The thirteen -year old African Heritage Garden is located on a parcel comprised of four city lots at the corner of South Central Park Avenue and 12th Place in North Lawndale. The African Garden Project originated in an interview for the North Lawndale Small Grants Initiative (SGI, which later became Small Grants Human Development Corporation) where Valerie Leonard (Executive Director) created a community garden with a Japanese theme. However, Isaac Lewis Jr., editor of the North Lawndale Community News and board member of Small Grants at the time, recommended an African Garden instead. Valerie’s inspiration for the garden project was the result of observing the transformation of the Unity Garden developed between Kildare and Kostner on 19th Street.
The development of the African Heritage Garden began on March 28, 2001 with a community wide research project, a design charrette, an artwork research project, and a gardening research project covering African plants. The intial phase of the African Garden began with a collaboration between the combined block clubs (South Central Park Avenue and 12th Place) and the Safer Foundation. They helped design the eight flowerbeds shaped like African countries with the shape of the African continent as a centerpiece. The initial planting began on May 26, 2001.
Many people and organizations were involved in the creation of this garden including Steans Family Foundation, NeighborSpace, the Chicago Park District, the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, Botanic Gardens, the Department of Planning and Development, Small Grants Board members, Garfield Park Conservatory, Heidi Hickman, Gloria Stamps, Pauline Person and her husband, Blanche Cook, Clarence McAlpin, Marlena Andersen, and others.
The African Heritage Garden has a large flower bed in the center, formed into the shape of the African continent with landscaping bricks. The bright yellow and orange flowers are reminiscent of the bold colors in traditional African clothing, as can be seen in the photo above. Large planters on the site are also painted with African motifs and bold colors, and benches offer visitors a place to rest and enjoy the scenery.
In 2005, the Chicago Council of Elders blessed the African Heritage Garden with a traditional African Ceremony. During this ceremony the garden was recognized as an “official” place of culture and community. The Council of Elders granted permission to establish the garden as a family place of enjoyment, education, and culture.
Currently, the garden has flower beds, trees, ornamental grasses, and shrubbery along three edges of the space, and raised vegetable plots along the fourth wall. The African Heritage Garden features two wooden pergolas for climbing vines and plants. A variety of vegetables are grown in this garden’s ten raised beds, including sweet peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, swiss chard, and collard greens.
The plants in this garden are started during cold weather in three greenhouses: Christy Webber’s greenhouse, the Fulton Street Flower and Vegetable Garden greenhouse, and the Austin greenhouse. We also receive plants from Nick Michaud of Westover Farm.
The African Heritage Garden was developed under the guidance of the North Lawndale Small Grants Human Development Corporation, with the combined block club (12th Place and Central Park), many North Lawndale Greening Committee members and volunteers participating in its upkeep.
In July 2005, a portion of the African Heritage Garden received a pave pathway. Our thanks to Christy Webber Landscapes and Ellen Newcomer for their contribution to this effort. Our future desire to install engraved pavers with the names of North Lawndale residents, prominent Africans, and African American.