A group of eight University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners won the State Master Gardener Teamwork Award. The team consisted of Susan McCabe, Lisa Ziegenhorn, Pat Alexander, Fran Stroemer, Carol Cihla, Margaret Kelly, Jennifer Bass and Ellen Rice.

They were awarded for their Wildlife Federation Mayor’s Monarch Habitat and presented the award during their annual Master Gardener Conference in Normal.

University of Illinois Extension Communications Program Coordinator Anita Wilkinson said there are currently more than 3,200 Master Gardener volunteers in Illinois. The recognition of their work told team member Susan McCabe to keep doing what she has always done.

McCabe has been part of the U of I Extension Master Gardener program for three years but has been an avid gardener for longer.

She said the planning stages for the garden began in January. They grew many of the plants from seed and bought some perennials as well.

They teamed up with Saintly Dragons’ 4-H Club in Pekin along with Girl Scout Troop 4185, also from Pekin, and a home-schooled family. The Master Gardeners did most of the planning and educated the children from the other groups about gardening and the benefits of having monarch pollinators and native and agricultural plants. They also discussed why the use of pesticides was inappropriate for their project.

“As Master Gardeners, we are supposed to teach others,” said McCabe. “We extended this with the monarchs. In recent years, the number of monarchs have decreased. We know we need to increase their food source.”

Gena Goss is the Girl Scout Troop 4185 Leader. She met McCabe at a plant sale, and after they got to talking about McCabe’s desire to help the monarchs, Goss volunteered her troop to help plant and be part of the project.

In April, the Master Gardeners and the Saintly Dragons met at City Hall where Pekin Mayor John McCabe read the Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Pledge. Then they got busy planting a garden. Mayor McCabe also submitted the city garden for Monarch Waystation certification. The Girl Scouts helped plant two separate gardens at a later date. 

Not only did they provide a monarch waystation, they also learned about monarchs and their habitats in formal and informal settings. The children’s curiosity and wonder was welcomed through this team effort in Pekin, and they were encouraged to learn more.

When the group discovered monarch eggs on the milkweed, it sparked 4-H member Anna Soupos to conduct a metamorphosis project. She photographed the metamorphosis process for a 4-H photography project. The guidelines for the project stated that the participant needed to tell a story through the photographs. Soupos dived into the story and won ribbons when she showed her project at the Tazewell County 4-H Show and Junior Fair.

“I thought the coolest thing to come of this was the 4-H project,” McCabe said.

Wilkinson agreed.

“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “I think one of the huge benefits is to connect community groups like adult Master Gardeners to mentor our 4-Hers. It’s awesome for different generations to come together.”

Over the summer months, McCabe and the others watered and weeded the gardens at City Hall, near the “Welcome to Pekin” sign at the east end of town, the garden behind the former Speakeasy on Court Street and near Fast Dragon.

Their efforts paid off. McCabe said they received a letter letting them know they won out of all the entries in the whole state.

“I was pleased, but we would have done it anyway,” McCabe said. “I enjoy seeing plants growing so that was really the purpose.”