A magical garden space meant for children of all ages is maintained by Champaign County Master Gardener volunteers
Visit a horticultural haven at the corner of Florida and South Lincoln Avenues in Urbana, where the University of Illinois Arboretum begins. You could easily spend an afternoon experiencing all the Arboretum area has to offer. Within this larger area, you can explore individual gardens such as the IDEA Garden and Japan House. But when your expedition includes your smallest family members, there’s a particular spot you don’t want to miss.
Kids might not care about principles of design, availability of new plants, or experiments with growing methods — all of which are part of the educational mission at the IDEA Garden. Kids do care about touching, smelling, hiding, exploring and having fun, which is how the Children’s Garden aims to connect kids with plants and nature.
The children’s section of the garden is tucked in the northwest corner of the overall space. A tiny bridge leads you to the area playfully designed for kids.
Most likely your child’s first stop will be the sandbox just to the right of the bridge, which is already equipped with toys to use. Then check out the child-sized playhouse with plants growing on its roof! This year the playhouse has themed gardens planted on either side: one side features a rainbow garden, and the other side is home to a new Plant Zoo (plants named after animals, described in the Master Gardeners’ video below). Both areas can get kids excited about planning and maintaining their own themed garden at home.
Throughout your walk you’ll find hidden friends like Crabby the Crocodile, Lucky Duck the Boxwood Bush and other animal topiaries, a fairy garden, a mini cornfield complete with scarecrows, and much more. A teepee planted with annual Black-Eyed Susan vines and a tunnel planted with mini-pumpkin vines are set to become living hiding spots later in the growing season.
Feel the fuzzy leaves of the lamb’s ear plant, or smell the delicious leaves of the mint plant. Everywhere you look there is another living decoration or garden ornament, often made with found objects, like the tic-tac-toe game made with painted rocks.
Outside the entrance to the playhouse 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 small sidekicks. And if you keep sitting in the shade while your kids run around some more, well that’s an idea we heartily endorse.
The Children’s Garden is such an idyllic place to spend time with your kids because it is immaculately maintained. The entire IDEA Garden is designed and cared for by volunteers in the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener program, so the theme of each area can vary from year to year according to the whims of the volunteers in charge. Themes have included vegetables, berries, roses, tropicals, serenity, sensory, and more; the children’s garden has been a consistent and popular presence for at least the past decade.
Make sure everyone wears sunscreen (and hats) and bring your own water. Metered parking (and handicapped parking) is available at Japan House and in the new small lot at the Idea Garden; more parking can be found along Lincoln Avenue. Check the meters to see if you need to pay after 5 p.m. or on the weekends.
All photos by Kathy Richards