For 26-year-old Andrew LaBanc of Hillsboro, the love of horticulture was cultivated in him at a young age.
LaBanc's (pronounced La-Bank) passion for gardening began at the age of 12 while his family was living in Guam. His father, John, has been in the Navy for all of Andrew's life and is currently a Captain stationed in Okinawa.
In his short life so far, LaBanc has seen many different parts of the world and those experiences have influenced his gardening.
Before moving to Hillsboro in 2012, LaBanc was exposed to numerous tropical plants and has earned advanced certification in Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. He also studied ornamental horticulture while in college in San Diego and has earned the title of Master Gardener through the University of Illinois Extension.
He originally moved here to learn from and work with local produce farmer George Morehouse.
What has captivated his interest – and the attention of passersby – is the straw bale garden he has planted in the backyard of his grandparents, John and Annadel LaBanc.
LaBanc decided to try his green thumb at non-soil gardening after first reading about the practice online.
"The whole practice is quite easy and can produce some amazing results," said LaBanc standing next to his nearly five-and-a-half foot tall tomato plants.
All you need to start one of these gardens are some straw bales, seeds and high nitrogen fertilizer.
"I started some of the seeds inside under grow lights while I properly wetted and fertilized the bales," said LaBlanc. "Once I transferred the seedlings outside and planted them in the bales, everything really took off."
Along with the tomatoes, he has a variety of pumpkins, zucchini and cucumbers in his lush garden.
He says there are four great benefits to straw bale gardening.
First, since the plants are growing out of the bales which are roughly a foot off the ground, it is harder for small wild animals and rodents to find a free meal.
Also, the raised bed means less bending over and resulting muscle strain for those tending the plants.
A dramatic absence of weeds has also been a welcome sight, said LaBanc, who confessed that since starting this garden roughly three months ago, he has yet to pull a single weed.
Possibly the biggest benefit to straw bale gardens is its low negative impact on a person's yard.
There is no tilling and/or digging damage to the existing space, and nutrients from the fertilizer will seep down, enriching soil underneath the bales. This will help the grass regrow once the gardening season is over.
"This type of garden is perfect for those who want a a great return from the vegetables they plant," said LaBanc. "The bales hold in moisture and fertilizer like an incubator so there can be longer periods between each watering, effectively saving the homeowner money."
LaBanc is offering his service to anyone who would like to learn more about straw bale gardening or is looking for some help bringing their current garden and flower bed back to life. For $15 per hour, LaBanc will teach, plant and maintain the garden areas.
Anyone who would like a consult or to hire LaBanc may do so by calling 217-851-9174. Those who need visual proof of his flower and vegetable growing abilities should drive past his grandparents' house on the southeast corner of W. Tremont and S. Oak streets in Hillsboro.
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