Blake’s Children’s Garden at Garfield Park
Located in the space just East of the Garfield Park Conservatory, Blake's Garden is designed for children and families to explore nature, engage in outdoor play, and use their imagination. The garden is named after Blake Bowell, who passed away at 25 from a rare form of brain cancer. Garfield Park was a special place for Blake—he played there, worked there, and spent his last days there. This garden serves the children and families of the community and stands as a memorial to Blake’s life and his connection with Garfield Park.
As a pro-bono project, completed with Hagerman Construction and the Friends of Garfield Park, Mader Design provided the design for Blake’s Children’s Garden. This project was a truly collaborative design-build effort between Mader Design and the contractors, with design decisions often made during site visits. The renovation has created a welcoming public space that increases programming, education, and engagement opportunities while streamlining maintenance needs.
Prior to renovation, the children’s garden at Garfield Park felt much more utilitarian than park-like. It was a large mulched area with raised beds for vegetable gardening, an aging pergola, a small pond, and very poor drainage. From the parking lot, it was easy to miss, or perhaps think it was not for public use. Visitors are now welcomed at the gateway, and are enticed to explore the artful, colorful, magical space.
The new entry gate incorporates salvaged ceramic tiles from historic planters Garfield Park; one of the several repurposed pieces in the garden, including colorful tire planters, limestone from a historic bridge and limestone bowls that once capped masonry piers in the park. When you stand at the entry gate, look down to see imprints of Blake’s track shoes imbedded in the concrete. Soft forms of colorfully dyed concrete help create a sense of whimsy throughout the space. Centered in the view of the entry gate, in the gathering plaza is “Divine Light,” a sculpture by local artist Kenzie Funk, who has a personal connection to Blake. Behind the entry plaza is an outdoor learning area, now deemed “Fran’s Place,” filled with benches made from reclaimed limestone. Active spaces were created along with smaller contemplative areas and working community garden plots.
The planting design was a collaborative effort between Mader Design, park staff, naturalist program leaders and master gardener volunteers. An existing oak tree was preserved, and native trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs have been installed. A contained swath of low native prairie grasses and forbs serve to educate and delight visitors. Specialty Gardens were left for Garfield Park staff, students, and the community to tend to vegetable gardens, a sensory garden, pollinator garden, and alphabet and animal gardens.
The design integrated personal aspects of Blake’s inspiring life, creating a unique revitalized destination within Garfield Park for park visitors of all ages, abilities, and interests. Former Garfield Park Manager Lynda Burrello (with 50 years working in the park) says, “Blake’s Garden is one of the best things I’ve seen happen at Garfield Park.”