The Forest Park Library Board of Trustees showed their appreciation to the Forest Park Garden Club for landscaping the library grounds in the late spring and early summer of this year, passing an honorary resolution this month.
After the library built an outdoor patio along the Desplaines Avenue side of the building in 2022, officials thought it was a good opportunity to rethink what the rest of the outside space looked like. The staff and the board decided it was something they wanted to involve the community in, leading then-executive director Pilar Shaker to reach out to the Forest Park Garden Club.
The organization decided to take a sustainable approach, picking native plants that would stand up to summer heat and winter road salt. They also wanted to pick plants that would look visually interesting and offer learning opportunities for kids who use the library. During the Nov. 20 board meeting, both garden club members and library trustees said they were impressed with how the new plantings looked so far, with the trustees adding they appreciated all the hard work the garden club put into it.
The new patio was part of the final phase of library renovations, which took place from 2019 to 2022. The idea was to use the Desplaines frontage for outdoor programming, and to give patrons a nice space to hang out.
Garden club members Rick Wagner, who also serves on the Forest Park Arts Alliance board, and Kurt Hansen, who previously sat on the Altenheim Committee, spearheaded the library project. Hansen told the Review that, while the library had a landscaping plan, it was “very 80s,” in the sense that it focused on aesthetics and cost instead of long-term sustainability.
“It [was] like architecture – it’s kind of alive, but it’s not giving anything to the soil or the surroundings,” he said.
Trustee Keary Bramwell told the Review this approach fits one of the library’s long-term priorities – to become more environmentally sustainable.
The garden club decided to start from scratch, looking for plants native to Illinois, ones that would support the local ecosystem and stand up to heat and salt.
“This stuff has been growing [in the area] for hundreds of years,” Hansen said. “We’re planning for what’s going to be growing there for the next 50 years.”
That isn’t to say they didn’t consider the aesthetics at all. Hansen said they chose “interesting” plants that, for example, had different-colored stems.
Another consideration was acoustics. They planted bushes that will create a natural barrier between the patio and the road.
“It will be a good block from the road, dampen the noise and, when you’re sitting [on the patio], you’ll see something that’s not cars,” Hansen said.
Wagner said the club members compiled the list of potential plants, then narrowed it down to what they could realistically buy from Forest Park’s own Empowering Gardens plant shop.
The garden club planted the first trees, shrubs and other plants on May 13. Hansen said they worked for six hours that day and finished the work in June.
Wagner said the garden club appreciated the board reaching out to them and was willing to go along with their ideas. Board president Brooke Sievers told the Review it was a no-brainer.
“It’s easy when you have wonderful community gardeners who are willing to help,” she said.
Hansen said he was concerned that, even after they specifically chose drought-resistant plants, the landscaping wouldn’t stand up to extreme heat throughout the past summer. But he’s been impressed to see that the plants not only survived but thrived beyond even his most optimistic expectations.
“It flourished way bigger than I expected,” Hansen said. “A lot of these are really nice, full plants.”