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Literature Gardens

Bench with books and flowers

Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator

Have you ever thought of combining literature and gardening? Literature gardens do just that.

I remember a past Chicago Flower & Garden Show, where two popular children's books came alive in gardens: "The Tales of Peter Rabbit" and "Where the Wild Things Are."

One of the most popular (and crowded) gardens at that year's show was Mr. McGregor's Garden. In it, the famous adventures of Peter Rabbit seemed to come alive. This exhibit focused on the young rabbit's escapades in Mr. McGregor's vegetable garden. Around the outside of the garden, the story was told through strategically placed signs.

The story of Peter Rabbit was written by Beatrix Potter in 1902 but is still as magical today. The garden version included bits and pieces from the story. Peter's lost red jacket lay in the walkway, as did his shoes. Peter even made an appearance in the potting shed, hidden in a large watering can! This exhibit also included Mr. McGregor's carefully tended cottage flower garden of delphinium, foxgloves, clematis, bellflowers, roses, and sweet peas. The plant list for this garden included five trees and shrubs, 36 perennial flowering plants and vines, six different roses, 26 seasonal plants, 18 herbs, and 36 fruit and vegetable varieties. I found it was quite an outstanding exhibit!

The other storybook garden was based on the popular children's book by Maurice Sendak called "Where the Wild Things Are." Although this garden could not as easily be created in a typical yard, it was still inspiring. Visitors explored a forest filled with life-sized woodland animal topiaries, including a six-and-a-half-foot bear. The topiaries were made of wire bent into animal and human shapes, which were covered with a sphagnum peat moss material. Large balled-and-burlapped trees were brought in to create the forest. The tallest plants were a backdrop of 10-15 foot bamboo. To me the garden was magical!

Create a literature garden in your yard this summer. Base it on your favorite book. Examples to try include "The Secret Garden," "Winnie the Pooh," Charlotte's Web," and "Thumbelina," just to name a few. Obviously, they do not have to be as elaborate as those created in Chicago's Navy Pier. A small corner of the yard would work just as well and be a great place to escape into a fairytale world.

The Chicago Garden and Flower Show is March 13-18, 2018 at Chicago's Navy Pier. Or, there is always next year's show, which will bring all new gardening magic and delight! Go to for more information.



As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.

After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.

ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.