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Theme Gardens are Fun!

Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator

Theme gardens are really fun and are becoming more and more popular. I've written about various themes in the past, including literary gardens, tea gardens, reunion gardens, evening gardens, and more.

Theme garden possibilities are many. They could be based on the seasons, color schemes, your favorite song title, food names, and so on. You could pick out plants that have great winter interest for a winter garden, or create a happy garden with all sunny, yellow flowering plants.

I have a couple different theme gardens in my yard.

My gnome garden is based on the fairy garden concept. Mine is in a little red wagon that I received on my second Christmas, many years ago. It contains some small succulents that like dry soil, since the wagon is shallow and dries out quickly. Three garden gnomes work along the miniature stone path that leads toward their clay pot home. Two are busy watering and pruning plants, while the third is asleep under a large ceramic mushroom.

My other theme garden is a Secret Garden, based on the book by Frances Hodgson Burnet. In the story, Mary discovers a neglected secret garden. Her new friend, Dickon and his animal friends, help her bring the garden back to life. My garden includes carefully selected and placed animal sculpture. Mary is represented in a small water feature of a girl watering flowers.

A great place to see theme gardens is at the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener demonstration gardens at the Illinois Central College's Land Laboratory in East Peoria. Master Gardeners from Peoria, Tazewell, and Woodford counties created ten gardens there, each with a different theme. You'll find edible plants as well as ornamental landscape plants. Plants have name tags in case you want to try them at home.

Although the gardens are open to the public anytime, a great time to see them is during the annual ICC Landscape and Garden Day. It is Saturday, September 12 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and features seminars, exhibits, tours, discussions, and a plant sale. Children can explore a pizza garden, while their parents find answers to garden questions at the Master Gardener plant clinic. Golf enthusiasts can enjoy the ever-popular "Putt for Plants," and taste-testing will be available at the vegetable garden.

In addition to the gardens, educational programs are also held at this location. The last two sessions this summer focus on garden themes. Master Gardener Sunita Shastry presents The Senses Garden on September 19 and Master Gardener Kathie Pickering presents Miniature and Fairy Gardens for the Holidays on September 26. All seminars are held at the ICC Horticulture Building on the ICC campus beginning at 10:00 a.m. Reservations are not required and seminars are open to the general public.

Find a theme that reflects your personal style and interests then create a fun garden of your own.



As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.

After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.

ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.