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Wednesday, July 30, 2008 01:40 am

Explore our garden wonders

Before the kids go back to school, explore our natural gems

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It is hard to believe that children will be going back to school in less than three weeks. Every year it seems like summer goes faster, but I guess it's just because we are busier. Summer baseball, camps, swim lessons . . . the list goes on and on. What's missing? Some time for relaxation. With high gas prices, many of us are relaxing closer to home. Be sure to find some time in the next couple of weeks to relax and explore one of Springfield's garden wonders.

Lincoln Memorial Garden is a living tribute to Abraham Lincoln. The garden, representing the landscape our 16th president would have known growing up and living in the Midwest, contains plants native to the three states Abraham Lincoln lived in: Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. What may look like a naturally occurring landscape of woods and meadows was actually a pasture 70 years ago. The garden was designed by internationally known landscape architect Jens Jensen.

This 100-acre site contains six miles of wood-chip- and grass-covered walking trails on which visitors can enjoy the garden's wildflowers, trees, and wildlife. Don't forget to visit the garden's Ostermeier Prairie Center and walk on the trails that wind through the restored prairies and around a small pond. The garden, located at 2301 E. Lake Dr., is open daily from sunrise to sunset. The nature center is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 217-529-1111 or go to www.lmgnc.org.

The Springfield Park District's Washington Park Botanical Garden is another of Springfield's natural wonders. The botanical garden contains more than 1,800 plant species, including roses, annuals, perennials, prairie plants, herbs, cactus, trees, and shrubs. The rose garden, established in 1962, is the largest collection of roses in downstate Illinois, and children love to walk through the labyrinth. A conservatory houses a wide variety of exotic or economically important tropical plants. Plants are arranged by the regions to which they are native.

The garden is located in Washington Park at 1740 W. Fayette (corner of West Fayette and Chatham roads). The conservatory is open noon-4 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 217-753-6228 or go to www.springfieldparks.org (search facilities).

The Adams Wildlife Sanctuary is a hidden treasure located in the heart of Springfield at 2315 E. Clear Lake Ave. The 30-acre environmental-education center contains woods, prairie, and wildlife. The property was purchased in the1860s by the grandparents of Margery Adams and served as their farm in the country. When Margery's father died, in 1931, the property no longer was farmed and the trees grew back. The Illinois Audubon Society preserves the sanctuary. Its trails are open from sunrise to sunset. For more information, call 217-544-5781 or go to www.springfield.k12.il.us/adamswildlife/.

Don't forget to visit the University of Illinois Extension's Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens. The 5,000-square-foot garden contains a variety of herbs, perennials, prairie plants, and annuals. All plants are labeled. The Identification Garden contains a variety of labeled annual flowers that are planted on the Illinois State Fairgrounds. The garden is located in front of the U. of I. Extension office, Building No. 30, off Eighth Street, at the fairgrounds. For more information, call 217-782-4617 or go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/sangamonmenard.

To contact the Sangamon-Menard Unit of the University of Illinois Extension, call 217-782-4617 or go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/sangamonmenard.

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