WILMETTE – It is harvest season at the Wilmette community gardens, which are bountiful with ripening tomatoes, cornstalks reaching high and peas ready for picking. The Wilmette Park District provides space for community gardens in Centennial Park and West Park, for both resident and non-resident gardeners.
At Centennial Park, each of the 69 plots is blooming with colorful flowers, herbs and vegetables. Judy Luken, a Winnetka resident, has worked two plots at Centennial for the past 12 years. She is a master gardener and volunteered at the Chicago Botanic Garden for years. She first became interested in a community garden plot because her own yard was too shady for the tomatoes that she and her husband wanted to grow. Since then, she not only grows tomatoes but also kale, swiss char, green beans, cabbage and parsley, among other vegetables.
“I just love gardening,” Luken said, as she weeded her garden.
Wilmette resident Elizabeth Matlin also has a plot at Centennial Park and has been gardening there for over 10 years. She also was drawn to the community garden because of the sun, but growing up in nearby Skokie her mother and aunt also had a plot in a community garden in the 1970s. Matlin remembers helping them weed and water the garden.
“It is an experience you have when you are growing up [that] kind of stays with you,” she said.
Matlin first rented a plot with two other neighbors but over time her partners dropped out and the plot became hers exclusively. While Matlin had successfully grown flowers and herbs in her yard, she didn’t have a lot of experience growing vegetables.
“It was a big learning curve. That is the beauty of a community garden — you learn from the other gardeners,” she said.
Matlin noted that Centennial Park boasts many gardeners with a broad range of skills. “You never stop learning. It is wonderful,” she said.
When the weather cooperates Matlin finds she can grow a three-season garden. In the spring she plants peas, radishes, greens and onions. In the summer she plants warm weather veggies, such as zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, squash, beans and carrots. By fall, the planting comes full circle and Matlin will plant the spring vegetables again. “It is really a long growing season if the weather cooperates,” she said.
The Park District provides water but gardeners must work the soil themselves and provide their own compost. While the Park District has rules about using herbicides and pesticides, Luken noted that most of the gardens are organic anyway.
While this year may not have been much of a beach summer, lots of rain and then sun as we headed into late July appears to have been good for the gardens. During the summer months, both Matlin and Luken find they need to buy very few vegetables at the store.
Interested in a garden plot? Get more information or put your name on the waiting list at www.wilmettepark.org. All plots are 10 feet by 20 feet and are available to Wilmette residents and non-residents. Fees run $34 for residents and $56 for non-residents.