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Garden Club Celebrates ‘100th Birthday’ of Shakespeare Garden

The Garden Club of Evanston, city and University officials gather for centennial

EVANSTON, Ill. --- With spring bursting forth in shades of purple and white in an outdoor sanctuary that has graced Northwestern University’s Evanston campus for 100 years, representatives of the city and the University joined the Garden Club of Evanston to celebrate the centennial of the Shakespeare Garden and their roots in a shared endeavor.

On Sunday, June 14, the garden club hosted an event to mark the 100th anniversary of the club’s founding and its very first project -- the Shakespeare Garden -- both of which date back to 1915. 

Borrowing from William Shakespeare, Garden Club President Trish Barr praised generations of Evanston women who have tended to the garden as well as their partners from the city and the University.

“With apologies to our muse and our namesake, William Shakespeare, I’d like to take a little liberty with some of his most famous words,” Barr said, standing at a podium at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. “The good that women do lives on after them. And, the good that a city does lives on, and the good that a university does lives on.”

The garden flora include varieties of perennials and annuals, shrubs, trees and herbs mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays, including rosemary, lavender, holly, pansy and poppy.

The city of Evanston recently recognized the garden club’s contributions to the community by giving Garrett Place the honorary street name “Shakespeare Garden Founders Way” and declaring June 14, 2015, as “The Garden Club of Evanston Day.”

“Whereas, the Garden Club of Evanston, founded in June 1915 by 25 Evanston women, whose first endeavor was to create a Shakespeare Garden on the campus of Northwestern University ... now therefore, I, Elizabeth B. Tisdahl, mayor of the city of Evanston, do hereby proclaim June 14, 2015, as ‘The Garden Club of Evanston Day’ in commemoration of its 100th anniversary in the city of Evanston,” said the mayor, reading from a framed proclamation highlighting the garden club’s greatest accomplishment.

The garden club’s original membership conceived of the garden to celebrate Shakespeare on the 300th anniversary of his death and to pay tribute to the United State’s World War I British allies.

“This was in the midst of the Great War, World War I, in Europe,” Barr said. “In Great Britain, where many of these women in 1915 had friends and relatives still living, the Brits were suffering terribly. The garden club members thought, ‘Let’s honor them in a beautiful, positive way with a Shakespeare garden.’”

The University deeded a plot of land measuring 70 by 100 feet over to the garden club, and plans were laid in the Evanston home of Mrs. Daniel Burnham.

Jens Jensen, the famed Danish-American landscape architect responsible for much of the Chicago Park District, designed a Tudor-style “hedged-in garden surrounded by a forest border — a sun opening in the woods.” 

Construction took place from 1916 until the garden’s dedication in 1930, when the garden club presented the University with the fountain and Shakespeare bust that adorn the garden entrance to this day.

In 1988, the garden was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It is easy to imagine Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s own “star-crossed lovers,” meeting in secret in the 100-year-old campus garden that bears the great playwright’s name.

Nestled in the middle of Northwestern’s Evanston campus, between Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary and the Technological Institute, the Shakespeare Garden brims seasonally with flowers and shrubs.

Framed by a double wall of dense, thorny hawthorn hedges started from seed in France a century ago, it is a perfect place for students and Evanston residents alike to steal away for a quiet moment on busy days.

“It’s just a wonderful, little, quiet oasis that you can go to and feel kind of removed from the rest of Evanston and Northwestern,” said Linda Eggers, co-chair of the garden club’s Shakespeare Garden Committee. “It provides a quiet contemplative place to just relax and enjoy the surroundings.”

Full of fond memories, the garden has been the site of countless marriages and proposals, anniversary celebrations and first dates. It is also a popular spot for weddings.

Over the past 100 years, the campus bustle has increased as buildings have risen up around it, but the garden retains its Elizabethan feel.

“On behalf of Northwestern University, I want to thank the present, the past and the future members of the garden club,” Alan Cubbage, vice president of University Relations, said. “You have made that site, that little pocket, a really beautiful place. That dedication and that devoted care are something that those of us who work at the University benefit from every single day.”

Did you tie the knot in the Shakespeare Garden? Northwestern magazine is looking for photos of nuptials in the garden. Send pics from the blissful day to photos@northwestern.edu. 

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