A Work In Progress: The Willard House Garden Restoration

2020 was a watershed year when much of the research, planning, and preparation for the Willard House Garden historic reconstruction efforts came to fruition. Beginning with a planning grant we received from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, we have worked to make the gardens surrounding the house a unique and special setting for Evanston’s first National Historic Landmark.

Years of work were done prior to 2020. The gardens were cleared of weeds and plants that were in bad shape, with new plantings added for aesthetics. Once the reconstruction plan was in place, basic horticultural practices were begun including a soil test, mapping sun exposure, and amending the soil. Routine garden maintenance was also implemented. The gardens were reshaped to match historic pictures from our archives and reflect the scale of a middle-class Victorian garden.

Based on research by landscape historian Barbara Geiger, a plan was developed to recreate the 1887-1891 look of the gardens in front of the house – south of the porch and under the first-floor office – which are the most historically significant areas and are shown in historic photos. Gardens in the Victorian vernacular style were also planned for the south side of the house and the north side at the front entrance.

Implementation started in earnest with the re-creation of some key features found in historic photos. A ladder trellis and wooden walkway were installed (the walkway was funded by a grant from Evanston’s Lincolnwood Garden Club). In 2020, the original urn base and urn were added. And a dovecote similar to one that was in the rear of the yard was constructed (by Sam Lewis, father of former Museum Scholar-in-Residence Rachel Lewis, with donated materials from Evanston Lumber).

Following extensive research on historic plantings, sources were developed that included seed vendors and local and mail-order nurseries. Appropriate plants were selected based on Geiger’s research, and books with lists of plants used in the time period were consulted. In total, over 60 annuals, 205 bulbs, and 169 perennials were planted. This year, we will be purchasing the annuals again, and add 100 bulbs and 30 new perennials.

The careful stewardship of the Willard House gardens has been the work of Glen Madeja, who served as CWHL Executive Director from 2012-2019 and now serves as “Head Gardener.” Though Glen has moved out of his administrative duties, we are very grateful he continues to work in the garden. Without Glen’s care and feeding, the gardens would not look as beautiful and historic as they do today!

In addition, while we are so appreciative of the grants we have received for planning and implementation, almost all of the work in the garden has been funded by small donations. We hope you will join in the effort to re-create this beautiful space and donate this year to continue the work of planting and maintaining the Willard House gardens.

Please make checks payable to CWHL, 1730 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, IL 60201 or donate online (preferred method) at https://071.a38.myftpupload.com/support/donate/

Note “gardens” on your check or online donation form.

Thank you!