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Arboretum's ponds are looking better than ever

Published December 14, 2011
After 17 years, the University of Illinois Arboretum ponds are getting a face lift. This fall, 6,500 native plants were planted on the banks of the ponds along with some emergent plants in the water.

But that's not all. Improvements are being made to almost every facet of the ponds as part of the Dr. Frank A. Kari Walkway and Pond Restoration, a project funded by more than $400,000 donated by Kari's family.

With this gift, weeds were removed and the pond's banks were graded for the new plantings. Two wells and a float fill were also installed to regulate the pond's height so the native plantings would receive a consistent amount of water.

In addition, Duce Construction laid 1,575 linear feet of sidewalk 7 feet wide and 6 inches thick around the ponds. The new sidewalk runs from Japan House around the south edge of the pond, through the oak grove and connects to the current walkway between the north parking lot and Japan House.

"People said the arboretum was a series of spaces," Bill Kruidenier said. "Like a house, it was a series of rooms without a connection. We wanted to pull them together to create a cohesive space."

This fall the arboretum staff also moved or planted more than 90 trees and shrubs with the help of a tree spade donated by Brown Woods Landscaping. Over the past four years, more than 400 trees have been planted in the arboretum. These changes are part of the arboretum's master plan.

"We need to start developing our plant palate," said Diane Anderson, a research and education specialist in landscape horticulture. "We need to start thinking like an arboretum, not like a park."

Plans to improve the arboretum's plant palate and ponds began in 2007 when Kruidenier became the arboretum's interim associate director.

"The staff and I created an inventory of the arboretum's needs," Kruidenier said. "One of our highest priorities was the pond. We wanted to create more of a destination for the campus community and the community of Champaign-Urbana."

In 2008, Anton Endress, a University of Illinois professor emeritus, assigned three students to create a site evaluation, conceptual plan and restoration plan for the ponds. Kruidenier said those "seeds of ideas" were incorporated into the final restoration plan developed by Hande Oral, a Turkish landscape architect on sabbatical in Urbana.

Hande's plan calls for swathes of single species, unlike traditional native plantings with a variety of plants in one flower bed. In all, there will be 50 to 60 native perennial species, including trees and shrubs, incorporated into the arboretum's landscape.

"We are planting one or two species in each group as opposed to what you would find in nature in order to highlight the individual plants," Anderson said. "This way we are able to identify the plants and say here is what Queen of the Prairie looks like, here is what Showy Black-Eyed Susan looks like, etc."

The restoration plans will continue in the spring with the planting of 7,000 to 10,000 plants. Diane Anderson said they will finish planting the pond's banks, the emergent species and begin planting on the arboretum's island, which is currently connected with a land bridge at the south end of the ponds.

The Illinois Land Improvement Contractors Association donated 72 days of their time to build the ponds in 1994. Other donors included: Birkey's Construction Equipment, Capitol Machinery, Champaign Asphalt Co., Kuntz Equipment Co., Roland Machinery Co., and GROWMARK.

The mission of the arboretum and ponds is to discover, interpret and disseminate knowledge in the plant sciences and applied arts by providing an aesthetically enriched setting for education, research, conservation and enjoyment.

"What we really want people on campus to know is we are open to all kinds of ideas about how their programs can be facilitated by the arboretum so it can become a resource for more programs and people," Anderson said.

Contact Anderson at cdianea@illinois with your ideas. To schedule an event or sign up to volunteer, call 217-333-7579 or visit

Digital photos available at