City Cast

Urban Almanac: Gardening Awards

Sidney Madden
Sidney Madden
Posted on June 5
Flowers bloom in an outdoor garden

Rainbow Beach Victory Garden (Courtesy of Chicago Excellence in Gardening Awards)

Planting season is upon us, and Chicagoans can enter their gardens in the Chicago Excellence in Gardening Awards *checks watch* now.

Media personality and gardener Mike Nowak was inspired to start the program after the city shut down its landscaping awards in 2011. With the help of several partners, the program is now in its seventh year and has given out 225 awards to gardeners in almost all 50 wards.

Which gardens can enter? All types from your own yard to community gardens to urban farms.

What’s the judging criteria? Among the pillars, the following are important:

  • Horticultural accuracy (e.g., shade plants in the shade, attention paid to pH of the soil, etc.)
  • Sustainability
  • Backstories

“We are generally looking for gardens with heart,” Nowak said. The gardens that have moved him have been dedicated to loved ones or helped individuals work through their grief.

So is the competition stiff? It’s only nominally a competition, Nowak said. At its core, the awards help bring neighborhoods together and the citywide gardening community together.

Three people stand with a gardening award sign outside

Gardening winners at Wild Blossom Meadery & Wine in Washington Heights in 2022. (Courtesy of Chicago Excellence in Gardening Awards)

How do you enter? Through June 30, Chicago residents can enter the awards by submitting photos of their gardens. If you advance to the next round, judges will come out and see the gardens in person.

If you apply by May 30, your garden will be judged sooner.

What do winners get? Custom plaques are given out at Wild Blossom Meadery & Wine in Washington Heights in the fall.

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