By Emily Harrington
Visit a horticultural haven at the corner of Florida and S. Lincoln Avenues in Urbana. This corner houses the University of Illinois Arboretum. Within that larger scale garden lies smaller areas like the IDEA Garden and Japan House. Two very cool, very unique places to expose your kiddos to. Metered street parking and a metered parking lot is readily available and enforced 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. Logistically there is a portable potty available right outside the garden. You could easily spend an afternoon exploring all the Arboretum area has to offer.
On a lazy, warm afternoon we strolled into the IDEA Garden. I have been, but my son has never visited. Maybe I saw the garden through different eyes as a mom, but I noticed things I had never noticed when I visited years before—like the Children’s Garden. This garden was redesigned into the IDEA garden in 2012. The IDEA Garden is notably run and cared for by volunteers in the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener program.
Master gardener and Children’s Garden co-chair, Katie Kelsey, said the goal of the garden is to connect kids with nature.
“We have tried to make things fun, touchable and interactive for the kids in the garden. We wanted a place where kids could run while not worrying too much about things getting stepped on or sand being dumped on,” Kelsey said.
This section of the garden is tucked in the northwest corner of the overall space. A tiny bridge will lead you to the area playfully designed for kids. Here your child’s first stop will most likely be the sandbox. The sandbox is already equipped with toys to use. Throughout your walk you’ll find hidden friends like Crabby the Crocodile, Lucky Duck the Boxwood Bush, Tommy T. Turtle statue, a flamingo and turtle topiary and much more. Everywhere you look there is another living decoration or garden ornament. Often plants and industrial materials combine to make a decoration like the caterpillar that adorns the side of the little house at the center of the garden.
My son’s favorite thing was the Lucky Duck bush and the sandbox, of course. My favorite feature was the different sensory plants. You could taste Chocolate Mint or touch the fuzzy Lamb’s Ear plant.
Outside of the entrance to the house is a yellow Little Free Library with many garden books for kids. Sit down on the benches inside the house and read one of the books with your kiddos. Make sure to crawl or walk through the cheerfully painted tunnel next to the house, too. A sunflower maze and a green bean teepee will round out your garden experience.
It’s just such an idyllic find, and it’s immaculately maintained thanks to all of the volunteers. The Children’s Garden is a happy and bright place to visit while igniting your family’s imagination.
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie that left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job to be a 24/7 mom to a dreamy son. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life, because she fell for a fellow townie. Oh, and let’s not forget her other son—a degenerate canine named Heppenheimer.