The Morton Arboretum Unveils New Grand Garden

As fall weather begins, a new intricately designed garden is open at The Morton Arboretum.


Khadijah Rashid

The Gerard T. Donnelly Grand Garden

Khadijah Rashid, Staff Writer

Morton Arboretum visitors have a new attraction to add to their itineraries this fall. The Gerard T. Donnelly Grand Garden was unveiled on Sept. 18 as part of a yearlong celebration commemorating the arboretum’s 100th year of tree planting, research, and education. It was named after the arboretum’s president and CEO, who will retire this month after 32 years at the arboretum.

“This has been in the planning stages for 25 years,” Tari Marshall, director of Public Relations and Social Media at the arboretum, explained. “And they were finally able to make it come to fruition before he retired.” 

The variety of visitors to the garden showcased its broad appeal. Students sat with laptops on the lawn. Couples stopped to look at the flowers, and parents with strollers walked the path that was designed with wheelchair and stroller accessibility in mind. In the garden are multiple water fountains whose sounds mix with the birds and insects as visitors explore the garden’s six different sections, called “rooms.”

Each room is complete with benches and a different species of anchoring tree. They are separated by silver arches featuring leaf-shaped cutouts designed by artists from Ring Studios. The leaf theme is also present in the structure of the fountains and on the ground of the garden’s central Centennial Plaza, where artists created the leaves’ veins by hand. 

“The garden was completely funded by donations,” Marshall explained, as well as an endowment that will allow it to be continually maintained.

Lead donors were present at a ribbon cutting on Sept. 16, two days before the public opening. Donors are recognized by name on the benches’ nameplates. 

Water Fountain at the Gerard T. Donnelly Grand Garden. Photo by Khadijah Rashid

The Arboretum’s 100th anniversary celebration also includes its Centennial Tree Planting Initiative. Neighborhoods damaged by tornadoes, schools, park districts, and community organizations are also benefiting from the initiative, which aims “to improve the urban forest and provide essential benefits such as energy savings, cleaner air, and stormwater management,” as described in the request form for potential tree-planting sites. Site assessment and planning is done by tree experts, and planting is done with the help of volunteers. Trees are chosen and planted for sustainability and longevity.

The garden is home to transplanted hedges from the area’s previous inhabitant, the Hedge Garden created in 1934. Also present are gingko trees that are about 25 years old. These are combined with younger plants that were selected and placed to enhance the experience of the garden as they grow. Creeping vines will slowly grow around silver overhead structures. Trees beside the silver arches will grow to the arches’ height to reinforce the feeling of entering separate rooms. 

“And there’s lighting. So if they have evening events, this will be beautifully lit,” Marshall said. 

At the garden’s east end is a celebration-themed section, featuring flowers of muted tones and a terrace for wedding ceremonies and other events.

“And they just started putting up the fall displays,” Marshall said. 

Pumpkins of various shapes and colors add a September feel to the garden. They are a small part of the arboretum’s transition into a long roster of fall events, including the Glass Pumpkin Patch, the Fall Color 5K Run and Walk and the Cider and Ale Festival. Access to the garden is included with timed-entry arboretum admission. More information can be found at the Morton Arboretum’s website.