A Garden to Kvell Over

Almost every day Judy and I drive by the garden of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston. Today we decided to walk the mile from our house to give it a closer look. This garden was created when the congregation rebuilt their old synagogue so as to meet the highest certification standards of the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.


Entrance to the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation.
Entrance to the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation.

The garden utilizes predominantly native plants and a minimum of inputs. Lying between Dodge Avenue and the west side of the synagogue, it is mostly in full sun, though there are two sizeable redbud trees (Cercis canadensis). (Speaking of sun, the day was quite overcast and less than ideal for taking pictures.)

2014-07-26 17.37.09 JRC

In mid-summer, the garden’s most visually dominant plant is wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). Yellow and purple coneflower (Ratibida pinnata and Echinacea purpurea) and nodding onion (Allium cernuum) were also much in evidence. Not 100% sure about the Allium ID, though.

2014-07-26 17.36.06 JRC

The whole place was buzzing with bees when we were there, and we also saw two Monarch butterflies.

Wild bergamot.
Wild bergamot.

The clumps of wild bergamot seemed remarkably upright, and didn’t seem to be suffering from the dry weather we’ve been having lately.

Nodding onion with purple coneflowers and wild bergamot.
Nodding onion with purple coneflowers and wild bergamot.

There were swathes of wild onion, though mostly not yet in bloom.

Nodding onion
Nodding onion

There were a few exceptions, though. I keep meaning to put some of this Allium into my garden.

Yellow Coneflower
Yellow Coneflower

On the other hand, I have lots of wild bergamot and yellow coneflower, so when I see them in a garden it’s like running into old friends.

Blazing star in front of a wall built with construction debris.
Blazing star in front of a wall built with construction debris.

Extensive use of recycled construction materials is a requirement for the LEED certification.

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A path wanders through the garden, allowing a closer look.

Two benches near the center of the garden.
Two benches near the center of the garden.

There are also a couple of benches for kibitzing or contemplation.

There was still some butterflyweed in bloom.
There was still some butterflyweed in bloom.

On its website, the congregation notes the religious basis for environmental stewardship, including this quote from Ecclesiastes: “God led Adam around the Garden of Eden and said, ‘Look at My works. See how beautiful they are, how excellent. See to it that you do not spoil or destroy My world – for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you’.

2014-07-26 17.37.57

Neither Judy or I are religious people (my family is Jewish, hers is Lutheran), but I find it encouraging when people of any faith recognize that environmental sanity is a moral and practical imperative. Aside from that, it’s always good to find a congregation with a more exciting and creative approach to landscaping their own small piece of the earth.

48 Comments on “A Garden to Kvell Over”

  1. Wow I didn’t know this was here. Thanks so much for posting this. I’m long overdue to visit Evanston, I guess (it’s been since high school pretty much and I won’t say how long ago that was). …I was at Beth Emet on Sundays when I was in grade school. …I really have to get some wild bergamot in my yard. Like the alliums too.

  2. We generally refer to it as Nodding Wild Onion, but that is indeed what it is. It makes a lovely garden addition. I like to combine it with Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis) as an edging to a garden, particularly along a sidewalk.
    What a spectacular garden and how appropriate. Thanks for sharing!

  3. That’s a beautiful garden, Jason and Judy! The Wild Bergamot must smell wonderful, too! I agree with you 100% on your last few sentences. And the Ecclesiastes verse is one that more people should think about. I don’t know how a person can be of faith and waste the earth with a clear conscience. None of us are perfect, but stewardship seems like an important goal. If we all included stewardship in our personal sets of values, the world would be a much better place.

  4. I think it is wonderful that they have created such a sanctuary here! And their use of natives is magnificent! Well worth the walk and I think this is the perfect example of unity between the building and the garden! Just stunning as are those photos!!! Nicole

  5. Wonderful post because it’s just interesting to see church gardens. (There was a beautiful Catholic church garden in my city’s garden tour this year.) I really like what you said about yellow coneflowers being like ‘old friends’. That’s how I feel about perennials and how we only get to see them once a year.

    Have a great day.

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