Highly trained Master Gardeners from University of Illinois Extension serving Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties enhance local communities and bring horticultural awareness and knowledge to hundreds of area residents. In recognition of this impact, a team of Extension Master Gardeners, and other volunteers, at St. Jude Parish Catholic Church and School received an award from Keep Peoria Beautiful, the local affiliate of the national Keep America Beautiful organization.
The team has been led by Extension Master Gardener (EMG) Rosemary Weber for ten years. They oversee extensive flower beds, tree stands, and a pollinator garden that grace the large building complex and parking areas on this 20-acre property on Peoria’s far north side. They also manage the gardens attached to the church’s rectory and convent. The EMG team has achieved a remarkable level of horticultural integration and consistency that is squarely at home in its Central Illinois suburban setting.
Since hundreds of students, families, visitors, parishioners, and staff move through the site daily, the team is highly attentive to the educational aspect of their work, including the need to promote safety and sustainability. They demonstrate the value of native species; interacting sustainably with the local environment; attracting pollinators; sound plant selection, placement, and care; and the therapeutic value of horticulture in a multi-generational, multi-needs venue.
School teachers make use of the landscape and particular plant features, and the EMGs are constantly sought out by parishioners and community members for gardening advice, especially during their weekly workday. The site takes on the feel of a living laboratory and botanical garden where EMGs can demonstrate very specific techniques as well as larger-scale approaches to gardening.
Parish clergy and the school leadership and staff have been deeply appreciative of the EMGs’ work, providing funding and support. Father Patrick Henehan, told Extension he “completely trusts the team” in its recommendations, commenting that their work has been of tremendous value to the parish and beyond.
The St. Jude’s complex sits comfortably among several spacious housing developments and commercial spaces. Because of the open feel of the grounds and its highly visible corner location, the gardens and landscaping enrich not only the parish itself but also the local community through its beauty, its inspiration, and its active demonstration and teaching of gardening excellence.