College of ACES
College News

Behind the greenhouse glass: fragrant, tasty, odd, and often surprising

Published March 26, 2012
Most of us associate flowers and fruits with the warm months, but Plant Care Facilities (PCF) coordinator Nathan Deppe says horticulture projects are going on all year at the University of Illinois. In fact, research specialist Chuck Voigt organizes an Annual Herb Day in January because "gardeners are getting really itchy, herb gardeners particularly."

Voigt does his work on herbal plants in the 2E range of Turner Hall greenhouses. "I keep stock plants of a lot of cultivars of different herbs," he said. "I have lots of rosemary, lots of thyme."

"They make great show-and-tell things to take into the class and amaze and instruct," said Voigt. "I keep them going and take them out and do some field research to see how they do in central Illinois."

Other herbs include cardamom ("The foliage does not get used much but it has a warm fragrance and would make a wonderful after-shave," he commented), bay trees, allspice, a champagne (pink) blueberry and lemon verbena, which he says "is a better lemon than lemons, it's sweeter. If you have a plant like that by your patio, you can take a couple of branch tips and crush them and put them in a pitcher with some ice water."

Voigt focused on garlic for over 10 years. "It's fun to grow once you get the point that it's a fall bulb. You plant it in October, it goes through the winter, it grows through the following year you harvest it in July." Since he started teaching the Home Horticulture for non-majors (Hort 106), he has worked more with plants that he can focus on after finals are over.

Voigt works with All America Selections trials. Seed companies submit "new and improved" seeds to judges at various locations around North America, who grow the variety plus two or three comparison varieties to see if it is, in fact, superior and if it is adaptable to the region. Varieties that do particularly well get an All America designation.

"We have a basil in it, a snap pea; last year we had a tomatillo. Those are kind of fun," he said.

In addition to Voigt's herbs, the 2E range in Turner contains a plant collection room --- tropical plants, cacti, succulents, foliage plants -- for class use. "Different horticulture classes can go in there, and teachers can ask to look at these plants," said Deppe.

He explained that there are many other interesting ongoing horticulture projects. "For example, Dianne Noland uses the 2E range for her perennial class and floral production class."

Other horticulture classes include Hort 341 Greenhouse Production and Management and Hort 441 Floral and Nursery Crop Production courses taught by Dave Williams. "Students learn how to propagate plants from cuttings so they can be mass produced for sale," said Deppe. Additionally, Robert Skirvin uses space in two greenhouse rooms, where he teaches students to properly graft apple trees.