Signup to receive email updates

or follow our RSS feed


Rhonda J. Ferree

Rhonda J. Ferree
Former Extension Educator, Horticulture

follow our RSS feed

Blog Banner

Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog
Just for Fun
Musical garden in the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden, 2015

Garden's Make Beautiful Music

I love sitting in my backyard listening to the many garden sounds. Wrens sing. Frogs croak. Grasses rustle. Bees buzz. The longer I listen, the more sounds I hear. In addition to natural sources, you can design music into the garden. Are you drowning out neighborhood noise or looking for a soothing respite? Loud sounds gently cover up unpleasant noises, while soft sounds sooth and mesme...

Read More >

IMG 3975

Visit a Public Garden this Summer

Public gardens are a great place to get ideas for your garden. Last month I visited three gardens in Rockford with Bradley University's OLLI program. I am inspired to add more plants to our water garden and create more succulent container gardens. Here are a few ideas of places you might consider visiting this summer. Some of my favorite garden locations are the Chicago Botanic Gardens,...

Read More >

cut flower arrangement

Preserving Flowers

As you plan your summer gardens, consider adding flowers you can preserve or use in arrangements. The pleasure of growing flowers in a garden is only a portion of gardening enjoyment. Flowers and foliage that is gathered from the garden and preserved or arranged can reward you in many other ways. Cutting gardens include flowers that cut well and are long-lasting. Sturdy stems and long-l...

Read More >

The Three Little Pigs themed garden at the 2013 University of Illinois Hort Club flower show.

Literature Gardens

Have you ever thought of combining literature and gardening? Literature gardens do just that. I remember a past Chicago Flower & Garden Show, where two popular children's books came alive in gardens: "The Tales of Peter Rabbit" and "Where the Wild Things Are." One of the most popular (and crowded) gardens at that year's show was Mr. McGregor's Garden. In it, the famous adven...

Read More >

June 2013 BRIGHT SPOT at neighboring homes of Gerald and Bonnie Fidler and Jim and Brenda McKee. See at 1321 E Chestnut and 1313 E Chestnut.

New Year's Day Rose Parades of the Past

As most of my readers know, one of my favorite activities of the year is watching the New Year's Day Rose Parade. Every year I am amazed by the amount of work that goes into creating the floats using only natural materials. I've been writing about various plants in the rose parade floats since 2002, and this year I'm pulling some of my favorite excerpts from those articles. My first art...

Read More >

Sugar cane in Dominican Republic
click image to view 2 more

Sugar – is it sugarcane or sugar beets?

Do you know where the sugar you used to bake your Christmas cookies comes from? Sugar is available in many different forms. The sugar we use comes from two different plants: sugar beets or sugarcane. Worldwide, 70 percent of our sugar comes from sugarcane. Sugarcane is a tall grass that grows in tropical areas. In tropical setting like Hawaii and Jamaica it grows in fields and looks sim...

Read More >

Rhondas Spice Surprise Te
click image to view 3 more

Spice Special Tea

Last night while making my newest favorite evening tea I got to thinking about the plants that produce these ingredients. My Spice Special tea is a blend of rooibos, anise, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, orange bitters, and honey. Let's look at each of these a bit closer. Rooibos comes from the African plant ( Aspalathus lineraris ), also called Red Bush. Traditional black and green...

Read More >

Actaea pachypoda%u2013 White baneberry or Doll%u2019s eyes
click image to view 2 more

Doll's Eyes…A Great Halloween Plant

Some plants are perfect for Halloween. Bat flowers, devils claw, and corpse flower come to mind. Another creepy looking plant is doll's eyes. I'm not sure why dolls with staring, glass eyes are so scary, but they can be truly frightening to some people. I used to have a recurring dream as a little girl about a scary doll in an old house. Weird, I know! I recently found a doll's eye plan...

Read More >

click image to view 2 more

Nature Journaling Reduces Stress

I've mentioned many times that I love to journal, and I usually write surrounded by plants and nature. I use nature journaling as a creative form of self-expression, but I find that it also promotes relaxation and calmness. Many people journal. In its most basic form, journaling is a daily record of news and events that happen in a person's life. Writing down our day-to-day happenings s...

Read More >

Hosta garden
click image to view 2 more

How do Plant's Decide What Color to Wear?

Most plants have a very strict dress code, donning the same colors and style every year. When colors vary, the plant is simply named something else, or it indicates that there is a problem. Botanically, plant colors are fascinating to me. We all learn in science class that plants get their green color from chlorophyll in the leaves, and the plant uses the chlorophyll to photosynthesize...

Read More >

Venus fly trap
click image to view 2 more

Plants That Move

No plants do not have legs, but they do move. Although I don't see it happen, each week my African violet leaves lean toward the light requiring me to straighten them with a quarter turn. I also don't see the prayer plants fold their leaves each night and reopen them each morning. Usually, plant movement is very subtle. Yet, there are a few plants that will move right before your eyes....

Read More >

Ferree Journal Quote

Natural Journaling

Nature Journaling …Allows us to slow down and see the natural world from a different perspective, while it Offers a creative outlet for self-expression Promotes relaxation and calmness Enhances outdoor experiences Builds positive connections with nature and people What to...

Read More >

Dandelion with pollinator next to white clover

Take a new look at dandelions

Earth Day falls every year on April 22. As you use this day to reflect about our world around us, you might  try to look at a small piece of our world from a completely different viewpoint. Take dandelions, for example. To many people the dandelion is a weedy pest that invades our lawns, but other people find many positive attributes in the plant. Kids l...

Read More >

State champion Bald Cypress tree in Southern Illinois along Cache River basin. That is my husband Mark kayaking up to it. It is only accessible by watercraft. The tip of my yellow kayak is shown at the bottom of the pictures - among the duckweed and watermeal.
click image to view 6 more

Big and Historic Trees

Big trees seem to fascinate and almost mesmerize us. They bring wonderment as we surmise how old it is and what it has "seen" through its life. Here are some of my favorites. No words can describe what I felt when I saw my first giant sequoia tree in California's Sequoia National Park. They are all grand, but the grandest of all is the General Sherman tree. It...

Read More >

Juniper berries

Spirited Plants

Happy New Year! Where did 2016 go? Whether you toast in the New Year with sparkling grape juice or a more spirited drink, it is interesting to think of all the plants that make up spirits. Spirits are actually named by the fermented material from which they are distilled. Various grains make up whiskey, vodka, gin and most types of schnapps. Brandy is made from fermented grape juice, an...

Read More >

Sorghum field in Delaware. Photo by Dot Abott-Donnelly, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Sorghum Syrup and More

I remember going on the Spoon River Drive each fall with my Grandma and Grandpa Simmons. I loved visiting the old school house in London Mills and eating ham-n-beans scooped from a large cast-iron pot. Each year my Grandpa purchased his annual supply of sorghum syrup. Sorghum is a group of plants in the grass family that includes crops, ornamentals, and weeds. As a crop, sorghum ( So...

Read More >

Ornamental gourds drying

Ornamental Gourds

It's fall festival time again. Time for spiced apples, beautiful fall colors, arts and crafts, and locally grown produce. I've never been to a fall festival when those items didn't include gourds either for sale individually or crafted into exquisite creations. Gourds have been cultivated for thousands of years by many cultures worldwide. Found in Egyptian tombs were 4,000-year-old gour...

Read More >

walnut, sweetgum, chestnut, buckeye, hickory, acorn, locust, hedge

Do Plants Predict the Weather?

We've all heard wives'-tales that predict the weather. I can still hear my grandma saying, "Red sky at night, sailors delight; Red sky in morning, sailors warning." There are legends of people using groundhogs, hornets, woolly bear caterpillars, and even pig spleens to predict the weather. Recent Facebook posts say the Farmer's Almanac predicts a cold, snowy winter for us here in the M...

Read More >

IMG 3284
click image to view 2 more

Pokémon GO Gardening

I remember when my sons Derek and Tyler used to play Pokémon on their Gameboys and collect the trading cards. I never really understood it then, and I'm not sure I fully understand it now; but, I did download Pokémon Go on my phone. The most exciting part of this new game is how it gets kids and families outdoors and walking around. It is also designed to get people to historical and cu...

Read More >

Lily Pool at Lincoln Park in Chicago
click image to view 3 more

Chicago Landscape Design Styles

Recently I helped lead a bus trip to Chicago for Bradley's OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) program. On the way to Chicago I spoke on the bus about the history of landscaping in Chicago. Although we are far from Chicago, some of the design styles are seen here too. My history lesson began about the time of the Chicago Fire of 1871. The Victorian Gardenesque Style was popular fro...

Read More >

Blue ceramic pots planted with a green spike for height and orange calibrachoa for the container%u2019s fillers and spillers.

Reunion Gardens

Summer is the time for family and school reunions. Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, suggests taking reunions to another level by starting a reunion garden. "School reunion gardens are especially nice to do using flowers in your school colors." "You've probably noticed that school colors typically include bright, complementary colors." "This als...

Read More >

Tillandsia (Air Plant) growing in light bulb shaped terrarium.

Air Plants Grow Well in Terrariums

On a recent trip to Ft. Myers, Florida I visited the Edison & Ford Winter Estates where I toured their homes, gardens, laboratories, and museum. The plant collections there are fascinating, especially all the rubber trees they tested as possible sources for tire materials. Obviously, Edison is most famous for inventing the light bulb, so I took advantage of that by purchasing a smal...

Read More >

IMG 0988
click image to view 2 more

Just What Is Flax?

I have been enjoying trying new foods using recipes that often call for ingredients I'm not familiar with. Last week I learned that quinoa is a grain-like seed with high protein value. Now, let's take a closer look at flax. Flax is thought to be native to the Mediterranean region of Europe. Early uses utilized the plant's fiber to make linen cloth. Linen cloth was found in Egyptian tomb...

Read More >

Stevia herb


My friend Cindy and I were discussing stevia sweetener the other day and this got me to thinking about all the various sugar products that we often use during the holidays. The white table sugar we use comes from two different plants: sugar beets or sugarcane. Worldwide, 65 percent of our sugar comes from sugarcane. Sugarcane is a tall grass that grows in tropical areas...

Read More >

propagating holiday cactus with leaf cuttings

Clone Your Plants

Do you have an annual flower in your garden this year that you especially like and definitely want to use again next summer? You might be able to clone it using vegetative propagation methods. I have a coleus plant that I particularly like in my patio containers. Each fall I take a few cuttings from the plants and grow them in my kitchen windowsill for use next spring. If you ar...

Read More >