The first roundabout in Freeport, IL (pop. 25,035), at the intersection of Pearl City Road and Kiwanis Drive, was constructed from 9/10/2013 through 12/2/2013 as a joint project between the Stephenson County Highway Department and the City of Freeport. In March of 2014 the Highway Department contacted the University of Illinois Extension about the possibility of the Master Gardeners designing a plant layout for the center of the roundabout.
The Master Gardeners enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to create such a visible public display of sustainable landscaping. They met weekly beginning on April 10, 2014 to plan the design and completed the planting on May 30, 2014. 18 Master Gardeners participated in the project. The roundabout was 71’ 10” in diameter, 4,052 square feet, with an elevated crown of about 6 feet. The committee decided on a theme, “A Slice of Native NW Illinois” and used regionally native plants; including 2,872 native grasses and forbs, 7 native shrubs planted on the top of the crown and 21 native cultivar shrubs planted around the outside perimeter, a total of 2,900 plants.
The Stephenson County Highway Department contacted the Master Gardeners to help design the roundabout because most roundabout plantings fail either due to inappropriate plants being used or too much required maintenance. Many of them are filled in with turf grass that requires regular mowing.
With so many Master Gardeners trained in the use of low maintenance native plants, the project was a challenge that Master Gardeners were well prepared for. Selecting plants tolerant of salt, drought, and wind required detailed research. Finding suitable native plant suppliers was more challenging than expected. First there are very few native plant growers. Some growers only had spring blooming plants available and would not have others until July; other growers had already sold out of plants. Fortunately a grower for grasses and forbs was located in nearby Ogle County.
The Freeport roundabout is a busy intersection, the western entrance to the city for commuters as well as faculty and students at nearby Highland Community College. The activities of the Master Gardeners on the roundabout and the plants stimulate a great deal of interest and questions from the public.
University of Illinois Extension signs were placed on the roundabout to direct their questions to the Extension office. The local newspaper, Journal Standard, was very interested in the project having followed its construction during 2013 and published the following article last June:
People are constantly asking Master Gardeners about the roundabout and are fascinated by the
concept of using native plants. Instead of seeing “weeds” they are watching for and appreciating the subtleties of seasonal blooming as the plants mature in size and spread.
Planning and goals-
The planning and design team (Fran Cihak, Lynn Czech, Danny Dannhorn, Jill DeGraw, Shey Lowman, Wes Robinson) broke into three teams, each taking one third of the roundabout to research and design. With only seven weeks to create a plant layout, have it approved for funding, order plants while they were still available and get them planted was a challenge and only possible by working as teams. Listed below are the project goals:
• Demonstrate to the public the use of regionally native plants to create a public sustainable
• Prepare site with top soil and use wood chips to retain moisture
• Use hardy native plants for Zone 4b
• Select plants that are tolerant of salt, drought and dry conditions, and wind
• Design with a mix of grasses and forbs/flowers
• Design for full seasonal blooming and color in spring, summer and fall
• Use one plant per square foot
• Use shorter plants to the west and southwest to minimize wind damage and buffer the rest
of the roundabout plants
• Use hardy well-behaved shrubs for the center crown and for the outside street-side border
• Divide roundabout into three sectors for teams to design and plant
• Maintain site for the 18 months with watering to equal 1” per week
• Maintain site for the first three years with careful weeding
In spite of the short seven week schedule for the project, all deadlines were met. The Master Gardeners worked four long hard days from May 27-30, 2014 to complete the planting of the 2,900 plants and shrubs. Extension signage was posted as recognition for the efforts of the program. Arrangements were made with the Freeport Rural Fire Department to water as needed.
All project goals and expectations were exceeded for the first year. There was virtually no plant mortality, very few weeds to pull and plants already starting to spread.
Impact on Community and or to the Master Gardener program-
Thousands of people see this project every day, many of them at several different times of the day giving them a unique perspective and an opportunity to see something new each time. Continuing media coverage in local newspapers and radio keep public interest stimulated. The success of this project will be presented by Master Gardeners to various groups during the next year demonstrating how native plants can be used successfully in both public and personal landscapes. Over the next three years, the plants are expected to mature and spread over the entire roundabout blurring the original three planting sectors. The success of this project will be a demonstration asset for other communities constructing roundabouts and facing the challenge of how to sustainably landscape them.
The impact this project on the Master Gardener program is an unexpected benefit. All Master Gardeners are much more aware of the benefits of native plants in landscapes and are more thoughtful in their considerations and respect for the environment in general. The Stephenson County Master Gardeners are now truly “green”. We are proud to contribute and participate.