Savoring Summer in the Secret Garden

August 22nd, 2016

Every day is new and beautiful in the Secret Garden and August is especially colorful and interesting. We have nesting birds, hopping toads and frogs, hungry bunnies, ripening vegetables, awe inspiring Hardy Hibiscus and Passion Vine flowers.

A unique aspect of the Secret Garden is that it is the backyard for the families staying at the Ronald McDonald House. As Lead Gardener, I, with my team of 20 UW-Extension Master Gardener volunteers, work to create an interactive garden.

In Family Garden Education we planted seed potatoes in April, dug potatoes together at the end of July, then built a clock using two of the potatoes for battery power! The remaining potatoes were enjoyed for family dinner!

Our potatoes are planted in grow bags. These grow bags remind us all that only one pot is needed for a garden! One of our grow bags has a “Ketchup ‘N Fries” plant, this means a cherry tomato plant that was grafted to a potato plant. We are picking tomatoes from the top, but come fall we can dig up those potatoes!

Together we are raising Monarch caterpillars. As a Monarch Way Station we have several kinds of Asclepias growing and many nectar plants blooming. We have released one male and two females named by the children, “Giovanni”, “Pretty Girl” and “Butterfly Cop”. They can be seen watching over us when we’re in the Garden. There are two more chrysalises expected to open soon!

Guests and UW-Extension Master Gardener volunteers planted two containers with plants to attract butterflies. They include Rudbeckia, Verbena, Lantana, Salvia and Supertunia.

A dedicated UW-Extension Master Gardener volunteer created a container for hummingbirds. Three Salivas, Black and Blue, Red Summer Jewel and Vista Purple invite visitors to sit and appreciate their beauty and encourage the Hummers to come and linger. Our two feeders are cleaned and filled with syrup each week.

The Fairy Garden is a surprise as you leave the warm sunshine and turn the corner into the shade. The Fairies appreciate notes with messages like “Love you gis” and “I may be old, but not too old to believe in magic.”

The Living Fossil Plant Garden is populated with roaming dinosaurs who lived among these very plants 150 million years ago. There are Ferns, Mosses, Horsetails,  Norfolk Pines and Cycad.

Our families come from every state. We have had fun together learning about Wisconsin native plants. On a scavenger hunt to find these plants we also gathered leaves and flowers to make sun prints. Using photo sensitive paper we created cards of beautiful garden silhouettes, exposed them to the sunlight for only 5 minutes, rinsed them and marveled in the results!

Summer in the Secret Garden is full of delights and renewal. Evening paths are lit and white, while chartreuse plants stand out for evening walks. Crickets, cicadas, birds, water cascading, leaves and grasses rustling make night time music.

Be sure you savor this season!

Ann Philips is the Lead Gardener for a team of 20 University of Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener volunteers who care for the Secret Garden. Ann leads a weekly Family Garden Program to help our families learn together about gardening, nature and to cultivate friendships.

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