Exploration Garden at Swansea Clinton Hills Conservation Park

demonstration areas

Welcome to the Exploration Garden!

Interested in knowing more about the plants around you?

Wander the site and find the circular demonstration gardens. Use your phone to scan the QR code to land here. Take a look below to see what’s planted in each one, and why!

Watch here and follow along as we grow and add more demonstration areas and interactive art in the seasons to come.

By clicking, you can donate, volunteer, and learn more about HeartLands.

Native Soil Rain Garden

The old adage “water flows downhill” ignores the role of plants in slowing and capturing water before it reaches streams. Native plants slow the momentum of water rushing downhill, anchor soils, transfer water into the soil through their root systems, and release water into the atmosphere during photosynthesis. Plants that can tolerate wet feet (roots) and dry conditions are a natural fit for a rain garden.

Plants found here:
• River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
• Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
• Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
• Black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
• Copper Iris (Iris fulva)

Woodland Shade Garden

These plants, like us, like to keep cool in the shade. Some of our native species have evolved to tolerate complete shade or dappled sunlight. Spring wildflower, sedges, and ferns have different strategies to cope with low light conditions, but all thrive under a nice shady tree. Visit this garden starting in the spring to see the show the plants put on throughout the year.

Plants found here:
• Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
• Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)
• Oak Sedge (Carex pensylvanica)
• Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)
• Celadon Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)
• Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis)
• Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Native Landscaping

They may be short, but these native plants pack a punch of aesthetic value and wildlife benefits. Taller wildflowers can obstruct views or appear “weedy” in a landscaping setting, but homeowners can incorporate short native plants for their landscaping projects. These stout native plants will put on a show of colorful blooms and will provide habitat for wildlife.

Plants found here:

• Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
• Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
• Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
• Prairie Coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata)
• Baptisia (Baptisia australis)
• Coral Bells (Heuchera)


Sand Prairie

Sand in Illinois?! Sandy soils have been deposited in parts of Illinois by large rivers and the melting of the glaciers over the last 10,000 years. The hot, dry conditions created by sandy soils are tolerated by some very special native plant species. Did you know that prickly pear cactus occurs naturally in Illinois?

Plants found here:
• Field Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta)
• Prickly Pear (Opuntia)
• Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)
• Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
• Side Oats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)
• Rose verbena (Glandularia canadensis)
• Purple Lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis)

Pollinator Garden

A buzzing buffet of native beauties. Native pollinators, such as butterflies, moths, beetles, bats, birds, flies, wasps, and bees, are drawn to the promise of the nectar or pollen in the flowers of native plants. In turn, the pollinators help native plants reproduce. Enjoy a close up look at the flying critters as they are distracted by their feeding frenzy.

Plants found here:
• Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum)
• Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
• Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
• Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
• Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)
• Baptisia (Baptisia australis)
• Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Shrub Berries

Berries are a shrub’s trick to hitch a ride with animals to new areas. Birds, deer, raccoons, and other wildlife species eat the berries of native shrubs and transport the seeds to new locations.

Plants found here:
• Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)
• Strawberry Bush (Euonymus americanus)
• Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
• Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)
• Maple-Leaved Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)


HeartLands Conservancy began the transformation of the front section of this former golf course into a public demonstration garden and outdoor classroom. The 6-acre garden will feature wildflower meadows, native plant exhibits, interactive educational exhibits, and rainwater demonstrations. Transformation of the site began in 2020 and a majority is expected to be completed by 2023.