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Byrne Walsh: Discover the demonstration garden at McHenry County College

There is a “secret” garden smack dab in the middle of McHenry County, and it is free and open to everyone seven days a week. Tended by the University of Illinois Extension McHenry County Master Gardeners, this half-acre Demonstration Garden literally is in the backyard of McHenry County College. And the Extension Master Gardeners wish it weren’t such a well-kept secret.

Take 20 minutes and check out this extensive garden. To visit, drive to MCC, 8900 Route 14 in Crystal Lake, and park in parking lot C. Then follow the pathway to the fenced-in garden. A large wooden sculpture covered in vines will be on your left, just in front of the garden. The plot sits between the new Liebman Science Center building and Building E on the campus. You also can see it from the cafeteria windows (look toward the east).

Now is definitely the time to go see the garden – summer is winding down, but the gardens still look amazing. A sunny perennial patch offers gardeners a glimpse of hardy ornamental plants for this region; a butterfly garden attracts flying creatures; the shade garden offers ideas for cool, secluded spots; and the hosta garden shows the diversity of the genus. A large fairy garden can be found near the entrance, a vertical garden filled with succulents and drought-tolerant plants can be found toward the northern rear of the garden, and an ornamental grass garden boasts movement and texture.

Extension Master Gardeners Shari Himes and Karen Hattan now run the committee for the Demonstration Garden, but this community garden is the product of many hands and hearts. The garden began in 1988, when the Extension Master Gardner program only had 13 members (today there are 128). The garden has grown in scope and size since, and it serves as the starting point for the MCC- and EMG-sponsored annual Garden Walk in mid-July.

“Garden design is always an important part of gardening; it uses the same elements of interior design only in reverse. Our Demonstration Garden displays many garden design ideas, as well as some creative projects, like the vertical garden,” Himes said.

The average frost date for McHenry County is Oct. 15 – after that the garden will start to senesce and die. So while the days are warm and sunny, please visit this hidden gem of a garden. And bring a friend or loved one.

• Michelle Byrne Walsh is a University of Illinois Extension McHenry County Master Gardener and a freelance writer and editor living in Lake in the Hills.

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