“Ice cream” gardens display whimsy, bring visitors to social

Originally published in the Kenosha News

By Horticulture Educator, Jeanne Hilinske-Christensen


BRISTOL — On a lazy Sunday afternoon, the All-America Select display gardens at the Kenosha County Center held the nectar for bees and butterflies alike.

But they also had the added lure of ice cream, lemonade and candy for visitors who dropped in to smell the dianthus and sample a few of the orange, red and black tomatoes.

In fact, the “Ice Cream Sunday” theme was prevalent throughout the 15 raised beds and planters in color, both subtle and brilliant.

Beneath the trees that surround the gardens maintained by Master Gardeners at the Kenosha County Center, 19600 75th St,, about two dozen people gathered throughout the afternoon taking in the beauty of the plants grown with organic methods in an open-air site on the center’s northwest side.

The Master Garden program encourages visitors to learn about the all-American selections, including flowers, vegetables and fruit, a number of which are being trial-grown for future commercial marketing for the home gardener.

Jeanne Hilinske-Christensen, interim horticulture educator for the Master Gardener program, said the gardeners also take part in an annual contest for landscape design, one which has netted the county program national awards, including a second and two third place recognitions in the four years since the county garden was established.

Ice cream social theme

While the national contest theme changes each year, so do the garden arrangements. This year, the national contest is promoting the theme of being “social in the garden,” which led to the master gardeners coming up with the “ice cream” garden and a mini-ice cream social replete with cones, candy and lemonade to stave off the sweltering heat.

Normally, the annual showcase of more than 60 select plants, takes place during the week, but this year it was held on a Sunday in keeping with the theme of an ice cream social and sundaes.

Hilinske-Christensen said, in researching ice cream socials, they found that “ice cream gardens” did exist back in the late 1700s to about the 1820s and served as safe havens for young couples who were courting.

“Basically, it was a confectionary where they served lemonade, ice cream, cookies and things like that,” she said.

“I think it was just a way to satisfy a sweet tooth,” said Leon Potter, one of about 150 Master Gardeners who participate in gardening projects each year and volunteer year-round assisting home gardeners with questions on horticulture.

Creative features

Gardeners and non-gardeners alike took advantage of site, perusing its raised beds with their creative and whimsical features.

On one side, were the sculptures of “Gertrude and Victoria,” whose seated sillouettes were notably constructed with shovels topped with fashionable cream and gray straw hats and dressed in blue paisley and white and beige linen. Each figure donned garden gloves and appeared to hold clay pots displaying “Celosia Asian Garden” with its dainty, yet firey red blooms.

Next to the “ladies” were large black tubs out of which grew two hybrids: “Pumpkin Pepitas,” grown for its seeds, and Pumpkin Cindarella’s Carriage;” each were adorned with tall ice cream dishes filled with more plants.

Between them sat a small picnic basket holding the medium dark red variety of “Geranium Calliope.”

Master Gardener Melody Orban, of Kansasville, who participates in a Real Racine garden program, said she stops in at the display gardens frequently. She said she was impressed by the selection grown by local Master Gardeners.

She enjoyed the creativity tied to the theme.

“So, I saw these lovely ladies at the picnic tables and wondered how they were made,” she said of seated garden sculptures. “I just love that kind of quirky garden art because it just makes you smile.”

“It’s great to have this all here,” she said, adding that she finds herself walking through the gardens before and after meetings she attends at the County Center. “You’re happy to take a walk out here and maybe take that and steal that idea and use it in your own garden.”

Plenty of varieties

In a shaded area, were All-America Select winners including dwarf varieties of purple coneflower, otherwise known as echinacea, and alpine strawberries, some of which sprouted from a pink doll bed frame, which appeared to be guarded by a pair of gnomes.

As Richard Ahlefeldt of Pleasant Prairie walked through the gardens, he snapped photos of many of the flowers and vegetables on display. And he quietly approach a Tiger Swallowtail fluttering in and out of the sunshine, while attempting to take its picture of it as it landed on flowers in a raised trough designed to be handicapped accessible. He plans to enter his photos in the county fair.

“The (gardens) are beautiful. They really are. I never think of things like this,” he said. “The one with the plates…well, I get rid of all these plates at my house and I give them all away to Goodwill. And, here they are, ones like them, right here. But I like the raised beds a lot better, because they’re easy to maintain.”

”Sundae” in flowers

One of the most interesting features of the garden included the giant saucer-shaped planter out which grew the bright orange of the South Pacific Scarlet canna, surrounded by “Supra Pink” dianthus interspersed with strawberries to complete the ice cream sundae look, although the cherry in the middle became obscured by the strong plant growth.

“The cannas got so large, you can’t see the white petunias, which was the whipped cream and there’s a cherry on top,” said Hilinske-Christensen.

The planter is actually an old satellite dish that was taken down off the county center roof which was being repaired a couple years ago.

“They were going to throw it in the landfill. But we felt we should be more sustainable, so that’s why we brought it down here,” she said. “All we had to do was fill it and level it. The maintenance staff was wonderful helping to move it around.”