The Douglas Discovery Garden is an outstanding gem of Vermilion County and the Danville area. It offers a wide variety of gardening applications for area residents to observe and learn from so they can apply these practices in their own gardens. The beautiful space also has an interesting history of learning behind it, or some may say underneath it.
In 2006, Douglas Discovery Garden was just an idea to create something special where Douglas Elementary School once stood for some 92 years. Many of the Vermilion County Master Gardeners who formed the committee are retired teachers that once taught at the school. When the building was torn down in June of 2006, they envisioned a plethora of plants that would continue to be an educational venue for the community. Since the site was quite disturbed from building demolition, the soils need considerable remediation for plant life to flourish.
These dedicated Master Gardener Volunteers continued planning their vision until Douglas Discovery Garden was established in May of 2009. They partnered with the City of Danville, local organizations and over the years the committee has created a large community garden adding a pergola, keyhole gardens, raised beds, pollinator pockets, prairie, trellised grapevines and a small orchard.
In recent years, Douglas Discovery Garden has become a “Partner in Growing,” serving as a learning site for students from Kenneth D Bailey Academy and Ag in the Classroom students from Trinity Lutheran and Mark Denman schools. Students learn about gardening and even grow plants for the raised vegetable beds. In May, they have a planting day and fill raised beds with plants like tomatoes, squash, beans, melon and flowers. Produce goes to the schools to be used in the kitchen areas when school is in session.
Last year, the committee secured a grant to fund the first phase in making the garden available to all visitors. The goal is to complete the accessibility path so the garden may be enjoyed by all members of the community. Antiques in the Garden Festival is the annual fundraiser to maintain the garden and help complete the accessibility project.
Vermilion County Master Gardeners have volunteered over 3,180 hours at Douglas Discovery Garden between 2012 and 2018. These incredibly active stewards of the site were generous enough to let me hold a pruning workshop at Douglas Discovery Garden last January. On a cold, but sunny day, I met with a number of Vermilion County Master Gardeners to show them pruning techniques I’ve learned over the years and learn from their fruit pruning experience. Together we pruned the entire orchard in just one afternoon. I know I had a wonderful time that day, but it was a bit cold. In the future, we plan to have our pruning days a little closer to spring so we can hopefully grab a milder day.
Now that warmer weather prevails, one of the premier events at Douglas Discovery Garden is just around the corner. Join the Vermilion County Master Gardeners at Douglas Discovery Garden in Danville on Saturday, September 8, for the annual Antiques in the Garden Festival.
New this year are antique cars. Attendees will be able to enjoy a ride in a vintage automobile through the neighborhood. Local honey, handmade soap and antique vendors selected for their garden themed wares will be open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Susan Biggs Warner from the Vermilion County Conservation District will demonstrate how to use fresh herbs in salads, meat marinades and more.
Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions on pollinators and other gardening topics. They will have an interactive display on the Lifecycle of a Butterfly with caterpillars, chrysalises and butterflies. Master Gardeners will also have seasonal plants in vintage containers for sale.
For the kids, there will be a petting zoo of friendly and furry animals. Charlie Bedinger will be there selling his unique ‘EWE Poo’ fertilizer for fall gardening. A dulcimer group will top off the park atmosphere with music from these interesting and wonderful sounding string instruments.
Douglas Discovery Garden and is conveniently located in southwest Danville, just off the Bowman Ave exit from I-74. For more information, contact the Vermilion County University of Illinois Extension office at 217.442.8615 or visit the office at 3164 North Vermilion in Danville.
I’d like to especially thank Jenney Hanrahan, a member of the U of I Extension Horticulture Team based out of our Danville office, for her dedicated service leading the charge at Douglas Discovery Garden. Jenney helped me write most of this week’s article and has spent countless hours herself on the projects at Douglas Discovery Garden over the years. Thanks Jenney!