The Midland Condominium Association, at 723 Hinman Ave. in southeast Evanston, is home for 27 families. The nearly 100-year-old building is also home to a vibrant, colorful and visually interesting garden.
The garden is locally renowned, so much so that next year it will be one of the featured stops on the Evanston Garden Tour.
The garden extends from Hinman Avenue east into the courtyard area that serves as the communal point of entry and departure for every homeowner.
This labor of love is nurtured and tended by many people, but one central figure is Stuart Katz, former president of the condo association and currently the de facto head of the building’s garden committee.
Katz and Ingrid Koepcke, an active member of the garden committee, explained to the RoundTable how the garden came to be, what it takes to maintain annually and how it’s used by their neighbors.
Katz, one of the two remaining original owners from when the building was converted to a condominium, said the original garden was very straightforward: a succession of yews planted around the perimeter of the inner courtyard.
Several years ago, prepandemic, the yews started dying and needed to be removed. It was an opportunity for the building association to start over and design a garden the owners wanted.
Katz downloaded Internet garden photographs and shared them with the committee. All those at the meeting preferred the same photo. With that visual image as a starting point for general inspiration, Nature’s Perspective Landscaping was contacted and submitted a proposal to remove the yews and expand the width of the garden.
Nature’s Perspective proposal called for:
- Adding flower beds along a curved design, which in two areas would extend out to the cement pathway.
- Including foliage of different heights, tiered so the tall plants would be closer to the building exterior and plants that grew low to the ground would be closer to the pathway.
- Creating a central circular space for conversation and gathering.
Residents tweaked the design slightly, but overall the process from concept to approval to implementation took place largely within a year.
$40,000 project, including sprinkler work
Once it became clear the association had the appetite to commit to a beautiful garden, Katz suggested the association also invest in an underground sprinkler system.
Financially, it meant that the work behind the association’s major expenses would be completed and paid for within one season. And practically, it meant that the committee would no longer bear the responsibility of watering.
The association saw the long-term value in investing in the garden and was fortunate to have the funding to pay for it and not be derailed by an emergency capital project.
The first phase was installing the sprinkler system, which Katz estimated cost $8,000. It’s fully automated and can be programmed from his cellphone.
The second was clearing out the dead and dying yews, carving out the garden design, bringing in topsoil and laying the brickwork and stones for the central seating area. This major work cost approximately $32,000.
The third phase was planting the variety of annuals across the new garden space. Katz consulted with Anton’s Greenhouses when that business was still in Evanston. The consultant at Anton’s recommended what to order and how much, based on the square footage of the garden.
The garden is planned and planted in sections that vary based on sun intensity. Koepcke listed some of the annuals included in the design: butterfly weed, different natural grasses, hostas, marigolds, coleus, myrtle, impatiens, allium, rudbeckia, purple heart, dusty miller and salvia. There are also two Japanese maple trees toward the entrance that are holdovers from before.
Purchasing new flowers each year costs approximately $3,000 and is largely based on annual blooms rather than perennials. Perennials might be more practical since they rebloom each year, but the explosion of color and variety of stems comes from annuals. Thus far the building is still committed to annuals.
Nature’s Perspective is responsible for annual upkeep, trimming, weeding, adding metal supports if plants become too top heavy, mowing the small amount of lawn and edging.
Volunteers turn out for planting day
Every year Katz makes a diagram of the garden and determines plant placement and colors. He submits his order to Anton’s in January or February and the flats are delivered in mid-May right before Mother’s Day weekend.
The Saturday before Mother’s Day is the day all the flats are planted. About 12-15 people volunteer every year, rain or shine. By “planting day,” Katz has already staked out with string and notes which plants are to be planted where. Once the planting begins, it takes about two hours to get all the plants in the ground.
Every fall, Koepcke and Katz take a walk around the garden to discuss how well that year’s colors and types of plants worked together. They might discuss colors or plants to emphasize the following year or which ones to pare back. The garden slowly evolves in real time.
During COVID-19 the common area of the courtyard was a sanity saver for residents who were tired of staying inside all day. Most days, from spring until fall, weather permitting, residents gather outside to talk, picnic or share a bottle of wine in the evening. They have storage areas for extra chairs and tables that are used regularly.
Several young families live in the building and it’s not unusual to see a small child or two playing on the grass or with the pebbles. The association also offers movie nights; it owns a screen and one resident handles the technical side, so families can watch movies together in the courtyard. Someone always makes popcorn.
Katz remarked that he’s seen brides and grooms stop by to have their photos taken amid the blooms. He said when the garden volunteers are in the midst of the planting every May, passersby always make a point to thank him, although they don’t really need to: He enjoys the garden as much as anyone else.