By Grace Kuikman
The seasonal arrival of birds, bees and butterflies to the Edna White Community Garden, 1850 W. Monterey, is in sync with the many residents who have visited Beverly/Morgan Park green space for the last three decades. Known as a quiet place harboring peace and tranquility, in the last few years it has become so much more.
“Like everything in life, the garden needed to be flexible and open to change, not fearful of evolving and growing,” said Kathy Figel, the garden’s executive director since 1993. “So, we had to pivot. We had to meet the needs of the community.”
Originally the garden was conceived as a community memorial for its namesake, Edna White, a lifelong community resident and community activist who was a fatal victim of senseless violence, despite her commitment to improving human relations, especially with young people.
The space has served as a destination for mourning fallen police officers and an outlet for grief, at times, utilizing the rich soil to plant trees in memory of loved ones. Events such as “Day of the Dead” celebrations of life were instrumental during the pandemic when outlets for honoring a loved one were interrupted or delayed at churches and funeral homes.
More recently, a fatal shooting in Morgan Park along the Vincennes corridor, gave the garden a new calling – a place of prayer, peace and coming together to express frustrations.
Right now, the Edna White Garden adapted and accepted the role as an opportune complement to the 22nd Police District, where immigrants were placed after being removed from Texas borders.
Figel worked with the police administration to offer immigrants a “softer landing” in the garden, just footsteps away from the hard marble floor of the station lobby. The community responded rapidly with donations of “need items” for babies and adults. Volunteers are teaching regular language classes for the immigrants, and the families are enjoying the space and tranquility offered at the garden.
“Like that, human beings are being housed at the 22nd Police District, and how can they find access to a variety of items and services they need, “Figel said. “When the community stepped up, our little bee house shed became a storage area for donated clothing, sleeping mats and bags, toiletries, bottled water and more. The response made me proud to be in this community.”
Figel, who is a retired special education teacher, said she loved seeing the best come out in others, especially with so many residents she’d never met but answered the call, in part, because of all the new and exciting things the garden will be hosting this summer.
This summer the garden introduced a Night Market. Partnering with the 95th Street Farmers Market for a few vendors, the market next Night Market is Thurs., Aug. 17, 5 to 9 p.m., and will offer a variety of produce, live acoustic music by The Bourbon Belt, beverages by Steering Cocktails, local business pop-ups, and pre-order pizzas from Butter Dough to pick up or have cooked to eat at the market. The event will be held again Thursdays, Sept. 21 and Oct. 12, 5 to 9 p.m.
Other upcoming events include live music with Steve Haberichter and Nikki Giblin, Sept. 7, 6 to 9 p.m., and the Day of the Dead celebration, Nov. 2.
In addition to live events, the garden offers classes on bees and pollination, and how to make floral wreaths and arrangements. The garden is also available to rent for private events, and individuals can do their own gardening there for an annual fee of $40. Each gardener is asked to complete 10 to 15 hours of community service on their honor.
With all the innovative programs and changes, Figel said fundraisers are a necessity. “People would be shocked if they knew what it costs to maintain it,” she said. The garden is not funded by the city or any private individuals. It was originally created with donated land and money.
Volunteers are also needed. “The volunteers we have are wonderful, however, we can always use more. I wish we could clone those we have,” Figel said.
“I think what I am supposed to do is not only keep the garden safe and clean, but I am to keep Edna White’s spirit alive,” Figel said. Edna White loved gardening and was a champion for the welfare of animals. “In my later years I have absorbed Edna,” Figel proudly said.
To find out more about the Edna White Garden contact Figel at EdnawhiteGarden@gmail.com.