In the beloved classic children’s novel “The Secret Garden,” a recently orphaned young girl and her cousin – who was thought to be unable to walk – heal emotionally and physically as they work together to cultivate a previously locked and neglected garden on the old English estate they call home. While the 110-year-old story itself is a work of fiction, the numerous benefits of gardening are very real – so it’s no wonder this pastime continues to flourish as a perennial favorite around the world.
Whether it is the well-manicured, orderly grounds of the nearly 400-year-old gardens at the Palace of Versailles just outside Paris; the Keukenhof in the Netherlands, where more than 7 million flowers burst forth in a riot of color each spring; or the delightful blooms springing from the earth at a local park or conservatory, gardens impart a sense of awe and wonder while inspiring our artistic sensibilities with their designs and colors. A world-renowned horticultural wonder can be found at Lombard’s own Lilacia Park, which boasts more than 700 lilacs and 35,000 tulips annually and was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019. Local garden lovers can also get their floral fix at the Elmhurst Park District’s Wilder Park, which features an 83-year-old Conservatory.
The appeal of gardens can have roots in more than just flowers. Some gardens provoke deep thought; Scotland’s Garden of Cosmic Sensibilities – which is open to the public just one day each year – offers whimsical interpretations of natural principles and phenomena such as black holes and the history of the universe, while traditional Japanese rock gardens such as those throughout Kyoto offer tranquil spaces for reflection and meditation. Some gardens pique visitors’ curiosity with their unusual contents; undeterred by the skull and crossbones on the menacing black gates, some 800,000 tourists are drawn each year to the Alnwick Poison Garden in England, which is home to more than 100 species of toxic plants, including hemlock, foxglove and belladonna. Some gardens impart symbolism and important messages; the International Peace Garden on the border of the United States and Canada, for instance, was founded nearly 100 years ago to foster and celebrate peace. Some gardens serve as a testament to the triumph of human ingenuity, like the hydroponic garden growing tomatoes, herbs, lettuces and other plants to feed the staff at Australia’s Davis Station in Antarctica. As you might guess, the staff’s main challenge is to keep everything from freezing!
While visiting a beautiful or unusual garden is certainly an edifying experience, any gardener will tell you that actually working in the space – whether carefully tending herbs, gently pruning a rose bush or digging plump carrots out of the soil – brings its own unique satisfactions. Outdoor gardening also brings numerous health benefits, such as building strength, fostering better sleep (all that fresh air!), boosting mood and improving memory – so it’s no wonder residents at Lexington Square Elmhurst and Lexington Square Lombard enjoy spending so much time relaxing or working in the retirement communities’ beautiful gardens.
The pandemic has served to further cultivate gardening’s popularity as people around the country and the world continue to seek new ways to beautify their surroundings. Luckily, there
are many opportunities for newly minted gardeners to learn the basics and plant the seeds for success. Staff at local gardening stores, like Hacker’s Glenbard Gardens in Lombard, are always happy to answer questions and help with plant selection, and a wide variety of gardening websites and YouTube channels place a variety of resources right at your fingertips (and soon-to-be green thumb). Members of garden clubs like those in Lombard and Elmhurst also love sharing gardening information and tips. Don’t have the time or space to start a garden at your own home? See if your local park district offers community garden plots like those maintained by the Elmhurst Park District and Lombard Park District.
With the last frost of the season (hopefully) behind us, it is the perfect time to dig into the joys offered by gardens, whether it is a morning spent marveling at nature’s wonders at a local garden, park, forest preserve or arboretum – or an afternoon spent cultivating your own.