2022 McHenry County Gardenfest

Who should attend Gardenfest?

If you're looking to improve your "green" thumb, or you're a seasoned gardener, you'll benefit from Gardenfest workshops.

Please register HERE


Keynote Speakers –

Nina Koziol

Nina Koziol is a garden writer and horticulturist who tends plants on a deer-infested acre about 40 miles from Chicago.  She wrote garden articles for the Chicago Tribune for 22 years as well as for Chicagoland Gardening, Old-House Journal and Organic Gardening.  Nina writes for ILCA’s The Landscape contractor, PlantersPlace.com and for The Chicago Botanic Garden’s web site and Keep Growing Magazine.  Nina has been teaching horticulture, design and landscape history at the Chicago Botanic Garden and The Morton Arboretum since 1997.

“The Gardener as Artist”

Thinking outside the Phlox, coloring outside the lines.  Yes, you ARE an artist in your garden.  This program looks at public and private gardens—from quirky and magical to the elegant and innovative (and their creators)—and the plants and garden art within them.  If you need inspiration, this is for you.

Chris Benda

Chris Benda, known as the Illinois Botanizer, is a botanist and past president of the Illinois Native Plant Society (2015-2016).  A native of Minnesota, Chris moved to Illinois from California in 2004 and received a Master’s Degree in Biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign in 2007.  Besides conducting botanical fieldwork around the world, he teaches the Flora of Southern Illinois at Southern Illinois University and a variety of classes at the Morton Arboretum, as well as leading nature tours for Camp Ondessonk.  He has research appointments with the University of Illinois and Argonne National Laboratory and is an accomplished photographer and author of several publications about natural areas in Illinois.

“Botanical Humor:  You Never Knew Plants Were So Funny”

Chris Benda offers a delightful presentation about plants.  Chris has been teaching about plants for over 10 years and during that time has developed a unique teaching style that includes lots of puns, jokes, and whimsical pop culture references.  This presentation will be sure to keep you entertained and leave you with fun ways to think about plants.





Whether you purchase an existing property or build a new home, the soil may not be the best for growing gardens.  Perhaps even your existing soil could use some improvement.  Join Rich as he explores ways to improve the soil beneath your feet, whether urban, suburban or small agricultural land.


Has your garden been attacked by an insect pest, OR, has a disease ravaged your plants.  This class will introduce you to the most common insects and diseases in your McHenry County garden and then look at both organic and conventional ways to control these pests.


The MCC Greenhouse includes three bays of plants and plenty of learning.  Join Rich as he leads you on a tour of the MCC Greenhouse, discusses the construction, facilities and plants grown there.  Plan to spend a few extra minutes in Bay #3 housing the hydroponic and aquaponic gardens.  Class limited to 25 students.

Rich Tobiasz

Rich Tobiasz grew up in Chicago, gardening with his “Busia” (grandmother).  He lives on a small sustainable organic fruit and vegetable farm in Spring Grove, Illinois where you can also find sheep, chickens, a wide variety of gardens, an orchard and a sheltie named Maggie Mae.  He has a Master’s Degree in Crop Sciences from the University of Illinois (2011).  Based on his final paper, titled: “Growing Organic, Practices and Procedures” he wrote the Organic chapter in the Illinois Master Gardener Manual.  He is a Master Gardener and an adjunct faculty member at McHenry County College where he teaches both horticulture and agriculture courses.


What is a tea garden and where can you find them?  Can you plant your own?  Learn all about tea gardens as we touch on the history of real tea, how it is grown and how it is different from herbal teas.  We’ll have some samples of herbal tea blends to share with you!

Christina Rank 

Christina Rank has been an Extension Master Gardener since 2017.  Her love of gardening started at a young age when she grew vegetables for her family and friends.  She worked as an engineer in the food industry for over 20 years.  She now works at the Crystal Lake Nature Center teaching classes and sharing her enthusiasm for nature with others.


Learn all about the flower everyone loves! Why they come in so many colors and shapes; where they came from and how they got to the US; how to grow them, propagate them and store them over the winter. This is a fun, fast-moving presentation that covers a lot of ground and still has time for Q&A, so bring your dahlia growing questions!

Nicola Birch

Nicola Birch owns Deo Gloria Farm & Studio in Bull Valley, a 130 year old farm on 15 acres, in the midst of a major multi-year renovation. She is a national and international award-winning fine art photographer, specializing in Still Life in the style of the Dutch Masters. The farm offers workshops with an art and horticultural theme throughout the summer and fall. Nicola and her husband John grow flowers for the Studio and the workshops, and are also building stock for future sales; dahlias are one of the most popular! The farm currently has 30 varieties, with more planned for next season. Nicola is a member of the Bull Valley Garden Club and has hosted/presented to Garden Clubs and Master Gardeners. You can see the farm at www.deogloriafarm.com and the Studio at www.deogloriastudio.com


Weeds present a number of challenges for new and experienced vegetable gardeners. They compete for resources, such as water, nutrients, and sunlight. Weeds can also harbor insect pests, serve as a host for viruses, and can be a hazard to gardeners. This session will include characteristics and approaches to weed management, identification of common weeds in northern Illinois, and strategies for control.

Sarah Farley

Sarah Farley, M.S. serves as the Local Food Systems and Small Farms Extension Educator in Lake and McHenry Counties. In her role, Sarah develops and delivers research-based programs to growers, collaborates with community partners and coalitions, and extends University resources to meet the needs of those involved in the local food system. Sarah serves on the Center for the Agrarian Learning at MCC Industry Council, McHenry County Healthy Living Coalition (MAPP), and Northern District Director for the Illinois Extension Agriculture Association. Originally from Pennsylvania, Sarah earned a B.S. in Animal Sciences, Agribusiness Management at Penn State and a M.S. in Agriculture and Life Sciences, Education from Virginia Tech.


While the shady part of your yard can be challenging for gardening, it is the perfect place for growing specialty mushrooms. What are mushrooms? Gain an understanding of what fungi are and why they produce mushrooms. All the steps involved in backyard mushroom production will be covered.

Garrett Beier

Garrett Beier grew up working at his family's greenhouse and nursery in South Dakota. He discovered his passion for mushrooms while he worked at the Forest Pathology Lab at the University of Minnesota. While pursuing his MS degree in Applied Science and his PhD in Plant Pathology, he had the opportunity to forage and cultivate a variety of fungi. Garrett is the Department Chair of the Departments of Horticulture and Entrepreneurial Agriculture at McHenry County College. He teaches a wide variety of courses in plant science, horticulture, and agriculture.


With the growing interest in native plant gardening comes the need to create native compositions that are both legible and easy to maintain. Too many native plantings look “messy,” and even the homeowner “can’t tell the plants from the weeds.” A useful tool for addressing this is the use of native cool season ground covers to fill in-between other plants. This session will discuss what plants serve this function here in northern Illinois, and how to integrate them into our native compositions.

Ken Williams

Ken Williams has worked in horticulture for almost 30 years. He first fell in love with native flora while hiking alpine meadows in his native Colorado. Later he found a comparable beauty in the tallgrass prairies of southeast Kansas. He combined this native flora infatuation with a lifetime of vegetable gardening experience to develop native plant gardening techniques. For 16 years he applied these techniques to the landscape of a 100 acre city park and zoo; continually increasing beauty, even as labor resources dwindled. Since 2008, often collaborating with his wife Christine Nye, he has participated in the Chicago area ecological landscape movement


This session will present practical methods for saving seed and using them to grow just about anything you want. Growing plants from seed can be easy. It's definitely my favorite season of the year....seedling season. Learn how to create the right conditions for your seedlings, the different types of seed available and how and why to save your own seed.

Christine Nye

Christine Nye started gardening alongside her grandparents as a young child. Through a long and varied horticulture career, food production has remained a priority. This included the 25 years that she gardened Chicago’s John G. Shedd Aquarium, where her efforts included not only native habitat gardens, but also food gardens that fed both people and the aquarium’s animal collection. The diversity of plant material she used required starting many plants from seed. Today she is mainly retired, but still growing all kinds of food, most of it from seed.


Add color and flavor to salads, cakes and cocktails with flowers and other unexpected edibles.  We’ll go over specific varieties you can grow at home and some you may already have.   You’ll learn the best methods for harvesting and storing these edible plants as well as dozens of uses for them. 

Heather Moister

Heather is the owner of Soil & Spade Company - offering custom potting & delivered planters - a cumulation of her passion for plants, sustainability, and creative design.  With over 20 years of experience in the industry she was recognized by Greenhouse Product News as one of the TOP 40 horticulture professionals under 40 nationwide.  Heather’s energy and enthusiasm can be seen in her designs and experienced firsthand at her seminars & workshops. 


Spark your creativity with Container Gardening! Michael’s creativity with texture, color and bloom time has been a success in the container gardens Countryside Flower Shop, Nursery and Garden Center has to offer. Michael is not shy when it comes to mixing it up. Annuals, perennials, groundcovers and tropical plants make stunning container gardens – some for sun, others for shade. Michael is known as the person to see at Countryside for containers that are the envy of the neighborhood!


Not everyone has the land for a large garden. The secret is you don’t need acreage to grow fruits and vegetables. You just need 6-8 hours of sun and good soil! Learn how to incorporate vegetables into your existing sunny flower beds, herbs in the nooks and crannies around the patio, and vegetables in containers! See what combinations work well together to harvest the most from your small space!

Michael Fedoran

Michael Fedoran, Greenhouse Manager with Countryside since 2003 creating some of the most beautiful planters you have ever seen. Michael enjoys working outdoors, with both flower and vegetable gardens. He earned his Associates Degree in landscape design and shows his passion with every container he plants and every class he teaches on starting gardens from seed.   Michael stays active by bicycling and hiking and enjoys watching sports! Born in Chicago, he is a die-hard Cubs and Bears fan. Step into his “office” (the greenhouse potting bench) in Spring and you are sure to hear the baseball game over the radio!


Join Sarah Michehl from The Land Conservancy of McHenry County for some winter landscaping tips that really show off the beauty of our native grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs. The connection between wildlife and these particular plants will also be shared. 

Sarah Michehl

Sarah Michehl is the Community Engagement Specialist with The Land Conservancy of McHenry County. She has spent 20 years working in the environmental arena as an educator. Through her role as coordinator of the Conservation@Home program, she’s had the opportunity to consult on hundreds of private and municipal properties while working with people to use native plants in a way that offers beauty and function.


No other animal on earth comes close to achieving the dazzling aeronautics, visual acuity or bizarre life history of dragonflies and damselflies. Come experience an image-intensive, up close and personal presentation of the insect order Odonata, a captivating group of insects with ancestors dating back over 300 million years to a time when dragonfly-like creatures with two and a half foot wingspans ruled the air. Insect populations have been declining over the past few decades, in some cases at truly alarming rates. Odonates have survived major extinction events…will they make it through this one? And, why should we care? Conservation of a group of organisms depends upon understanding the complexities of its natural history and the subtleties of its social interactions but, it must always first begin with human appreciation.

Marla Garrison

Marla Garrison is an instructor of biology at McHenry County College. She is the author of Damselflies of Chicagoland published online by the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History (https://fieldguides.fieldmuseum.org/guides/guide/388). She sat on the Executive Council of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas for many years. She has worked with the US Fish & Wildlife Service on the federally endangered Hine's Emerald Dragonfly project and conducts dragonfly research and surveys throughout the state of Illinois and around the country. She is currently completing her second field guide entitled Dragonfly Nymphs of Northern Illinois.