Oak Park Arboretum Backstory

We at The Learning Gardens of Oak Park are delighted to welcome our new Oak Park Arboretum.  This Arboretum, the “walk out your front door, turn left or right and you are there” Arboretum, was the product of real intergovernmental cooperation and public-private partnerships. We hope this letter shares both our thanks to all who are made this happen and the interesting back-story served with a dash of incredible serendipity.

The Learning Gardens of Oak Park has been working for two and one-half years to turn Oak Park – ALL 500 or so blocks of Oak Park – into a legitimate Botanic Garden. Our goals are to “build community” around a shared love of all things growing, increase property values, give visitors something to appreciate in addition to our architecture, and provide walking tours with scores of restaurants and gift shops – not just one. Working with what we already have - our trees, our front yard gardens, and the incredible local fruits and vegetables at our Farmers’ market - we believe we can create both a legitimate Botanic Garden and the most beautiful town in America. With that background, here’s the real story behind the headline.

About a year ago our Director is having coffee at the Buzz with a former writer/publicist for the Morton Arboretum.  While he was explaining the tree component of the Botanic Garden concept, she very casually says, “There’s a town in Ohio that just became an arboretum.”  “You mean the town itself? The whole town???” he asks. “Yes”.  But she doesn’t know the name of the town.

One hour and a Google search later, “town in Ohio that became an arboretum” had a name: Bexley (a near north suburb of Columbus).  It was certified through arbnet at the Morton Arboretum.  We Googled arbnet.org, downloaded the application form and two Learning Garden Board members filled out as much as they could on their own. They brought it to our new Village forester who was very receptive.

At about the same time, the Journal ran an article on our dying Ash trees and featured a local arborist concerned about our trees.  Our director called, met with her, and she shared her desire to reconstitute the Forestry commission. After he explained the much bigger possibility of an Arboretum, she worked to organize a meeting at the offices of a local landscape architect and brought a Village trustee into the conversation.

As things progressed, The Learning Gardens contacted two people at the Park District with the preliminary application form for the Village.   They enthusiastically embraced the concept, worked with the Village, and here we are – front-page story.

In reverse order, these are the people who truly deserve the community’s thanks for making it all happen.  At the Park District, Jan Arnold and Mike Grandy. The Village trustee is Bob Tucker. The Landscape architect is Carol Yetkin.  The local arborist whose picture was in the paper and pulled the meeting together is Kathryn Jonas. The new Village Forester is Rob Sproule. The two Learning Gardens Board members who did the preliminary legwork on the application are Dan Krug (arborist with The Care of Trees) and Gordon Waldron (retired local attorney and former member of the forestry commission).  Finally, and most importantly, the young woman who made the off-hand comment about ”a town in Ohio,” is Oak Park resident Laurie Casey. Without her off- hand comment about “a town in Ohio,” and without the subsequent combined efforts of all of the above people, there would be no Oak Park Arboretum – and no cover story. This effort truly took a Village and the combined efforts of the above nine people and two independent governmental bodies in our shared vision are the real backstory behind The Oak Park Arboretum.

The Learning Gardens is now working on the next phase of our efforts – enlisting and linking the hundreds of beautiful front yard gardens scattered on public and private, residential and commercial properties from Austin to Harlem, from Roosevelt to North Ave. into one giant – walkable – incredible – and free Botanic Garden.  Taking Oak Park beyond simply architecture. A gardeners’ version of stone soup.


The Learning Gardens of Oak Park
Sandy Hess, Pres.
Bill Sieck, Ph.D., Exec. Director