CHICAGO, IL - In a move that underscores the importance of community-driven environmental efforts, Chicago's Excellence in Gardening Awards recently honored more than 100 local gardeners for their contributions to sustainability. The awards ceremony took place on September 24 at Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery, where attendees not only received accolades but also exchanged horticultural knowledge and insights.
The volunteer committee, comprised of master gardeners, selected 65 gardens for recognition from about 130 contest entries. The gardens were evaluated based on several criteria, including environmental sustainability, beauty, creativity, and community engagement. Mike Nowak, the founder of the contest, emphasized the importance of sustainable gardening practices such as using native plants, water conservation, and providing habitats for local wildlife.
One of the winners, Dennis Best, was lauded for his garden in Belmont Gardens, which is rich in native plants that attract pollinators. Another winner, Cherie Renee Bates, maintains a garden in Albany Park that has become a sanctuary for local animals and pollinators. Bates grows a variety of plants, including strawberries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and more, emphasizing the joy and rewards of nurturing a garden from seed to harvest.
The event also highlighted educational aspects. Master gardeners visited the gardens of contestants like Bates to offer advice and share knowledge. "Gardening is an ongoing learning process, no matter how long you’ve been doing it," Bates said.
The Chicago Farm Lab garden was another standout, receiving an excellence award for its community engagement. Operated by more than 50 families, the two-acre farm shares its produce with the entire neighborhood. The planters in this garden were even built by high school students from Charles A. Prosser Career Academy, who also volunteer at the farm.
Since its inception in 2017, the Chicago Excellence in Gardening Awards has honored more than 235 gardens. The contest serves not just as a competition but as a celebration of gardeners and a testament to the positive impact of sustainable practices on the community. As Nowak aptly put it, "Gardens don’t only help in terms of sustainability, they make the city a better place to live."