|April showers bring May flowers at local garden|
|Written by Renee Changnon, Daily Vidette Features Editor|
|Tuesday, 24 April 2012 12:37|
Driving through the gates of the historic David Davis Mansion, to the left stands the home that continually attracts visitors to Bloomington, and to the right remains an elaborate garden oasis, helping bring the estate to life as each plant blooms.
According to Mary Jane Bohall, Master Gardener with the University of Illinois Extension office, the David Davis Mansion is home to Sarah’s Garden, a garden that has been present since 1872. David Davis and his wife Sarah resided in Bloomington, yet because David was a circuit court judge and later a supreme court judge, he was usually away six months of the year, leaving Sarah in charge of the home and her own garden.
“There is a lot of information about the family and the site, the mansion and the garden, because David Davis was … away six months of the year. He and his wife Sarah were ardently in love and they wrote literally thousands of letters back and forth and the judge saved them all,” Bohall said.
According to Bohall, for years the mansion remained in the family until it was given to the state of Illinois in 1960 and since then, much was discovered about the family, the mansion, and even the garden that Sarah kept.
According to a pamphlet handed out by the David Davis Mansion, the restoration of the garden began with a report submitted by Scott Kunst of Old House Gardens, a landscape preservationist.
Bohall explained that when he visited the site, he determined the garden could be preserved, but research had to be done first.
“[Kunst] came two summers, for three days each summer. When he came, they brought him to the garden to see what they should be doing. When he walked into the garden, he said, ‘don’t do anything to this garden until you know what you’re doing because you have original plant material. This is the original garden, original design, and you need to restore it to what it was, so don’t mess with it. You have things here you don’t want to lose,’” Bohall said.
After training to become a Master Gardener in 2005, Bohall helped plant on a planting day at the mansion. After that visit, she has returned every year since.
As she helps in the garden, she discovers and researches about the garden, and shares her knowledge with visitors every year. Master Gardeners who joined the effort to preserve the mansion has grown to 30 people.
According to Sharon Jaeger, another Master Gardener with the University of Illinois Extension office, Sarah’s Garden is so unique and special because of the fact that it is original, with some of the original plants dating back 140 years.
“[Sarah’s Garden] is one of the few places that you can visit in the United States that you can come and see an original garden. There are all kinds of older homes and estates, but gardens are usually lost. This is a very unique garden, we find it a privilege to work in it,” Jaeger said.
Jaeger explained that as a Master Gardener, especially for a garden that is overseen by the state, the job means working with history and not removing what belongs there, even soil.
“We do not pull anything until we know what it is, even the soil, because it’s authentic soil,” Jaeger said.
In addition to working in the garden, doing research, documenting plants through photographs and journals, and caring for plants upwards of 140 years old, Sarah’s Garden even provides a curriculum for third graders in the area, Jaeger explained.
“We created an elementary school curriculum that involves third graders. We’ve created a whole curriculum that ties in the garden, living during Sarah’s time, and it goes along with things that are going on in the mansion also, but bringing more environment into children’s lives who might not see gardens,” Jaeger said.
While the plants are not all original, seven do remain in the garden, and heirloom sources were used for the documented plants that were no longer present, Bohall explained.
“Initially, they identified eight plants that they thought were original to the garden. They brought in replacements for those that were missing, they brought in heirloom sources, so that any plant we bring into the garden, its heritage is old, so we bring in plants that date to the same period, which is 1872,” Bohall said.
For the Master Gardeners who devote several months of the year, including research in the winter, working in Sarah’s Garden is a chance to keep part of the Davis family still alive and present, and for Jaeger, the hope is they continue to please the garden’s namesake.
“I’m a detailed person. I like the detail of things. I like keeping records but I like getting my hand in, taking care of plants, and knowing Sarah’s up there somewhere going, ‘okay, somebody is keeping my heritage alive,” Jaeger said.
For students overwhelmed by the end of semester stress, Bohall encourages them to come out to the David Davis Mansion and visit Sarah’s Garden and escape the pressures of life for a little while.
“I think as far as students go, in the spring you get bogged down with classes and finals and papers, and this is a place to go, it’s close by and you can just get a breath of fresh air and perspective because of the garden and the new growth,” Bohall said. “It’s free; it’s a good place to bring parents. It’s just good sometimes to get back to the earth when you’re so bogged down with studies.”
Walking through the well-kept historical garden, visitors can stop and smell, in this case, Sarah’s roses and feel the presence of the family that had an enormous impact on the Bloomington-Normal community.