I?ve lived in Lincoln Square for 14 years, before the first premium coffee shop even?considered this neighborhood. I attend the neighborhood festivals, eat at the restaurants,?give local shops my business whenever possible, and have taken classes at the Old Town?School. Heck, I even requested and received a parkway tree from Alderman Mell and?had a sit-down chat with Alderman Schulter. Made me feel like a real neighborhood?insider. But it wasn?t until recently that I discovered the Waters School Community?Gardens. Adding insult to injury, the gardens are only a couple blocks from where I live?right under my nose.
Waters is an elementary school in our community, located at the corner of Wilson and Campbell Avenues. It has native gardens surrounding it, including one along the south?side of the property that fills a good portion of a city block. The gardens have been in?existence for about 15 years and are thick with vegetation. The setting, under towering?oak trees, features prairie, woodland, and savanna plant species. The gardens actually?sit on what was once the bed of the Chicago River, before the North Branch was moved?and straightened in 1904 to accommodate shipping needs.
When strolling the grounds,?it is easy to forget where you are. Students at Waters School maintain several raised?gardens in the interior of the preserve and neighborhood residents tend to dozens of?others. In addition, there are paths, benches, rain barrels, organized compost heaps, bird?houses, and colorful sculptures. Having a preserve of this magnitude on school grounds?is pretty special?even in suburban areas where open land is more plentiful. Waters?maintains one of the finest examples of this in the Chicago area, and it is right here in?our neighborhood.
Students study and learn from the preserve, where the lessons are about biodiversity, conservation,?and ecosystems. In fact, the school building itself has the biggest, fanciest?rain barrel I?ve ever seen, which collects rainwater off the massive flat roof. On?Wednesday evenings, neighborhood residents volunteer to help maintain the extensive?grounds. In some ways, my experience at the preserve reminded me of an art museum.?It?s a place where you can look and enjoy but shouldn?t touch. A lot of work goes?into tending the gardens and maintaining the ecosystem. Unless you have a plot and/or?are part of that process, then you are a guest and should act accordingly (e.g., no removing?plants, harvesting vegetables, etc.). It?s organized around the honor system and based on?what I’ve seen, it appears to work?beautifully.
This article was written by Center Square Journal reader Andy Merits. Andy was born in Chicago and grew up in the northern suburbs. He and his wife work downtown and live in Lincoln Square. He looks forward to the day when he has the time and space to recreate something approaching these gardens.