Evanston Garden Fair seeks to foster community through plants and grants


Kelly Cloonan/The Daily Northwestern

Club members sell plants from beneath a striped tent. The Evanston Garden Fair ran from May 20 to 21 at Independence Park on Stewart Avenue.

Kelly Cloonan, Reporter

Evanston resident Holly Jordan was shopping on Evanston’s Central Street a few years ago when she happened upon Evanston Garden Fair’s red-and-white striped tent. 

Inside, she said she found tables of plants and many passionate gardeners eager to give advice, including members of the Lincolnwood Garden Club, a group of resident garden enthusiasts aiming to spread love of garden history and design, as well as flower arrangement.

“These ladies are highly knowledgeable,” Jordan said of the club’s 35 members. “I’ve had a garden for a long time, but I don’t know all the names and ins-and-outs and everything else. So I’ve learned some stuff from them.”

Now a member of the gardening club herself, Jordan was behind the booth this year recommending plants and offering tips to customers at the fair’s first run following a two-year hiatus.

Garden Club members ran this year’s fair on May 20 and 21 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at  Independence Park on Stewart Avenue. They sold hundreds of flowers, herbs, vegetables and other plants, many of which came directly from club members’ gardens, president Judy Elsass said.

Elsass said this year’s profits will fund grants going to four gardening initiatives, including Evanston Grows, an organization that aims to fight food injustice through urban gardening. The funding will also support gardens at Northminster Presbyterian Church and Oakton Elementary School. 

The fourth grant will go to Family Matters, an organization that provides extracurricular educational programming for youth in the Rogers Park area. According to the organization’s website, 95% of Family Matters youth live below the poverty level. 

“They do really good work, and these are really good kids,” Jordan, who volunteered for Family Matters last year, said. She added that the organization plans to use the grant to develop a backyard garden to teach youth how to grow their own vegetables.

Oakton Elementary School will use the grant to form an on-site garden, said Elsass, and the Northminster Presbyterian Church in Evanston will further develop their garden and donate crops to a local food pantry. 

Some of the fair’s organizers said after the fair’s two-year hiatus, they hoped this year’s sale would produce a large profit to fund these grants.

“This is the first year back, so we thought it’d be a good year because people would be dying to garden again and get plants,” Elsass said.

Elsass said Friday’s sale was quite busy, but the rainy weather on Saturday meant there were less passersby. This year’s fair raised almost $2,000, but in years past it typically raised around $3,000, she said.

Of the several hundred plants for sale, around 100 came from members’ gardens, Elsass said. These perennials can be easily transplanted to other gardens, and some were also native plants, which benefit the local ecosystem by attracting local pollinators.

“There have been declines in insect populations, both just in biomass of insects, but also in specific species like the rusty patched bumblebee,” Natural Habitat Evanston lead Leslie Shad told The Daily last month. “We need native plants for the insects that rely on them and grew up with them and coevolved with them.”

Jordan said since the plants are native to the area, they grow particularly well in local gardens.

The fair also sold plants from Windy City Garden Center, including several hundred herbs and vegetables that sold out, Elsass said. 

Elsass said Evanston’s garden clubs hope that plant sales like this will beautify Evanston’s natural spaces.

“Overall, the Garden Council is trying to make sure that Evanston looks beautiful, and that public spaces have gardens,” she said.

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: kelly_cloonan

Related Stories:

‘You can create your own beauty’: Evanston gardeners find community and connection

Evanston Grows builds a blooming community, combats food injustice through urban gardening

Evanston native plant sale blossoms to benefit birds, bugs