Allerton Park & Retreat Center

Allerton’s Bulb Garden gets new life, thanks to memorial gift

The Bulb Garden at Allerton Park and Retreat Center is being renewed thanks to an honorary gift.

by Bridget Frerichs
05.02.17

Monticello – The Bulb Garden at Allerton Park and Retreat Center is being renewed thanks to a gift in honor and remembrance of Mark E. Roszkowski, given by his wife Christie, of Champaign.

Allerton staff poses on freshly-laid sod, April 2017.

Mark grew up in Rockford, IL and received a BS in Accountancy and Juris Doctorate Degree from the University of Illinois. While attending the U of I, Mark played goaltender for the Illini hockey team and later served as the head coach for Illini Hockey. He was a professor in the College of Business from 1979 until his retirement in 2013. During that time, thousands of undergraduate accounting students took his courses, which proved to be memorable.

“I have met his former students wherever I go,” said Christie.  “When I was in Belgium a couple of years ago, I was introduced to someone who immediately asked me if I was related to Professor Roszkowski. Invariably they tell me what a wonderful teacher he was and share something they remember from the class.”

Mark and Christie met while she was attending graduate school at the U of I. On their second date, they went to Allerton.

“Despite the weather – it was one of those grey drizzly fall days – we had a wonderful time,” Christie recalls. “After that, we visited pretty regularly, at least two or three times each year and usually more often. Several times, we picnicked here with friends on Mark’s birthday in September. That is always a beautiful time of year at the Park.”

After Mark passed away in March of 2016, Christie knew she wanted a memorial that would mean something to him.

“He loved to come out to Allerton and found it a great place to destress,” she explained. “After I saw that Allerton was developing a Master Plan, it seemed like a perfect opportunity.”

Christie met with Allerton staff to discuss opportunities for a memorial gift, and decided the Bulb Garden’s quiet, discrete location opening up to the Meadow was the perfect project.

“Like many people, Mark and I learned about gardening by working in our own yard, but we also liked to visit botanical gardens when we traveled so that we could learn about different plants. I hope that when it is fully developed, the garden will be a place where visitors can learn about plants they might not otherwise be familiar with,” Christie said. “I hope that the Bulb Garden will become a place where visitors will just sit and rest and absorb the beauty both of a formal garden and of nature in general.”

In its prime, Robert Allerton’s original Bulb Garden featured 105 multi-season bulbs and annual plantings, but the garden hasn’t been properly maintained since the mid-1990s. Over the past two years, Allerton staff have been slowly implementing phases of the garden restoration with donations from the Friends of Allerton annual fund donors and the Garden Party Fundraisers.

Phase 1 of the Bulb Garden Renewal included the addition of a winding sidewalk in 2015.

Christie’s gift allowed the progress to accelerate in completing the restoration, to be known as the Mark E. Roszkowski Memorial Garden, and provides an endowment that will ensure the long-term care for the garden. Allerton staff notes that Christie’s experience as a gardener has proved helpful in understanding the timeline for this multi-phase project.

“Christie is a gardener, and she sees this project through the eyes of a gardener,” explained Allerton’s Associate Director Derek Peterson. “She has the patience and the vision to allow the garden to fill-in naturally and evolve over the next few years. And her work ethic is a plus too.”

Christie has already put in several hours planting the garden alongside Allerton staff. The Park is asking for volunteers from the community to come out to help with the final phase – planting 1,500 perennials on May 8 and 9. Christie welcomes this opportunity to encourage community involvement – and support – of Allerton.

“About 10 years ago, Mark and I noticed that one of the walls (at Allerton) was in disrepair,” Christie remembered. “We said something like it is too bad that the University doesn’t take better care of the place.”

Since then, Christie notes that she has learned that the University does not have significant funds to devote to Allerton, and because of the lack of state funding, the Park has plans to become self-sufficient by 2022.

“I hope that people who visit the Park will realize sooner than I did that it is important to support Allerton financially,” Christie said. “I hope that Allerton will become recognized for the fantastic place that it is.”

For more information on the Bulb Garden renewal, or volunteering for the planting on May 8-9, email allertoninfo@illinois.edu or call 217-333-3287. Photographs courtesy F. Replinger Photography. 

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