DANVILLE, ILLINOIS — An elementary school was razed to the ground In 2006. The school was 92 years old and named after Stephen Douglas who debated Lincoln in the adjacent city park in 1858. Many Vermilion County Master Gardeners are retired teachers who wanted to maintain the site as an educational venue. Partnering with the city of Danville and local organizations, these ambitious Master Gardener/teachers formed a committee and created a community garden. Now the old school is fondly commemorated in the garden with a permanent plaque.
Jerry Trosper and Audrey Rowe are enthusiastic representatives who applied for and received a gardening grant from Gardening Know How. The Douglas Discovery Garden has become a major feature of the Danville community, and the continuing education in the former school location continues to flourish. The Garden offers education for students from several local schools. The students learn about gardening, planting, weeding, and where food comes from. Teachers bring students to learn from the Master Gardeners here who volunteer their time and garden wisdom to nascent young gardeners.
The 3-acre garden is ever-evolving, according to Jerry and Audrey, who co-manage 6 of the more than 25 raised beds. Over time the original Master Gardeners aged and moved on and, at the point when the garden needed more help, these two generously opted in. In addition to managing a range of plantings, Jerry and Audrey offer classes on pruning and grapevine management. The produce that grows here is free and accessible to the neighborhood residents.
Over time the garden has grown to include fruit trees, trellised grapevines, a cut flower section, a pergola, and a clover leaf-shaped herb garden among other things. A free library, a keyhole garden, local art, a pergola, and native landscaping are just some of the features of this flourishing and peaceful place. A half-acre will be transformed into a pumpkin patch, native landscape, and assorted berries with help from the Master Naturalists. The garden is fascinating, with pollinator pockets, a prairie, and a small orchard.
More Than Just a Teaching Venue
This unique community garden serves the locals in several different ways. The city’s tree population is aging and has been plagued with emerald ash borer, droughts and other problems with insects and diseases. So, Danville uses some of the community garden space as a gravel bed incubator nursery to replenish the city’s trees.
Some of the young people participating in garden chores are performing community service under the direction of the “Peer Court” program. These teens are cheerful and a tremendous asset. Weeding, planting, and watering are a wholesome reboot when kids are going down a questionable road.
Possibly the best part of this large community effort is the summer program at the CRIS center, an organization dedicated to healthy aging. Every Wednesday starting in June, Master Gardeners hand out produce from the Discovery Garden, a local farmers’ market, and mostly Master Gardeners’ home gardens. Last year approximately 4,000 pounds of vegetables and fruit were donated. Additional donations are made to an agency for the disabled and to two local women’s shelters and, as Audrey says, nothing goes to waste. These Wednesdays sound like fun, with people also bringing home crafted gifts for the seniors and gardeners alike. Jerry and Audrey share that they made lemon verbena, sweet corn and nectarine ice cream for CRIS gatherings.
The Golden Kiwanis Club provided funds for a small building used for storage and shelter. A wheelchair accessible sidewalk was built a couple years ago, with the contractor donating the labor. Discovery’s large team of Master Gardeners donates their time and effort to sustain the garden by holding fundraisers like plant sales, and other well-attended events. A Garden Walk event invites locals to check out 7 or 8 homes to enjoy residents’ gardens and get ideas for their own. The Walk is only $10 and is a good example of how the community is encouraged to participate and learn. DDG was on the Garden Walk in 2012 and 2019.
Berry’s, a local garden center, donates extras like mulch and soil, and the University of Illinois also plays a strong part in supporting the Discovery Garden. Master gardeners are working on beds for special needs, for those who may be in wheelchairs or using walkers. We are so happy to contribute to such an incredibly thriving project and wish Douglas Discovery Garden many years of continued success.
In a public comment book on the premises, one visitor wrote that when she walked into the garden it was so peaceful she cried. Visit the Douglas Discovery Garden facebook page and enjoy the virtual journey to Danville, IL.
Every year, Gardening Know How awards $1,000 to 20 different, hand-picked garden projects across the United States and Canada. If your community or school garden has a growing, unmet need for more soil, seeds, fertilizers, building materials, or even just help getting the word out about your program, we’re ready and willing to help you meet those needs. As community gardens and school gardening programs spring up all over, we’re happy to do our part to help. Learn more about our grant program here.
Interested in learning more about school or community gardens? Visit our Community Gardening for Everyone page today.