A Hidden Gem in Marion

During our visit to Marion, Illinois, a couple of weeks ago we decided to take a chance and visit a place called Mandala Gardens.  I had read a brief review of the Gardens on TripAdvisor which sounded promising but the Mandala Gardens website itself mentioned something about calling ahead, and like many of the side-trips that we make, this one was rather spontaneous.  When we got to the privately owned Gardens early in the morning the gates were closed and I gazed longingly through the bars at what looked like an intriguing vista. I was just about to get back in the car when a lady came out of the adjoining house and walked down to greet us.  I explained that our visit was rather a last-minute idea and were sorry to turn up unannounced but she told us that it wasn’t a problem and ushered us in.

You immediately feel the peace and serenity that emanates from this tranquil setting.  Diana Tigerlily (pictured below) and her husband Greg Reid have lived at the property on North State Street for 20 years and during that time have put a lot of effort into making it the lovely place that it is today. Diana kindly allowed us to wander around and enjoy the Gardens and of course I made the most of this great photo opportunity.  For more on Diana and Greg’s story go to ABOUT

There are several interesting structures to explore at the Gardens one of which is The Infinity Arch created by Thea Alvin.

Another feature, also created by Thea Alvin, is Moongate which stands at the end of the pond. Here at the Gardens Diana holds Yoga practice sessions which are named Blue Heron Yoga and just as I was about to walk around the pond the blue heron, for which these sessions are named, flapped lazily away. Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough to get a shot with the camera but luckily the pond and Moongate were still there.

Looking through Moongate you catch a glimpse of the sandstone labyrinth, a quiet place to meditate, or take a walk through the trees just beyond and return to the garden via the bridge. Both the labyrinth and the bridge are the result of Greg and Diana’s hard work.

 

Back among the flowers, there are plenty of places to sit and enjoy the various pieces of artwork than can be found at Mandala Gardens, including Talisman, a metal sculpture by Carey Netherton and some delightful little stained-glass windows which are part of the potting shed.

If you are ever in the Marion area of Illinois, I can highly recommend a visit to Manadala Gardens.  Diana was most welcoming and made us feel right at home.

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge – Down on the Farm

The topic for Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge this week is anything farm related.  I have some happy childhood memories of staying at a farm during one summer holiday and, although I don’t think I’d fancy living a farm life, I still enjoy visiting them either locally or when we’re away on one of our trips.  These pictures were taken at Kline Creek Farm, run by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, in West Chicago. This living history farm is open year-round with free admission.

For more on Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge go to Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: All Things Farm Related

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge – Garden of the Gods

This week, Cee’s ‘alphabet with a twist’ is looking for g words, which is lucky for me since I recently spent some time at a place in southern Illinois called Garden of the Gods, part of Shawnee National Forest.

Most people who have driven through Illinois will tell you that much of the State is rather flat and uninteresting but southern Illinois is anything but that, as we discovered last week.

I was told that Garden of the Gods is one of the most scenic and visited areas in Shawnee National Forest and I could see why.  The views were spectacular!

320 million years ago, a shallow sea covered the land shown in the image below. Rivers deposited sand and mud along the shoreline which gradually hardened to stone.

The textures and colors in the layers of rock were stunning! The red-brown swirls and rings are called liesegang bands and are comprised of sandstone and iron.

The paved Observation Trail that winds through the Garden of the Gods takes you through and past some very interesting rock formations including one named Devil’s Smokestack.

 

I wouldn’t recommend bringing young children on this particular trail as there are some steep bluffs that drop 100ft down.  I was very cautious while finding a good spot from which to take pictures and I got quite nervous when I saw my husband, who is in charge of the video camera and is just recovering from knee replacement surgery, swiveling about rather close to the edge in order to get some panoramic views.  Good grief!!!

For more on Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge go to Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Letter G – Needs to have the letter G (log, goggle, geometry, lodge)

Weekly Photo Challenge – Layered

The subject for the Weekly Photo Challenge at The Daily Post is layered and my first thought was for some of the many flowers that grow in the gardens of my photo files. Like ladies in their frilly ball gowns, these blooms show off their layered petals to their best advantage.

For more on the Weekly Photo Challenge go to Layered

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge – Trees

The subject for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge requires two E’s in the title this week, so trees seemed like a good fit. These images were captured at the Chicago Botanic Garden and Morton Arboretum in Spring and Autumn (my favorite time of year.)

“He who plants a tree

Plants a joy;

Plants a comfort that will never cloy;

Every day a fresh reality,

Beautiful and strong,

To whose shelter throng

Creatures blithe with song.

If thou couldst but know, thou happy tree,

Of the bliss that shall inhabit thee.”

Lucy Larcom.

For more on Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge go to Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Letter E – Needs to have two E’s in the topic word

September at Cantigny

Had I not visited their website beforehand, I might have been disappointed when we arrived at Cantigny Park in Wheaton to find that most of the formal gardens were closed for renovation. As it was, I was prepared and, rather than being let down, was interested to see just what improvements they had already made. The ongoing project named New Leaf includes alterations to the First Division Museum, formal gardens, the McCormick house, parking lots and picnic area but, because they seemed to be working mostly in one part of the park, there were still plenty of places to enjoy on a sunny day.

Luckily the Rose Garden was still intact and even though the sprinklers were going at full blast I was able to get close enough to capture a couple of images.

The Pergola that runs parallel to the Rose Garden was decorated with beautiful hanging baskets and, beside this, the ground beneath the trees in the Allee was covered with masses of fallen chestnuts.  Seeing this always reminds me of when we used to collect ‘conkers’ when we were children. I’m sure that game went the way of the Dodo.

The Idea Garden was looking at its best with a mix of vegetables and colorful flowers including some gorgeous dahlias.

 

There was a nice show of Brazilian sage in the Idea Garden which was attracting the bees and also a hummingbird which obligingly landed on a nearby shrub.

The flowers weren’t the only colorful things in the garden. I’m not sure what the armchair thing was all about but there were several scattered about the Park. As usual, I was too eager to start taking pictures to read the sign and have not, subsequently, been able to find out anything about them. If anyone knows, I’d be happy to hear from you.

 

I look forward to returning to Cantigny next year.  It’s hard to imagine how it could look any more impressive than it already does, but it will be interesting to see what improvements they have made.

For more on Cantigny Park visit http://www.cantigny.org/

Dells

Not to be confused with the Wisconsin Dells which are 100 miles south of Plover, the Dells of the Eau Claire County Park in Marathon County, Wisconsin, are spectacular. Divided in two by the Eau Claire River, the Dells offer an abundance of beautiful scenic views and plenty of opportunities for nature photography.

We spent the day wandering along woodland trails and clambering over rocks some of which have been dated at about 1.8 billion years old.

Our granddaughter likes to help find things for me to photograph and did an excellent job of spotting several interesting fungi, a toad and a caterpillar.  In fact she had me taking pictures of practically every leaf, mushroom, acorn and pinecone that we came across. Thank goodness for digital photography!  I don’t know how many rolls of film I would have used, otherwise.

 

 

There are several spots along the river where, if you are agile enough, you can climb onto the rocks that jut out into the water.  It’s amazing what you can do if you want to get a picture badly enough!

I can highly recommend a visit to this park if you are ever in the Plover area of Wisconsin.  I think you’ll find it well worthwhile.