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Voices of ACES Blog

Cultivating Community at the 2024 Spring Plant Fair

Four students smiling inside a plant-filled trailer on a sunny day.

As the organizer of this year’s Spring Plant Fair at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, I truly enjoyed working with our club to plan an event centered around horticulture on campus. Looking back, we certainly accomplished our goal of educating, entertaining, and sparking a passion for gardening for those who attended.

The plant sale was one of the largest and most anticipated parts of the Spring Plant Fair. We took on the ambitious plan to grow more than 3,500 plants across 110 different cultivars spanning from annual flowers, such as cosmos and zinnia, to vegetables, such as peppers and tomatoes, to perennials, such as blazing star and prairie dropseed. Growing these plants could not have been possible without our greenhouse care team who helped with watering and plant care throughout the semester. Many of our visitors were especially curious about the more novel plants that we offered this year, such as dark opal basil, which has purple leaves, and teddy bear sunflower, which is a dwarf sunflower that looks super fuzzy!

Guests pick out plants at the Spring Plant Fair
Plant sale area at the Spring Plant Fair (Photo Credit: Juliana Gurevich)

However, this year’s fair was about more than just selling plants; it was an educational experience and a way to engage with the community. For instance, we hosted workshops on a range of topics from “Growing Outstanding Orchids in the Home” led by Terry Moore of the Central Illinois Orchid Society to “Perennials for Pollinators” presented by our club co-advisor, Dr. Andrea Faber Taylor. These workshops provided valuable learning opportunities for everyone, from novice gardeners to seasoned green thumbs.

We also highlighted other plant-related clubs on campus and in our community. Organizations like the Bonsai Society of Central IllinoisField and Furrow, Illini Urban Farmers, and many more had the opportunity to showcase their work, share their knowledge, and recruit new members. We certainly hope to partner with even more organizations in the future to further increase our reach.

Running the Spring Plant Fair would have been impossible without our wonderful volunteer force. Taking on roles from Plant Ambassadors to cashiers to greeters, they played a central role in making the experience special for our visitors. Mia Eschman, our recently appointed head grower shared, "My favorite thing was being super involved in such a big production that I had never seen from a student organization before. It was like preparing for my home garden times 500." This enthusiasm is what made this event so impactful and what we hope to continue in the future.

Spring Plant Fair team stands in the Stock Pavilion
Some of our amazing volunteers who helped make this event possible (Photo Credit: Jack McCoy)

Reflecting on the success of the 2024 Spring Plant Fair, it's clear that this was more than just a plant sale – it was an experiential learning opportunity for visitors and a way to engage with our plant-loving community here at the U. of I. As we look forward to hosting the Spring Plant Fair in the future, we remain dedicated to improving this special Mom’s Weekend outing year after year. We're grateful for the community's support, and look forward to hosting more Horticulture Club events this coming fall. We hope to see you at the 2025 Spring Plant Fair!