Celebrating a Successful Prairie Restoration

by Kathy Andrews Wright


Before Mr. Shoub established his farmstead in the mid-1800s, much of Sangamon County was covered in tall-grass prairie, broken only by tracts of timber along rivers and streams and isolated prairie groves. The process of re-creating a tall-grass prairie began in 1995 when the Ostermeier family, owners of the land Mr. Shoub had originally farmed, allowed Lincoln Memorial Garden the use of 29 acres for a prairie restoration project that still blooms and flourishes 25 years later.


Thanks to a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), three prairie sites—the front prairie, middle prairie and back prairie—were planted with a mixture of grasses and forbs.


“As staff and volunteers were working to develop the prairie plots nearly 25 years ago, some 40,000 plants were planted over the course of two summers,” explains Larry Miller, head gardener for Lincoln Memorial Garden. “Most of the grasses and forbs were placed in the middle prairie, which is the largest of the plots. Across the front prairie, between the road and historic hedgerow, a belt of forbs, or wildflowers, were planted with the intent that a strip of showy, colorful wildflowers, such as cup plant, compass plant and purple coneflower, would create visual interest for passersby.”


Considerable effort was expended in developing the wildflower strip, and a lot of hand weeding took place to remove invasive exotics, such as thistle. Today, little remains of that wildflower strip, evidence that nature does as it desires.


“At the onset, the front prairie had a nice stand of scurfy pea (Psoralidium tenuiflorum),” Miller recounts. “Today this showy, herbaceous wildflower, which reaches heights of two to three feet and produces blue-violet flowers from late spring through late summer, no longer appears in the front prairie, but it does in the middle prairie, where it was not planted.”


Obviously planted with a different mix of native prairie plant seeds provided by the IDNR, the back prairie—located west of the berm—developed into a high-grade sedge prairie, containing a diversity of these grasslike plants that have triangular stems and small flowers that lack the showy petals of wildflowers.


After 25 years, the prairie contains an assortment of grasses and wildflowers that keep the landscape colorful throughout the growing season. Today, the focus is on allowing nature to take its course on species composition and instead minimizing the presence of invasive, exotic plants, such as giant ragweed, hemlock, thistle and sericia lespedza.


“To maintain a nice diversity of the colorful forbs, we burn the prairie in the fall or later summer, as research has shown that early spring burns promote the growth of grasses over forbs,” Miller explains. “Controlling sericia lespedeza is our primary concern now and entails spot chemical spraying, prescribed burns and mowing the prairie in mid-August to prevent the plant from going to seed.”


Miller sighs, noting that each stem produces in excess of 1,000 seeds.


“We have been managing for sericia for six years and have made a noticeable difference in the number of plants and the area where it occurs,” he says. “It will probably be another 10 years before we can confidently reduce our mowing program and let the fall prairie bloom.”


Miller is excited about the Garden’s participation in cutting-edge research underway by a team of researchers from the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield.


“Using drones, researchers are assessing the locations and severity of serecia plants on the Ostermeier Prairie and will produce a map that will minimize the labor-intensive, grid-pattern searches we now have to undertake,” Miller elaborates. “This technique is groundbreaking in the control of invasive species.”


Walk the paths of the reconstructed Garden prairie throughout the year to relish the ever-changing vista of the habitat that once covered much of the Prairie State. Take in the refreshing mint scent of the lavender-flowered, pollinator-friendly wild bergamot. Pause at the Prairie Observation Berm, binoculars in hand, to watch grassland birds swaying on the heads of cup plants while their melodious songs float across a sea of native prairie grasses. Give thanks to the visionaries who 25 years ago dreamt of a place where visitors could momentarily immerse themselves in what was once the prairie of Illinois.

Save the Date: Fall Festival 2021

As COVID-19 makes holding events safely nearly impossible, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our annual fall festival this year. We are offering Fall Harvest Festival at-home craft kits for sale online for $10 each including some of our favorite festival activities including Build a Scarecrow, Tree Troll, Pumpkin Painting, Fall String Art, and Fall Wood Cookie Décor. Get details and shop online here: https://bit.ly/306QjWD

We also will be unable to hold our annual Holiday Market in November. We are hoping to welcome people back in early 2021 for Maple Syrup Demonstrations.

Our inability to host any of our annual fundraisers has been rough. We ask our Garden friends to please consider additional support this year to help make up for our lost event revenue. https://lincolnmemorialgarden.org/donate/

We realize many are experiencing tough times, and so we remain grateful for what we do have. In July, the Garden was selected as the recipient of a donation from Reisch Charities. A special thank you goes to Jeff Egizii and Reisch Charities for supporting LMG during this difficult time.

If you haven’t been out for a while, the prairies and woods beckon. Come check out our new front entrance, the new Accessible Trail, and enjoy the fall colors!

– Joel Horwedel, Executive Director, Lincoln Memorial Garden

Ostermeier Prairie at 25

by Ann Londrigan

Illinois’ first settlers gave it the nickname “The Prairie State” for its vast expanse of prairies. In 1820, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, close to 60 percent of Illinois’ 37 million acres were prairie lands. Here in central Illinois, trees could only be found in scattered sites called “prairie groves” or along waterways. Today, fewer than 2,500 acres of high quality prairie remain.

So, creating a prairie ecosystem alongside an established woodland made sense about 25 years ago, as part of the 1993 Plan for the Future of Lincoln Memorial Garden.

The plan involved many longtime Garden supporters, board members and community leaders, plus a $2 million capital campaign through the year 2000. Much of the effort centered on rejuvenating the original Jens Jensen-designed, 60-acre “Historic Garden,” including bridge renovations, a new map shelter, interpretive signs, plantings and clearing specific areas where trails had been lost. Council Ring #8, for example, was so overrun by forest growth that it had become hidden from view.

Grants from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) for erosion control and water filtration helped support work on the creeks and ravines running throughout the Garden and along East Lake Shore Drive, all leading into Lake Springfield.

The ambitious plan would nearly double the size of the Garden over the next 10 to 15 years. It included the purchase in 1995 of the 29-acre Ostermeier farm, now known as the “Ostermeier Prairie Center,” to protect and buffer the Garden, support existing wildlife and provide habitat for endangered species.

“Acquiring the Ostermeier land was a big step of expansion for the Garden and programs,” says

Kent Massie of Massie Massie & Associates, consultant for the 1993 plan. “There was concern at the time about the prairie project taking resources and focus away from the Historic Garden.”

A bigger concern, ultimately, was creating a natural buffer for the Garden’s fragile ecosystems from increasing traffic and plans for residential development. It got very political.

Building a prairie

The Ostermeier property was a mid-1800s farmstead with two small corn and bean fields, an old barn, a two-story home, some sheds and a dried-up pond. How to begin transforming it into tallgrass prairie?

According to Massie, the agricultural land had to be treated and burned to get things started. It was the pond project—messy as it was with dump trumps, track hoes and a purposely broken dam to rebuild—that gave the prairie its blueprint.

“We got a grant to help do the pond,” recalls Massie. “It was drained and dug out and became the fill material for the prairie. It all had to dry out for a year before it was shaped and mounded.”

The plan called for winding trails inside and along the border, restoration of a historic hedge row and development of a high point in the center where the two fields come together to serve as a lookout.

A grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources funded the professional planting of the prairie with a mix of native grasses and forbs, including wildflowers. This expanse of prairie was designed to complement the smaller patches of prairie in the Historic Garden, which Jensen designed as more meadow than tallgrass prairie, according to Massie.

Additional grants funded the trail around the pond, observation decks and boardwalks.

Adds Massie: “The serpentine route of the trails was designed so you can take school groups out into the middle of the field to experience the Illinois prairie, where you couldn’t see anything but tallgrass and sky, the way most of Illinois looked at one time.”

A few setbacks

Like scenes in the popular documentary “The Biggest Little Farm,” wildlife can take over what you’re trying to create in nature.

Massie recalls the story of rebuilding the pond with grant-funded native plant species for bank stabilization and wildlife habitat.

“We had volunteer days to plant the pond, student EPA interns helping us, and all these trays of expensive aquatic plants,” says Massie. “The geese came along and ate it like a smorgasbord. That was a nightmare keeping the animals away.”

Invasive species are another battleground.

Says Joel Horwedel, executive director of the Garden since 2013: “Early in my tenure we realized that we had lespedeza in the prairie, and we started the process of trying to eliminate it.”

Lespedeza (bush clover), like many invasive species, can overcome traditional prairie plants. Mowing, controlled burns and spot application of weed killer are tools used in this battle, which can take 10 years or more.

He adds: “It’s a lengthy process that we are still in the middle of, but you can now see a better balance of flowers and grasses.”

A place to learn

Environmental education has been a core mission of Lincoln Memorial Garden since its creation in the early 1930s. The Ostermeier Prairie Center has become a hub for learning about the prairie ecosystem.

“Just like a tract of forested timber is important, so are grassland prairies,” says Horwedel. “The deep-rooted prairie plants help control soil erosion and offer a sea of pollen-rich plants for our many pollinators. In turn, the insects attract birds and other animals who thrive in this habitat.”

“It has become a well-established prairie with nice species diversity,” he adds.

The Native Wildflower Demonstration Garden, completed in 2012, advances this education mission. It was built by Master Gardener and Master Naturalist volunteers with the University of Illinois Extension Logan/Menard/Sangamon in partnership with Lincoln Memorial Garden. Visitors can learn about native wildflowers and grasses that thrive in full sun and do not require a lot of water or fertilizer.

The site is registered by Monarch Watch as an official Monarch Waystation providing milkweed, nectar sources and shelter to sustain monarch butterflies as they migrate through North America.

Says Horwedel: “Prairies are an amazing habitat hub. They provide food and shelter to a vast array of birds and insects, many of which are threatened due to the loss of so much prairie habitat.”

“It remains one of the best places where the public can go to see the prairie in this part of the state,” says Massie. “People can walk down its paths and experience and learn from the programs offered by the Garden. It’s a landscape Lincoln would have experienced.”

He adds: “The 1993 plan took a big step for the Garden to become a regional nature education center.”

Reflection: In time of crisis, family seeks solace in the Garden

by Katharine P. Eastvold

We could tell he was looking at us from across the meadow. As my four children began clambering down the large tree near the Redbud Trail, he moved to the path but stayed on the far side of it, watching and waiting. My kids hit the ground and ran down the trail to the lake at breakneck speed. Only then did the younger boy cross the wood-chipped path and begin to climb the tree we’d just left.
At any other time, it would be highly unusual to see kids politely taking turns climbing a perfectly spacious tree. Even childhood hijinks must yield to public health precautions these days. But as we plunged down to the lake and then up into the cool woods again, the familiar and comforting overwhelmed the new and jarring.
A deer paused to evaluate our intentions and then, satisfied, resumed her munching.
Geese flew overhead.
We reached the stream trickling down to the lake, and my kids jumped over it in turn, the littlest one falling short and splattering mud on herself. They walked back over on rocks, arms out for balance. I snapped a picture and then closed my eyes and listened to the sounds around me, felt the welcome warmth of the returning sun.
Spring is my favorite season at Lincoln Memorial Garden. The sap begins to flow, new birds appear, and finally nature makes good on all its promises as the trees leaf, wildflowers bloom and temperatures rise. Ironically, as if to spite the virus wreaking havoc in our human lives, this year’s spring was perhaps the most beautiful, the most utterly luxuriant I’ve ever seen. Or maybe I was just paying more attention.
Either way, being able to hit the trails in the Garden – even with the Nature Center closed and in-person programs canceled – has soothed my and children’s anxiety like nothing else. Our routines have been upended, our plans canceled, our support systems set at a distance and made subject to the whims of an internet connection. As a society in crisis, we’ve been thrust into fight-or-flight mode, performing triage on our own or our neighbors’ short-term needs, with no time or space or capacity to gather, even to mourn our dead. That nature calmly exists in this beautiful place a few miles from the city — caring little for the microscopic invader that has changed our lives, but simply responding as always to the lengthening days — is a powerful balm to the human soul.
Of course, we miss being able to congregate with other families at the Garden or hike with my kids’ Scout troops. My children will definitely miss Ecology Camp. It’s disappointing not to be able to pop by the Nature Center to buy a gift at the Split Rail Shop or ask a volunteer what kind of birds those are out on the water. But the majesty of the trails, the trees and the great stone council rings endures. Generations from its founding, this place still offers respite and grace to a world greatly altered in the past 80 years and changing with cruel rapidity over the past four months. It only goes to show that when you plant a garden, you never know what good purpose it may serve.

Ecology Camp Update

It is with great sadness we announce that Ecology Camp 2020 has been canceled.  Originally we were going to try for shortened sessions in July, but for the safety of campers and staff the board has decided that option is not feasible at this time.  We are planning on making ‘Ecology Camp at Home’ kits available beginning July 6 so check back for details.  We hope to see you next summer for Ecology Camp 2021.  Thank you for your understanding and continued support of Lincoln Memorial Garden and our educational programming.

Nectar Plants for Every Season

If one of your garden goals is to have blooming nectar plants all year long, this list can help you get started. It’s Master Naturalist Brenda Larison’s short list of her favorite native wildflowers that monarchs like to nectar on. According to Larison, all provide nectar for butterflies and other pollinators. Most require full sun. Milkweed generally blooms mid-season.


Early Bloomers:

Wild white indigo (Baptisia lactea)

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)

Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata)


Mid-season Bloomers:

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

Spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata)

Prairie blazingstar (Liatris pycnostachya)

Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)


Later Season Bloomers:

Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida)

New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

Spotted Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum)

Fragrant hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)


Why is milkweed so important?

Milkweed is critical for monarchs because it is the sole host plant for the female to lay her eggs and the hatched caterpillar’s food source, says Brenda Larison, University of Illinois Extension certified Master Naturalist and Lincoln Memorial Garden’s resident monarch expert.

“Milkweed blooms also provide nectar for the adult butterflies,” says Larison.

In November and December, Larison works with Miller and the Greenhouse Volunteer Crew to stratify the milkweed seeds collected from the Ostermeier Prairie. Stratifying simulates winter and involves wrapping the seedlings on wet paper towels, then storing them in baggies in a refrigerator for 60 to 90 days. By mid-January, it’s time to plant the seeds in tiny pots to get them ready for the plant sales.

“Yes, I’m into milkweed but equally important are nectar sources, native wildflowers that monarchs can nectar on into the fall, such as aster and zinnia,” says Larison. “Monarchs particularly need these to build up fat to survive the 2,000-mile journey south and their eight months of winter in Mexico.”

Larison leads free monarch education programs for Lincoln Memorial Garden each year. Two monarchs tagged and released at Council Ring 3 have been found in Mexico by Monarch Watch.


To learn more about native plants and see how they grow throughout the seasons, stop by the demonstration garden near the Ostermeier Prairie parking lot. It is a project of the University of Illinois Extension Logan/Menard/Sangamon Unit Master Naturalist and Master Gardener volunteers in partnership with Lincoln Memorial Garden.

Meet the Grounds Crew

Neatly trimmed and mulched trails are a signature feature of the Garden and a yearlong labor of love for the 18-member volunteer Grounds Crew, led by Head Gardener Larry Miller and Staff Gardener Chuck Allen.


“Chipping trails is a very big job,” says Miller, who has led the crew for the past 27 years. “The wood chips last eight to nine months, so it’s an ongoing job that we do most every week when the weather permits.”


Miller is very particular about wood chip sources, which explains why the trails are so beloved by runners and walkers of all ages. The chips are small in size and come from two private sources that don’t bring along trash with the load. Sangamon County also has permission to bring wood chips to the Garden.


More modern equipment, purchased with donations to the Garden, makes the job easier than it was in the past.


“When I started, we had a wagon pulled by a tractor, and I hand-loaded it every trip,” recalls Miller. “It took 1,000 pitchforks to fill the wagon.”


The job is four times as fast now, says Miller, with three Kubota tractors. The crew can get in 16 to 18 loads a day with one driver and two people spreading out the chips.

What else does the crew tackle?


There’s summertime mowing of the Garden’s 17 acres of grass, pruning branches along its four miles of trails, plus removal of trees that fall across the trails and could be hazardous for visitors. (Dying trees that fall away from the trails are left alone to provide insects for birds and nutrients to go back into the ground as they decompose.)


The Grounds Crew also repairs and rebuilds bridges in the Garden. A major project in 2017 was creating the access road to deliver the new 70-foot-long Walgreen Bridge along the Shady Lane Trail. The crew also helped build the gravel walkway to Cawley Meadow.


“I’ve got so many great volunteers who have different backgrounds,” says Miller. “We have retired doctors, attorneys, several CPAs, engineers and people that work for the state.”


He adds, “What they have in common is love for the Garden, and they are here to work. We don’t talk politics or religion. Just being part of it all and knowing they’ve had a hand in making the Garden what it is today.”

What does it take to be on the Grounds Crew?


“It takes a person who enjoys being outside and doing work,” Miller says. ‟I try to match a person’s skills and experience with the jobs so that I don’t set someone up to fail.”


Crew members work three days a week from 8 a.m. to noon and as needed for special events such as the fall festival or a big planting. Some will come one day a week, others more.


Lori Reardon joined the Grounds Crew after she retired in 2015.


“I started at the front desk and noticed a fun group of people drinking coffee in the back of the Nature Center and I thought, I wanted some of that,” says Reardon. “I asked Larry after a couple months, ‘What do I have to do to work on the Grounds Crew?’ He said, ‛Show up on Tuesday at 8 a.m.’”


Five years later, she still serves on the Grounds Crew and also volunteers at the Greenhouse, serves on the Lincoln Memorial Garden Foundation Board of Directors and co-manages the Split Rail Gift Shop.


Reardon says, “I think the biggest thing I get out of it is knowing I’m part of something that is so special for our community. Once you love the Garden, you love the Garden; there’s no going back.”


She adds, “When you’re working on the trails and you hear the kids laughing, school groups going through, it fills up my heart.”


Tom Wilkin, a past president of the Lincoln Memorial Garden Foundation, has been a member of the crew for nine years and has the reputation of coming five mornings a week plus weekends. He and his wife, Cyndee Wilkin, play a major role in the look and quality of the grounds for the annual fall festival in Cawley Meadow. Recently they redesigned the Nature Center and the executive director’s office.


His first year on the crew, Wilkin parked cars at the festival. Year two, he was asked to chair the event. Cyndee creates many of the hand-painted signs, themed wooden spools and butterfly features.


“I do like the various garden projects,” says Wilkin, retired in 2011 from the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I prefer those activities that have a positive purpose that supports the Garden’s mission. I like the many opportunities to be creative that the Garden offers.”


He and the Grounds Crew literally blazed trails for the festival, including the immensely popular Fairy Woodlands and last year’s new Troll Trail.


Wilkin first got involved at the Garden as a Master Naturalist and Master Gardener for the University of Illinois Extension.


“The work ethic of the crew is unbelievable,” says Wilkin. “With a won’t-quit attitude and ongoing commitment in support of each other, whether it’s 10 degrees or 100 degrees, rain or shine, they work no matter what the conditions.”


What draws him to the Garden five days a week or more?


“To me, there’s a spirit about the place,” Wilkin says. “I love the feel of it. I love its history and everything it does for people. You can see it on their faces when people enter the Garden, a sense of peace.”



April is National Volunteer Month

Lincoln Memorial Garden has many ways to get involved as a volunteer. In addition to serving on the Grounds Crew, volunteers are always welcome for shifts at the annual fall festival and the Nature Center Split Rail Shop. If you’d like to volunteer at the Garden, contact Executive Director Joel Horwedel, 217-529-1111 or joel@LincolnMemorialGarden.org.



Thank you to our many partner organizations

Lincoln Memorial Garden receives countless hours of volunteer expertise, gardening labor and assistance from the Springfield Civic Garden Club as well as from the Master Naturalists and Master Gardeners of the University of Illinois Extension Logan-Menard-Sangamon County. Volunteers from both organizations will be on hand during the plant sales to help answer your gardening questions.

Why it’s a garden, not a park

One of the most common reactions of first-time visitors to Lincoln Memorial Garden is, “I thought this was a garden; where are the vegetable and flower beds?” Or after walking the trails at LMG, people remark, “To me this seems like a park, not a garden.”

Why, in the early 1930s, did LMG’s founders use the term garden instead of park? Kent Massie, landscape architect and former LMG board member, helped me differentiate between a garden and a park.

“For me, a garden—big or small, private or public—is a planted landscape where the intent is for visitors to enjoy and appreciate plants for their aesthetic and/or consumption purposes,” Massie explained. “A garden is planted by humans, and technically the cornfields of central Illinois are gardens. Any garden requires care to maintain the landscape; otherwise, nature eventually takes control in some form of succession.”

In the 1930s, the shoreline of the then-new Lake Springfield was mostly pastured hillsides. Thanks to the efforts of Jens Jensen, Harriet Knudson and Myrtle Walgreen, along with numerous garden club members and teams of volunteers, thousands of hours were spent planting the area set aside for Lincoln Memorial Garden. Intentionally selected plants were placed in specific locations to create a sequence of planned spaces for people to enjoy.

There are more than 100 types of gardens in the world today, from kitchen and balcony gardens to backyard, flower, greenhouse, sacred and therapeutic gardens and the formal botanical gardens and arboretums. Many formal gardens support plant research, conservation, habitat and horticulture purposes, as well as educational activities. Lincoln Memorial Garden was founded on most of these purposes.

In contrast, Massie said a park is a broad term most often associated with a landscape or open space established for public (or sometimes private) use, enjoyment and recreation, which may dictate the construction of facilities such as play and picnic areas or campgrounds.

“While parks usually are manipulated landscapes, they can contain areas where special natural landscapes or cultural features are present and need protected,” he said. “One could say the Cawley Meadow (purchased in 2000) and the Ostermeier Prairie Center (purchased in 1995) might be classified as park lands.”

Other aspects used to differentiate between gardens and parks include:

• Use: Gardens generally do not have a sports orientation, and dogs are not permitted; parks most often focus on entertainment of visitors through recreational activities, including walking leashed dogs.

• Ownership: Most gardens are owned by individuals or foundations with operating budgets based on donations; parks are usually owned by federal, state, county and city governments and operated on the tax dollar.

• Size: Gardens are typically small in size; parks can be lot-sized or, in the case of the largest national parks, cover millions of acres.

• Biodiversity: Plants selected for gardens create biologically diverse environments; many parks are monocultures and have little plant diversity in order to maximize their recreational aspects.

Teenager Garden Art Contest

Need an activity to keep busy and to express your creativity during this unexpected
school break? Lincoln Memorial Garden is hosting an art contest for teenagers 16-
19 with prizes awarded for the most creative and the artwork that most represents
the Garden. Here’s the rules:

• Artists must be between the ages of 16 and 19 and live in Sangamon County.
• Artwork may be any style (crayon, markers, paints, collage, etc. NOTE:
photography not included here as our annual photography contest will be
announced soon—submit photos there!).
• Artwork must represent some aspect of Lincoln Memorial Garden—perhaps
an event you have attended, a bird or mammal or insect you have seen at the
Garden, your favorite spot in the Garden, a Garden landscape in your
favorite season, etc.
• Entries must be scanned or photographed and sent to
photocontest@lincolnmemorialgarden.org by 5 p.m. April 30, 2020.
• When submitting the entry, include your name, age and something about
your inspiration for the artwork.
• Entries will be judged by a panel of Garden staff and Board Members.

Entries will be displayed at the Nature Center once we reopen, may be shared on
lincolnmemorialgarden.org, the Seasons newsletter for members and on the
Lincoln Memorial Garden Facebook page.