The best of the best
Eileen Whelan wins citywide garden contest
By Tim Hadac
In a neighborhood once called “the garden spot of Chicago” by a U.S. congressman, it’s not easy being the best of the best.
But Eileen Whelan is.
In fact, the Garfield Ridge resident is the best home gardener in the entire city, at least this year.
Whelan recently was named a winner of the 7th Annual Bungalow Garden Contest, sponsored by the Chicago Bungalow Association.
Her home near 52nd and Linder won for Planter Boxes & Beds, one of three categories in a contest that saw the best residential gardeners in the city square off for top honors.
Finalists were selected by CBA staff, and winners were chosen via online voting open to the public.
“My garden has been a work in progress for over 30 years,” said Whelan a first-grade teacher at Sor Juana School in the West Elsdon neighborhood. “I’ve been here since 1986, and it’s only in recent years that I’ve figured most things out. It’s taken a really long time for me to kind of find my gardening style.”
That style sees her putting native plants in the ground—and in her pots and planter boxes “whatever is aesthetically pleasing.”
In addition to planting native plants around the home, she filled several window boxes and planter pots with colorful flowers, keeping pollinators and wildlife in mind. “The nature that comes, the insects, the butterflies, the dragonflies,” she said, “I feel like this is a home for them here in my yard.”
Petunias, geraniums, begonias and calibrachoa play prominent roles.
Her garden attracts pollinators and other insects.
“The nature that comes: the insects, the butterflies, the dragonflies—you know, I feel like this is a home for them in my yard,” she added.
While Chicago’s motto may be Urbs in Horto (city in a garden), Whelan doesn’t necessarily see it that way.
“In this part of the city, there’s not much green space,” she said. “I’m surrounded by houses that have concrete backyards. I have to make up for the lack of green space here. The birds and insects need a place, and I’m giving them that place.”
“This is my third time trying to win this contest,” Whelan said. “Third time’s the charm.”
Winners received a cash prize of $500 from CBA, an award plaque handcrafted by Craeft LLC, a stained glass suncatcher made by Baltic Art Studio and a handmade birdhouse courtesy of Prairie Godmothers.
Runners-up received a $200 cash prize.
All winning and runner-up gardens can be viewed at chicagobungalow.org.
For every eligible contest entry received, CBA donated $25 to South and West Side community gardens. A total of $2,400 went to six community gardens: CCA Academy’s PermaPark Food Forest in North Lawndale, Englewood Veterans Garden and Heritage Community Garden in West Englewood, Peace in the Valley Garden in Austin, Rosemoor Community Association Garden in Roseland, and Urban Growers Collective in Bridgeport.
The Bungalow Garden Contest aims to celebrate the work of homeowners and draw attention to how gardens not only enhance a home’s architecture but can also promote a healthier ecosystem and uplift a community.
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