September 12, 2012

artist date: reading garden

A recommendation from our friend, Tanya, in the comments section of my blog, was the first I ever heard of the "Reading Garden" at the Morton Arboretum. This past weekend, the thermometer hovered around seventy degrees. The sun shone brightly overhead as gentle breezes made the tree branches dance wildly and the surface of the pond outside sparkle brilliantly. It was a day to be outdoors! So many hours spent lately with my "bottom in the chair" - it was time to get out and about to enjoy the day. I remembered Tanya's mention of the Reading Garden, and got out the door as quickly as I could.
It was a crowded day at the Arboretum, with a couple of special events taking place and families everywhere walking, climbing, biking, picnicking, and laughing. A whole community sharing one mind: to enjoy the gifts of a waning Summer before it moves along to make way for Fall. It felt a little odd to be alone on such a day, but this is the whole intention of an artist date. I looked at the map of the grounds and set out in pursuit of the May T. Watts Reading Garden, adjacent to the Sterling Morton Library, which I had never noticed before either. I am usually a pretty good map-reader; my mind collects mapping as if creating my own internal GPS of everywhere I've been, laying tracks as I travel new ground, connecting it the best I can with wherever I have been before. But apparently, I was all turned around, and made it partway around Meadow Lake before I even realized I was headed the wrong way. It was such a lovely walk, though, and the chance to see more shining waters, more jumping grasshoppers and so many smiling faces was well worth the delay. 
I finally oriented myself properly with the map, and quickly reached the Library. Once inside, the volunteer at the reception desk pointed me back out the way I had come, towards the parking lot. She said the entrance to the reading garden was on the other side, and that I would come upon it all of a sudden, unexpected, but there it would be. I followed the paths around to the other side of the Library's walls, and she was right - a tiny green sign with gold letters pointed me down a narrow path to an entrance gate in a tall stone wall.
Growing up, some of my favorite books were The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, everything Anne of Green Gables (and anything else by Lucy Maud Montgomery), and of course the Little House series and  Chronicles of Narnia, too. I lived in the city, surrounded by asphalt, brick, concrete and steel. We did not have a real backyard to play in until I was nine years old. So Nature has always seemed a wondrous and magical place to me, and the moments I get to spend outside of buildings and the "civilized" world tend to be really poignant and memorable for me. What I love about the Morton Arboretum is how fully the space succeeds in removing you from an awareness of the cities and suburbs surrounding, providing a green, lush, natural haven so much larger than I ever realized from driving by.
Something else I loved about all those books was the magic gift of small, secret spaces. Spaces all one's own, spaces where anything could take place in the story and you would absolutely believe it. Spaces so small and secret that only a child could enter them, and certainly only a child could bring their magical powers to life. As I entered the May T. Watts Reading Garden, a veritable gasp escaped my lips in the form of a high-pitched squeak: it was just like one of the spaces in my childhood books. I quickly noted no one else was in the garden, and felt relief and joy that this moment could remain my own. The high stone walls wrap all the way around the garden, with just a few breaks where a tall, iron fence takes over. There is a tiny, round fountain-pond in the center, ringed with stones to echo the surrounding walls.  
I absolutely adore the inscription on the fountain stone, recognizing "John and Sally Bloom" for their dedicated cultivation of this little reading garden. Was their name really  "Bloom?" I hope it was! Two different climbing vines, sturdy as full trees, adorn either side of the Library wall that forms one edge of the garden space.
And two seating areas grace either side of the tiny fountain-pond, so that even if there were others in the garden, the layout of the space provides solitude and silence. I picked this space under this lovely arbor, to sit in the shade and read my book.

I spent the most wonderful couple of hours sitting and reading in the lovely garden - what an absolute indulgence and treat! I know I will return here many more times for reading dates or just to sit and muse and let my creative inspiration wander. On my walk back to my car, I passed a bed planted with these "Issai Purple Beautyberry" bushes. Don't they seem as if they belong in one of my dreamy favorite childhood books? They were the most magical sight at the end of my beautiful hours in the Reading Garden.
For info on the Morton Arboretum, click here! And thank you again SO much to Tanya, for the wonderful recommendation!!! I hope you will get to visit the Reading Garden yourself sometime very soon... 


  1. See! I *knew* you'd love it! It really is a magical place.

  2. "Magical" is the best word!! Thanks again!! :)

  3. Goodness! The Morton Arboretum. So blessed by your posts Cayt!