seed-like stamens happens only for a short window toward the end of March. If you crave a deeper knowledge of wildflower identification and how to effectively capture pictures in the field for accurate ID, sign up for Tom’s session.

I remember one day in my youth heading down to a church in Grand Ridge to listen as an exchange student shared her experience of growing up in Sri Lanka. The pictures seemed so alive with vibrance in texture and landscape, faces beaming rich culture in tones I’d never seen before. Sharing travel stories is often the catalyst for curiosity evolving into the passions by which we live.

From documenting observations along the Lewis and Clark Expedition trails to counting butterflies migrating through national parks, acceleration of scientific research, joining resources and addressing societal needs that provide hands-on learning in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) largely depends on connecting members of the public directly to Federal science agency mission and to each other. Master Naturalist Bob Chinn shares his experiences in Citizen Science Projects along the Rocky Mountains from Canada to NW Montana with Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park at its center, including how you can get involved with projects focused on critical species concerns in the USA.

Whether traveling across the world or installing a pond in your backyard, ethical guidelines for interacting with nature may be important to you. JoAnn Litwiller from the Illinois Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics will offer guidelines established by the program along with events happening across the state where you can get involved protecting parks, educating youth and training more advocates for sharing the principles of the organization.

"Growing Together" is held at IVCC in Oglesby from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 22. As you can imagine, spots fill quickly for this spring seminar packed with knowledge valued well beyond a $40 ticket. In addition to enrollment in four classes, the fee includes door prize giveaways, a continental breakfast, a catered lunch and access to vendor shopping. Visit to choose sessions in advance by Feb. 15. Walk-ins may be available if space allows. For more information, contact the University Extension office at 815-433-0707.

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