Thirty years ago, Keep Evanston Beautiful, the local chapter of Keep America Beautiful, decided that a good way to beautify our community was to inspire residents to garden. That was the genesis of the Evanston Garden Walk, which is still going strong, now under the auspices of the Evanston Environmental Association. Special credit is given to Nancy Burhop and Maryjane Klein who were present at the birth and to Morgan Simmons, who keeps young at the age of 90 by finding the beautiful gardens featured on the Walk.
The Walk began with a yearly roster of 8 to 10 gardens all around Evanston, and the format hasn’t changed much. Counting the few very special gardens that have been on the Walk more than once, that’s close to 300 private and public gardens that have inspired visitors over the years. The gardens range from multiacre lakefront properties to intimate personal landscapes and beautiful public spaces. For example, the 2019 Garden Walk will feature the Shakespeare Garden on the campus of Northwestern University, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
Perhaps the biggest challenge initially was lining up the gardens for the Walk. Owners who weren’t familiar with the idea probably wondered why people were ringing their doorbells to ask, “May we see your garden?” Nancy remembers a particularly enthusiastic scout driving down the alley and climbing on her car to peer at gardens over the fence. And the treasures they found! One Evanstonian was an avid collector of weeping conifers, which were especially rare at that time. Another was a collector of unusual perennials, including Alpine plants situated on a little stony “mountain” she built specially for them. Then there was the lady in grubby clothes they spied on her hands and knees in the dirt at an Evanston lakefront mansion. It turns out she was the owner.
According to Nancy, “We almost always opted for gardens where the owners play a major role in planning and maintenance. Although professional design and installation is common, we thought visitors would be able to identify more with people who got their hands dirty.” Maryjane, who is a landscape designer herself, was keen on finding owners who used art in the garden or created something really special like an interesting water feature or hardscape. The Garden Walk has evolved as tastes in gardening have evolved and today reflects peoples’ interest in growing vegetables, sustainable gardening and gardening with native plants to attract wildlife. The Garden Walk will continue to showcase gardens that satisfy a broad range of interests to inspire the gardeners of today and tomorrow.
Proceeds from the Evanston Garden Walk support the programs of the Evanston Ecology Center, including scholarships for summer camps for kids.
March 25, 2019