Sarah Davis’ lifelong passion for flowers began in her mother’s garden in Massachusetts and through botanical knowledge learned at Hartford Female Seminary in Connecticut. She brought this love of nature and gardening from her home in Lenox, MA to her frontier home in Bloomington, IL.
Sarah had a succession of gardens in various locations on the mansion grounds and carefully transplanted her favorite plants from one to another. Some of the plants in these gardens were brought from New England, while others came from exchanges with friends and family, were obtained from the gardens of other prominent homes such as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, or purchased from local nurseries and collected from the surrounding woodlands.
In 1871-72 the current home was constructed, and with it, the existing garden was designed and built by Bloomington surveyor Ira Merchant, which complimented the Italianate features of the mansion. The starburst design included seven raised beds and cinder-covered pathways. It was enclosed by a privet hedge and entered through a stylized gate. At the time it was known as the Upper Garden, but today is affectionately referred to as Sarah’s Garden.
Restoration of Sarah’s Garden began in the 1990s when landscape preservationist Scott Kunst evaluated the garden site. In the early 2000’s horticulture historian Steve McDaniel researched items saved by the family, including Sarah’s letters, receipts from plant purchases, early photographs, and a drawing of the garden.
McDaniel’s research revealed that Sarah’s Garden is an original garden, in the same location, with the original design, and includes many of the same plants enjoyed by Sarah Davis from 1872 until her death in 1879.
This research also resulted in a restoration plan, which is continued today.
The Garden Today
Over 120 documented plants grew in Sarah’s Garden. Of those, 70 can be found in the garden today from heirloom sources. Nearly two dozen plants are original to the garden, including the private hedge on 4 sides.
Just as Sarah Davis lovingly cared for her garden, it continues to be restored, preserved, and maintained by David Davis Mansion staff, University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners in McLean County, and other volunteers.
Sarah’s Garden serves as the inspiration and focal point for our annual summer event, The Glorious Garden Festival, and functions as an outdoor classroom for our Children’s Gardening Program, and other School Programs.
Visiting the Garden
Visitors attending a docent-led tour will be given the opportunity to visit Sarah’s Garden at the end of the program, weather permitting. The garden is also open by appointment by calling (309) 828-1084.