Monday, May 3, 2010

Robert Allerton Park

As I mentioned earlier, Friday my mom and I went to Robert Allerton Park in Monticello. The park contains the manor (usually not open to the public) and the formal gardens of the late Mr. Allerton (my mom tells me he had quite the life, but I will let those interested do their own research on that), and quite a few hiking trails along the Sangamon River and its floodplain. It's owned by the University of Illinois, and should you want to visit, admission is free. I should warn you first: October to April is the best time to visit. Summer months a trip to the park feels more like donating blood to the bazillions of voracious mosquitoes that frequent the area. I think if you applied enough DEET to keep those hordes off, it might actually be fatal....

I've seen some nice birds there, including: pileated woodpecker, a whole family group of red-headed woodpeckers, nice mix of warblers during migration, several dozen ruby-throated hummingbirds feasting on jewelweed. But the attraction is not just the birds themselves. It's also the grounds.

There are a series of formal gardens, all a little off-beat in my opinion: a sunken garden with fish sculptures and a big wall, an avenue of statues of "Chinese musicians" that look a little diabolic to me; the dying centaur, a statue in the woods, and further down the road, the Sunsinger, a statue of Apollo, and a fu dog garden, with brilliant blue fu dogs, which were considered guardian spirits in the Orient. On the other side of the park is the Lost Garden, which contains a column of trees leading to---just a platform. Whatever may have been there is, I guess, lost....

The appeal of the garden is not what it is so much as what it evokes. Despite the fact that it is maintained by the University, and certainly not left to go to ruin, it has a lost or secret garden sort of feel -- a little weedy and forgotten, despite the crowds of visitors that belie this impression. Maybe it's just me, but sometimes the fu dogs seem a little...weird. And I could easily imagine those Chinese musicians getting up to no good in the night---the statues, in some way, coming to life. On our last trip, my mom was weirded out the the Lost Garden, perhaps because I'd been teasing her by suggesting that the empty platform used to hold scenes from a debauched Satyricon, with Priapus presiding over all. My mom claims that this image gave her nightmares. You're welcome, birding buddy!

The Allerton park inspires my creativity; I always feel like there's a story there, just out of reach.... But this is my Birding Blog, not my wacky creativity blog, so I'll end with this: the area behind the fu dog garden, a woody place leading down to the Sangamon River, is a very attractive walk and GREAT FOR WARBLERS in spring and fall; around the visitor center and the formal gardens I have seen chipping sparrows,titmice, red-bellied and pileated woodpeckers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and Carolina wrens; and definitely, in the fall, seek out the marshy area in between the visitor center and the manor...I once saw dozens of hummingbirds there.

And in the summer...bring bug spray.


  1. Allerton Park and it's owners have a rich Illinois history. The book, Robert Allerton: the Private Man and the Public Gifts, explains what happened to the Lost Garden, and also tells about his life there and the many parties and friends he had. It's an excellent book if you want to know more about him. Here was a man who had friends such as John Jacob Astor, Teddy Roosevelt, Marshall Fields and others living in Piatt County, Illinois just 7 miles north of my home. I find it all very amazing.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation. Although I know nothing about the history of the garden, I think it's a fascinating place to visit.