NORMAL — The gardens of Constitution Trail encourage connections within the community and beyond while also providing beautiful distractions for those using the hiking-biking path.
Several are close together on the trail segment west of Towanda Avenue, right after the trail crosses Vernon Avenue at Angela Drive: the John Wesley Powell Audubon Garden, the Asahikawa Sister City Garden and the Vladimir-Canterbury Sister City Garden.
On a recent day, the JWP Audubon Garden was literally buzzing with activity as bees, dragonflies and hummingbirds zoomed from flower to flower.
“From the beginning it was meant to be a demonstration garden of plants that have grown here for eons, primarily native prairie plants,” said its steward, Gretchen Monti. “In recent years, we went to a trend toward featuring pollinator plants that are essential to the insects and birds.”
The garden was dedicated in 2018 as a memorial to Dale Birkenholz, Illinois State University professor emeritus, who created the garden nearly a decade ago with the John Wesley Powell Audubon Society. Another early contributor was John English, who Monti called “the Johnny Appleseed of our area.”
At least 50 different plant species are in the garden, providing a kaleidoscope of colors at various times of year: the yellow of gray-headed coneflowers, the red of royal catchfly and the purple of giant hyssop.
“We want people to not just enjoy all these interesting plants. We want them to go back to our local nurseries who are beginning to carry native plants and plant some in their own yards,” said Monti.
Meanwhile, just down the trail from the Audubon plot are gardens recognizing the sister city relationships Bloomington-Normal has with Asahikawa, Japan; Vladimir, Russia; and Canterbury, England.
Patrick Dullard, president of the Friends of Constitution Trail, said these gardens and others — including those in people’s yards facing the trail — reflect “how the trail weaves through the fiber of the community. ... It’s more than getting from Point A to Point B.”
In particular, the sister cities’ gardens “symbolize peace, reaching out to people around the world,” he said.
Bobby Jones, a horticulturalist for the town of Normal, said the sister cities' gardens are a great addition to the trail for many reasons.
“Not only do they provide year-round interest with flowers and foliage, they are representative of the specific types of gardens found in each country,” Jones said.
The Japanese garden, which includes a red torii gate, was created in 2002 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the sister city friendship with Asahikawa. A tea house was added in 2012 for the 50th anniversary. A weeping cherry tree that is part of the garden is a gift from the city of Asahikawa.
The Vladimir Garden includes trees, such as the birch and linden, that are common in Russia. Bob Hathway, who helps take care of the garden, said nearby copper beech, chestnut and oak trees honor ties to England and he added red peonies that are a variety called “America.”
Meanwhile in Bloomington, the McLean County Herb Guild maintains gardens just north of the Atwood Wayside along Robinson Street near the intersection with Monroe Street.
“We make an effort to try to put in things that are familiar and things that are not familiar,” said Marty Seigel, a member of the guild who works on the garden.
As you might expect, there is an herb garden, but also biblical, butterfly, prairie, culinary, dye and cutting gardens.
Among the more unusual plants is a balloon flower, which looks like a giant white balloon waiting to be inflated. You’ll also see ground cherries, strawberry spinach, Culver’s root and thistle.
Gravel pathways were put in place last year with the help of Boy Scout Troop 20, said Seigel. They help separate the different gardens while allowing people to get to the center of the gardens for a closer look at the plants.
Noting that gardeners find joy in growing things, Dullard said, along the trail, it brings joy “not only to them but to others.”
PHOTOS: Explore the Constitution Trail gardens
Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota