LuAnn remembers her family’s garden in Melrose Park thirty five years ago, as she was often given the task of gathering ingredients for whatever her grandmother might be making. LuAnn’s love for fresh produce was evident even then, as she admitted to coming back from her duties empty-handed but with a full stomach, as the bright red from the tomatoes she had picked gave her away.
Thirty years later, now living in Villa Park, LuAnn connected with gardening all over again. Once her hands were back in the soil, much of the knowledge came back to her, and she continued to gain new knowledge from plants she had never grown before. But while the benefits of eating a tomato right from the vine are plentiful, LuAnn connected with her garden on a deeper level and described her garden balcony box as a “lifesaver.”
After losing a partner of twenty years, even the task of getting out of bed could sometimes be a daunting one. Having a garden that needed to be watered first thing before the heat of summer, LuAnn was able to move through her grief with the plants at her side. “It got me through some really rough times and to see what it produced and to know that I had a hand in it, and that I was the one doing it, was very empowering.”
Her garden was there not only to remind her of a new day, but acted to honor her partner’s life and their time spent together, knowing he wouldn’t want her shut up inside, cloistered from the world. The garden held a space for faith as she did not hesitate to use an age-old gardening trick–talking with her plants, or even crying with them. For her, the garden was a place of connection as it inspired her to come outside. The impacts of COVID-19 hit close to home for LuAnn after her sister experienced a medical crisis, but even LuAnn’s sister contributed to the flourishing garden from their daily phone calls where she, too, had a chance to speak to the garden.
LuAnn’s garden helped her rekindle community and friendship, as she maintained the beautiful outdoor space and offered veggies from her surplus of bounty to her neighbors and friends. “I’d clip some basil, take it upstairs and put it on top of the spaghetti. Talk about fresh! You can’t get fresher than this because they could see me pick it.” She and her lucky dinner guests could easily tell the difference between grocery store produce compared to the completely different taste of what she was growing. She enjoyed fresh basil all summer long and tried fresh kale for the first time, but her highlight of the summer was getting over 40 tomatoes from her small tomato plant, her childhood favorite. Her balcony box became an example for other gardeners that even a small amount of space can produce a great amount of food.
LuAnn stays connected with GardenWorks, often sending updates, sharing with us the impacts changing seasons have on the garden, as well as the impacts the garden continues to have in her life. “Thank you so much for having this project.” She let us know, “You really lit a match under something I thought had died: my creativity and my gardening.” We are honored to get a glimpse of the sanctuary LuAnn has created for herself, nourishing her creativity and delight in life. We admire her strength and perseverance and look forward to seeing her flourish next season.
Adrien Guadagnino has always found connection with community and the sacred through gardening. Currently in school for Art Therapy Counseling, Adrien knows the importance of collective collaboration and believes healing comes when individuals are supported by those around them, and what better place to witness this in action than a garden. Originally from Milwaukee WI, Adrien now has found their home in Chicago and has worked many years in landscaping, specializing in midwest natives as well as urban farming. They are happy to be working with GardenWorks and learning from an organization that greatly impacts food accessibility for their Neighbors.