The Evanston Garden Walk

The last time I went on the Evanston Garden Walk was in 2007, and I swore I wouldn’t go again. What stuck in my craw was that the event seemed to show off  the gardens of people who were not gardeners, but who hired a pricey but very nice local garden center to produce an instant garden. In general it was garden center staff, and not the actual gardeners, who were showing off the yards and answering questions.

In the most egregious case, a youngish couple were reclining on their lawn furniture, completely absorbed in their laptops and ignoring all the garden walk participants. I wanted to go up to the man and grab his laptop and deliver the following speech: “Sir! One does not earn the right to a beautiful garden simply by writing a check. To give you a chance to think about this, I’m going to take this laptop  with me. You can ask for it to be returned at the end of the growing season.”

However, I’m really not the kind of person who holds a grudge. After a five-year hiatus, I went on the Evanston Garden Walk again, and I’m glad I did. What follows is a summary of highlights and things where there is room for improvement.


First of all, for the most part this Garden Walk included gardeners’ gardens, and the homeowners were very friendly and eager to discuss their plants and designs. While many of the gardens had been installed with the help of professionals, the owners also had hands on involvement, as indicated by the following objets d’art.

Second, I was impressed by how certain long, narrow yards were made to seem much more spacious, including some very nice “garden rooms” for relaxing, dining, etc.

Third, lots of water features that made me very jealous, including the above.

Finally, in what may be a first, the Garden Walk included the Evanston Township High School organic garden. I thought this was positive both because the project deserves recognition, and also because it’s in my part of town (more on that below).

Areas for Improvement

Very roughly  speaking, my adopted home town has two distinct areas. The first is near Lake Michigan in the east and in the northwest, close to the Northwestern University (NU) campus. These areas range from very affluent to just unbelievably affluent. Then there’s the central west and southwest areas, where I live, which are much more diverse economically and racially. With the exception of the High School vegetable garden, all of the gardens included in the walk were in the east and northwest. Members of the Evanston Garden Club! There are some very nice home and other gardens in the west part of town! Check it out and see if you can’t be a little more inclusive next time.

The walk included the newly landscaped home of the NU President. Frankly, I thought it was pretty conventional and not very interesting.  I can understand why that would be: limited budget, conservative alumni to keep happy, and a need for a very large area of lawn for receptions, etc. But I think this home could have been left out without any great loss.

Newly landscaped NU President’s home.

11 Comments on “The Evanston Garden Walk”

  1. “Love” the use of the word ubiquitous and objets d’ arte (that really aren’t)! Hopefully, there were some nice plant combinations. The large teal pot water feature is quite nice. Yeah, the hired gardeners bit is a bit deflating, but a lot of times the garden walks are sort of sponsored or underwritten by a landscaper or garden center so it is hard to get around that.

  2. I wonder if the organizers of the 2007 Garden Walk got some negative feedback about the “professional” gardens; I’m sure you weren’t the only one who was unhappy about it. My favorite garden tour gardens are the extraordinary ones by amateur gardeners for whom the garden has been a lifelong obsession and a labor of love; I almost always learn something new or get some new inspiration from those. I do love the teal urn and the hostas — but I think an urn of that magnitude to set among my hostas is out of my budget. 😐

  3. I agree that my favorite garden walks have lots of people who love to show off the gardens they work on and talk about gardening with strangers. For home gardens, I prefer these homemade imperfect gardens to manicured professional jobs. I will say there was one exception to this. Although there was one house where the owner readily admitted she know nothing about gardening, but the pleasure and pride she showed in her garden was so intense and genuine that you could hardly hold it against her. The independent garden designer who had worked on putting it together was there, and you would think she was the owner’s daughter from how much kvelling was going on.

  4. I too prefer the gardens of the plant crazed or at least plant passionate & never trust a “gardener” with completely clean hands. However, the more affluent among us have always had grounds designed and tended by others. There are worse ways for them to spend their money. At least they’re supporting a variety of garden industries which can, in turn, offer the rest of us cool plants and ideas. I get your point though, we think of a garden as a living and ongoing passion vs. another possession. Money can buy a beautiful garden but it can’t buy love.

    It would be nice to come to a place where we can appreciate just about any garden from a bean planted in a styrofoam cup by a child to the gardens at Versailles. O.K. that was a fleeting moment of zen; You take his laptop & I’ll get hers!

  5. You make some valid points. I’m not against the the wealthy spending money on beautiful landscaping. (Though, honestly, have you seen Versailles? I did for the first time in April and I thought much of it was grotesque.) I guess I would just restate my preference that garden walk of private homes should be a gardener-
    to-gardener event. Or maybe I just want one of those new laptops.

  6. We have an open gardens scheme in the UK where private gardens open to the public once a year. The ones I enjoy the most are those with a personality of their own, usually reflecting the tending gardener. My favourite belonged elderly lady who had stuffed her garden with plants from top to bottom, most of them grown from cuttings or seeds. Most memorable for the image of her plumes of cigarette smoke drifting upwards among the arum lillies! I could really sense the years of care that had gone into the place and the gardener’s sense of pride at the appreciation of the common people. She called it ‘gardening on a shoestring.’

  7. So nice to see this posting on Evanston. Friends of mine come up here from there every other weekend and we go sailing, etc. I have visited there and enjoyed some of the wonderful homes. I liked your comment about the fact that some of the people who have gardens in shows like this are really not true gardeners, but hire gardeners to do the work. How true your statements are. I do all the work here at my gardens along the shore of Lake Michigan. It is lots of work but a hobby that I do enjoy. The lake adds so much to the gardens, and I often have it as a backdrop in many of the photos I post on my Blog, I also enjoyed your posting on daylilies. I have posted a number of the ones I have hybridized and will be doing more of the new ones which are blooming for the first time this year. Some really great new plants that I just give away to those who appreciate their beauty. See you soon. jack

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