What is it about herbs that the mere word gets our attention? Is it the food connection? When I hear basil, rosemary, tarragon, oregano or thyme delicious images come to mind. Maybe it's aromatherapy? Herbal scented candles, bath salts, potpourri etc. Many gardeners enjoy growing lavender, lemon verbena, mint, bee balm and others merely for the fragrance you get by touching their leaves and flowers. There's no denying that for some planting herbs is a purely sensory experience.

Mid-winter can be a rather dreary time in East Central Illinois. The landscape is drab and a single yellow dandelion can be cause for celebration. Hang in there because… 'Spring is Coming' with the annual University of IL Extension Garden Day Workshop and Spring Festival. For nearly a decade local gardeners have kicked off spring by attending this yearly event. Garden Day features everything plant lovers enjoy: speakers who entertain and educate, a wide variety of vendors to explore and a delicious made from scratch lunch.

Winter in Illinois is long for gardeners and by late February I start looking outside -desperate for any sign of plant life. Tired of waiting for the first crocus to appear, I have become somewhat addicted to forcing bulbs. It's not difficult and you can enjoy hyacinths, tulips and daffodils from late January thru March. It makes those months significantly less dreary and you will enjoy every petal of your indoor garden.

A co-worker was curious about a small white flower with pink stripes that showed up in her yard this month. She brought in a sample, did some research and found the answer: Spring Beauty.

One of the more recent trends in gardening is fermentation gardens. The practice of fermenting food and drinks is nothing new. Archeologists tell us humans have been making beer and wine for thousands of years. My Italian grandfather made zinfandel wine every autumn. His wine press sits in my basement. When he was alive I was too young to appreciate his talent. Some day I hope to try and recreate the LaVecchia vintage.

"A Rose is a rose is a rose." Gertrude Stein wrote those words in Sacred Emily in 1913. This romantic poem is interpreted to mean "things are the way they are." While I respect the deep meaning behind this phrase, it also reminds me of the beautiful complexity of a rose, which is flower like no other. Some may contest that roses are the most commonly known flower because of its association with love, holidays, and celebrations.

When I am in the company of Master Gardeners I never cease to be humbled by their versatility and the sheer amount of knowledge and talent they possess. They come from all walks of life and are passionate about all aspects of gardening. Their interests cover everything from flowers and vegetables to herbs, gourds and beekeeping. There are novice and experienced gardeners in the program and all are there to learn. Perhaps, the biggest benefit to being a Master Gardener is having the opportunity to constantly discover more about a subject one can never know everything about.

The Callery Pear was initially brought over from China in the early 1900's to help develop a more disease resistant fruit bearing pear tree. The unexpected result was the Bradford Pear; an ornamental pear which could tolerate a multitude of tough growing conditions. Heralding spring with their snow white blossoms they soon graced city streets and homes across America- until a major flaw became evident. Fast growth, a narrow crotch angle and heavy branches provided a recipe for disaster.

By the end of summer the perennials, shrubs and trees in your yard may have produced some Jurassic sized leaves. When you look out the window in January those leaves will be a distant memory. Fortunately, there is a creative way to preserve what nature has created and enjoy it for years to come.

For the past 2 years, in the dark, dreary (and let's be honest, dreadful) month of February, Champaign County Master Gardeners take the time to celebrate volunteers at their awards ceremony. The following awards are distributed:

  • Hour Awards
  • Golden Trowel
  • Making a Difference
  • Friend of a Master Gardener

For descriptions of each award, visit our website.

This year, we awarded: