It was a perfect summer weekend, sunshine with a few puffy clouds dotting the azure sky, a slight breeze and low humidity, ideal for a summer stroll through gardens of colorful flowers, hedge-lined pathways, cascading waterfalls, and arbors with benches for relaxing and taking in the beauty. We visited three gardens in and near Champaign County, Illinois, on that weekend, all only 15 to 30 miles apart. Two of the gardens, Allerton Park and the UI Arboretum, are owned by the University of Illinois, and the Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden is part of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District.
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Allerton Park & Retreat Center
Once the estate of Robert Henry Allerton, the property was donated to the University of Illinois, along with the income from the 1946 farm crops to establish operating funds. Today the 1500 acre park, one of the seven wonders of Illinois, includes the Georgian Manor house used for events, seven natural setting trails totaling 14 miles, and 14 formal gardens that include extensive plantings and over 100 sculptures and ornaments. Walk down paved pathways lined with Chinese musicians, stroll through the walled garden, or climb the spiral staircase in the House of the Golden Buddahs for a view of the gardens from above.
Allerton Park & Retreat Center is located at 515 Old Timber Road, Monticello, Illinois.
University of Illinois Arboretum
Considered a living laboratory, the UI Arboretum includes plant collections and facilities for teaching, research and public service programs. However, as a non-student, you can simply visit to enjoy the beauty, much of it made possible through donations by generous alumni. Bursts of color in the Idea Garden’s border annuals and the Children’s Garden create a cheerful atmosphere, while the calm serenity of the gardens surrounding the Japan House will leave you feeling tranquil . Development of the 160 acre arboretum property began in the early 1980s. Today 57 acres are developed, leaving plenty of room for further growth.
The University of Illinois Arboretum is located on Lincoln Avenue in Urbana, Illinois. Check the web site for detailed directions.
Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden
This gem of a small eight-acre garden is tucked behind the Museum of the Grand Prairie in the Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve in Mahomet, Illinois. The garden includes a one-room schoolhouse and a Japanese garden with a waterfall backdrop and a bright red bridge crossing a pond filled with water lilies. Lots of flowers indigenous to Illinois, like the purple coneflower and the yellow daylily are displayed throughout the garden.
While you are there, be sure to visit the museum and the rest of the forest preserve. Our time was limited, but I would have loved to have rented a paddle boat to pedal around the lake. The Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden is located at 650 N Lombard Street, Mahomet, Illinois.
See more photos of the gardens in the video slideshow:
You can easily visit all three gardens in one day, although we broke it into two days and visited area wineries, too. There is no admission fee for any of the three gardens.
Disclosure: Our visit to the Champaign area was hosted by the Champaign County CVB, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own. Our accommodations were at the Hyatt Place Champaign Hotel.
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