Tales From the Garden’ Part 3

I drove out to the Chicago Botanic Garden early one sunny morning in June for my third summer. Where would they ask me to volunteer this time?

Mary, who ran the Volunteer Office at that time, thought I might enjoy being a docent in the English Walled Garden. It was a good choice. I always enjoyed that garden when I went there on my own. The English Walled Garden is a very calm, peaceful and beautiful place. I would go there frequently, sit on one of the benches, and soak in the atmosphere.

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Entering the English Walled Garden, from the Chicago Botanic Garden

Going to the English Walled Garden is like stepping back into the past when life was slower and people had more time for things like gardening. It’s like walking through a small rural village in England and peeking into everyone’s front yard to see what colorful plants they have growing. It could be 2004 or 1904.

John Brookes, an English landscape architect, designed the English Walled Garden in 1971 and he comes back periodically to consult with the staff and update it. It’s composed of six garden “rooms” open to the sky: The Checkerboard Garden, Cottage Garden, Daisy Garden, Formal Garden, Pergola Garden and the Vista Garden. Each room is different but all make you feel like you’re in England.

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The Checkerboard Garden, from the Chicago Botanic Garden

That summer, lots of visitors came to the English Walled Garden. I enjoyed meeting them and showing them around. We had some interesting conversations. Frequently they would tell me that they were growing, or had tried to grow, this or that plant and how much nicer it looked here. They wanted to know what we did so they could try our techniques when they returned home.

Many visitors said the English Walled Garden gave them new ideas for what plants to plant in their own gardens when they got home. A number came from other countries. They had heard about the English Walled Garden from friends of theirs who had traveled to Chicago. Some were repeat visitors. They said that they came to the Chicago Botanical Garden, and the English Walled Garden in particular, whenever they came to Chicago.

Talking with all the visitors and hearing these comments made this one of my happiest summers volunteering.




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    • Claire Murray on November 3, 2015 at 10:01 am
    • Reply

    Thanks, Sue. It is. I try to stop by there whenever we’re in the area.

    • Sue Remisiewicz on November 1, 2015 at 4:20 pm
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    Your experience as a docent really comes through in the details you share. Sounds like a lovely place to visit.

    • Kelly Bixby on October 23, 2015 at 2:11 pm
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    Claire, your article reminds me of a friend who is a master gardener. I used to visit her home and found it completely relaxing to be in her yard, where all the hard work of tending to a garden had been lovingly taken care of.

      • Claire Murray on November 3, 2015 at 10:00 am
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      Thanks, Kelly. It sounds like a lovely place to visit.

    • Kook-Wha Koh on October 22, 2015 at 7:10 pm
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    The pictures are beautiful.
    I enjoyed to read it.

      • Claire Murray on November 3, 2015 at 10:00 am
      • Reply

      Thanks, Kook-Wha. That’s nice to hear.

    • Karen Kittrell on October 21, 2015 at 9:35 am
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    Claire, I’ve waited a month for your next garden post. I lingered over your words “open to the sky” and “stepping back into the past.” Memories flooded into my mind of two laughing preschool boys exploring the brick paths scaled to their small legs and protected within the walls from cool winds or harsh sun. You have brought true joy to my day. The Walled Garden is “a room without a roof” as in the lyrics to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”

      • Claire Murray on November 3, 2015 at 9:59 am
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      That’s so nice to hear. Yes, that’s one of the things I always enjoyed about volunteering there, was to see the families with children enjoying the Garden!

  1. It’s been 30 years or more now, but your blog and the pictures took me back in time. It is a wonderful place. Thanks for sharing. -P

      • Claire Murray on November 3, 2015 at 9:58 am
      • Reply

      You’re welcome. I’m glad it brought back some good memories!

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