Fairy houses, water play, woodland walks, and even miniature versions of Allerton Park and Retreat Center’s walled garden could await children and their families with an addition being pondered at the park.
It will likely be at least two years before “The Forgotten Garden” breaks ground, but architects were excited to present an initial design to interested parties last week at the Allerton mansion near Monticello.
The area, proposed to encompass about 1.6 acres of what is now forest between the main parking lot and the Fu Dog Garden, would feature a variety of interactive areas for children and their families.
In step with the idea of surprises and discovery that already await park visitors (think gorilla and bear statues in the woods), Toronto-based landscape architect W. Gary Smith likes the idea of participants walking down a narrow entry from the parking lot and being abruptly exposed to the wonder of a found space.
“We’re calling it The Forgotten Garden because we want that feel to be that it’s this old garden people forgot about, and you go through the woods and discover it,” said Smith, who has designed similar areas in others places and even wrote a book the subject.
The local effort, as currently designed, would somewhat mimic the existing formal gardens, but include only partial walls that portray an area that time forgot.
One of two large, rectangular areas would be a colorful spot of exploration nicknamed “The Jewel Box,” while the other would be more of an open, gathering place.
Surrounding those areas, children and families would visit a mirror walk, fairy houses, an elevated “teahouse treehouse,” fountain creek, a woodland walk, a stumpery made of discarded wood from the park, a place to make crafts to take home, and an orchard walk.
Also proposed is an area reminiscent of the neighboring Fu Dog Garden that gives feline portrayals fair treatment: Lucky Cat Allee.
“It’s really about inspiring imagination,” said Smith, who spoke on the design at the park on Aug. 28.
Architects noted the entire garden would be accessible to all.
“We want this to be a very inclusive garden, so kids and adults of all abilities will have the ability to navigate and participate,” noted Dave Frigo of Hitchcock Design Group, the Naperville firm working with Smith and Allerton Park.
“It’s meant to be barrier free and accessible to all,” he added.
The estimated cost is $2.4 million, but “the good news is it could be done in phases,” noted Frigo.
When asked about a timeline, Allerton Director Derek Peterson said staff are currently implementing items in a two-year strategic plan that bloomed out of the 2015 Master Plan for the park. Funds would also need to be raised.
With that disclaimer aside, he expressed joy for a possibility that could introduce the love of nature to a young audience.
“It fits in with Allerton. These are the kind of magical, off-the-beaten-path type of experiences that we are looking for,” he said.
“As we have discussed the ways children and families interact with the park, we realize that we can create spaces that are complementary to what Allerton is and what it could be; areas that are accessible, and areas that really have a strong focus on nature and free play and a variety of other things,” he added.
Allerton Public Engagement Coordinator Mindy Brand, who heads up summer youth camps, is also excited about the possibilities. She expressed a fondness for the min-walled garden for several reasons.
“It’s this really subtle way to hint at the history around here, even though it’s brand new,” said Brand. “This is a way to show not only kids, but parents a way to experience nature without even knowing they are experiencing nature.”
Allerton Park was originally the property of Monticello philanthropist Robert Allerton, who developed it and donated the 1,500 acres – including the mansion/retreat center – to the University of Illinois in 1946.