The 2021 RORG Expansion

By the RORG Team

RORG Director Eliana Brown is pleased to announce the completion of a new “expansion” garden across the sidewalk from RORG. This new garden was made possible by a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, our generous donors, and with the help of our community and student volunteers. The garden’s design takes into account lessons learned from the 2019 RORG renovation, namely, the concept of creating a living mulch with a plant-centric approach. Volunteers, led by RORG Landscape Designer Layne Knoche, installed more than 1,400 plants!

The new garden’s variety of native species and cultivars include:

  • Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum)
  • Wild Hyacinth (Camassia scilloides)
  • Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica)
  • Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)
  • ‘PowWow Wild Berry’ Coneflower (Echinacea ‘PowWow Wild Berry’)
  • ‘Rozanne’ Geranium (Geranium ‘Rozanne’)
  • Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense)
  • Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
  • ‘Dark Towers’ Penstemon (Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’)
  • Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans)
  • Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
  • Rudbeckia ‘Little Henry’ (Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Little Henry’)
  • Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis)
  • Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
  • Betony ‘Hummelo’ (Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’)
  • Prinses Irene’ Tulip (Tulipa ‘Prinses Irene’)

In the shaded areas of the new garden, most of the inspiration came from the RORG’s planting palette and design approach. A mixture of densely planted ferns and sedges are broken here and there by drifts of woodland flowering plants and spring ephemerals, including the new staple spring display of orange tulips paired with native Virginia Bluebells.

In the sunnier areas of the garden, inspiration came from Roy Diblik’s “The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden,” of which the cover features a beautiful selection of grasses, coneflower, and betony. The betony on the cover happens to be the ‘Hummelo’ cultivar, which was introduced by Piet Oudoulf, one of the most famous planting designers in the world. His work has had a huge impact on both Eliana and Layne.

Additionally, Sweet Coneflower was brought in to pay homage to one of Layne’s inspirations: Henry Eilers. Mr. Eilers discovered this cultivar several decades ago growing naturally alongside a railroad in rural Montgomery County, Illinois – about two hours southwest of Champaign-Urbana. Layne has had the chance to meet with Henry several times and was thrilled to learn that a local nursery, Country Arbors, carried his cultivar. Learn more about Henry Eilers in our past blog.

Sweet Coneflower in bloom at the expanded garden. Photo by Layne Knoche.

To draw the new garden’s boundary, Layne consulted with Brent Lewis and Ryan Welch of UIUC Facilities & Services. The space encompasses 2,000 square feet of what had been poor-quality, mowed grass, and weeds. There also are three trees: two pines and a mature Red Oak tree.

After treating the existing vegetation, 13 cubic yards of shredded hardwood mulch from Country Arbors was added to cover a depth of approximately two inches. This was done with the help of several new university student volunteers and our regular Champaign County Master Gardener (CCMG) and East Central Illinois Master Naturalist (ECIMN) volunteers.

Plants arrived the week of September 13. Rosie Metallo and her wonderful team at the Plant Care Facility housed and cared for them until installation began.

The new plants were housed and cared for in the Plant Care Facility. Photo by Layne Knoche.

A big lesson learned from the planting of RORG was that prep work (i.e., drilling holes) takes much longer than installing plants — especially when larger groups are available to help. So, the day before volunteers arrived, Layne drilled several hundred holes in anticipation of Bridgette Moen’s Landscape Architecture 452 class coming to plant. This prep strategy worked well, allowing Bridgette’s 19 students to install nearly 400 plants in a single hour! Go Team!

Students from Bridgette Moen’s LA 452 class installed hundreds of plants. Photos by Layne Knoche and Bridgette Moen.

Later that week, RORG’s regular community volunteers (and a few newcomers) from the CCMG and ECIMN programs installed some of the larger plants, such as ‘PowWow Wild Berry’ Coneflower, Sweet Coneflower, ‘Dark Towers’ Penstemon, and ‘Hummelo’ Betony. Another class, Andrea Faber Taylor’s Horticulture 344, arrived shortly afterwards and installed hundreds of plant plugs. In total, approximately 500 plants were installed that day.

Student’s in Andrea Faber-Taylor’s HORT 344 class worked alongside some of RORG’s regular volunteers.
Photos by Eliana Brown.

Over that weekend, RORG hosted its first team of youth volunteers. Girl Scout Troop 2915 helped plant more than 100 Virginia Bluebells. They also learned about rain gardens from Layne, who gave them a tour. And afterwards, their troop leader, Julie Nieset, a wetlands plant ecologist with INHS, led a scavenger hunt around RORG to further the children’s engagement with the garden. They were thrilled when each one was sent home with their very own Virginia Bluebell to plant. The girl scouts are excited to return to the garden in Spring 2022 to see their plants sprout!

Girl Scout Troop 2915 toured the garden and then installed more than 100 Virginia Bluebells. Photos by Eliana Brown.

Students from the UIUC Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects also worked to install dozens of ‘Rozanne’ Geraniums.

In late September, a group of students from the American Society of Landscape Architecture (ASLA) UIUC Student Chapter installed dozens of ‘Rozanne’ Geraniums in the new garden. Photo by Layne Knoche.

In early October, students in the 2021 Champaign County Rainscaping course, led by Extension Educators Erin Harper and Ryan Pankau, installed a few hundred plants as part of their hands-on portion of the training.

Students of the 2021 Champaign County Rainscaping course after successfully installing hundreds of additional plants at RORG.
Photo by Layne Knoche.

Finally, planting wrapped up for 2021 with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE)‘s service learning event. They installed hundreds of ‘Prinses Irene’ Tulips, which are the perfect shade of UIUC orange. Eliana, who is a Civil and Environmental Engineering graduate, gave them a tour of the garden. She encouraged them to see rain gardens as an opportunity for engineers to work collaboratively with landscape architects and others to create functional spaces of beauty that become community amenities. Later, the event ended with a delightful visit with one of RORG’s canine friends.

RORG Director Eliana Brown gives a tour to SWE Students before they began installing ‘Prinses Irene’ Tulips. Afterwards, they encountered one of RORG’s canine friends.
Photos by Layne Knoche and Eliana Brown.

The RORG team identified a need to create screening between the garden and the McKinley Health Center parking lot. And, campus has a goal to increase its number of trees. To both ends, three Black Gum trees, three Bald Cypress, and nine Bottlebrush Buckeyes were installed by Country Arbors. We’re thrilled with the result, and we can’t wait to watch them grow alongside the garden.

Workers from Country Arbors installing new Bald Cypress trees on the east side of RORG. Photo by Layne Knoche.

We expect the newly planted garden’s growth to be similar to how RORG has grown over the past two years. It generally takes three years for native plantings to reach maturity. Our dedicated volunteers will care for the garden every step of the way. We’re thrilled to see our volunteer base growing! If you are interested in getting involved, check out our volunteer page.

In the meantime, be on the lookout for another new, exciting addition… a mural will be coming to RORG! Stay tuned for updates. 😎

RORG Director Eliana Brown proudly stands in front of the prospective mural while helping install plants.
Photo by Master Gardener Tana Willaredt and rendered by Layne Knoche.

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