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May 2018: May T. Watts Reading Garden


Reading Garden at The Morton Arboretum
Reading Garden at The Morton Arboretum
The Morton Arboretum

“This garden, entered from the Sterling Morton Library, is intended as a quiet place where readers may enjoy the literature of this library out of doors.”

Now that the weather finally permits, the May T. Watts Reading Garden is open!

The history of the May T. Watts Reading Garden goes back to  the opening of the Sterling Morton Library itself. May Theilgaard Watts, former Naturalist of the Arboretum and well-known educator, proposed the making of the garden in 1962 (Sobolik, 1974). With the assistance of Mary K. Moulton, landscape architect and first librarian of the Sterling Morton Library, Watt’s ideas were translated into the garden’s initial design (Sobolik, 1974). In Moulton’s words, she selected “plants of international background to illustrate botany, history, literature, horticulture...the heritage of knowledge” (Sobolik, 1974). Below is an image of the original sketch for the layout of the garden, drawn by Mary K. Moulton.


A drawing of a garden in pencil on a yellow piece of paper.

On October 22, 1963, the garden was opened during a reception that celebrated the opening of the garden and previewed the newly established Sterling Morton Library.

A black and grey photograph of the May T. Watts Reading Garden.


This image of the Reading Garden was taken in the 1960s. If you have visited the garden in recent years, you can see that it has changed since its original creation. In 2003, the May T. Watts Reading Garden Improvements were underway, lead by the Arboretum’s former landscape architect, Scott Mehaffey. These improvements included: moving steel edging to a new location, removing and reinstalling concrete steppers, removing existing sod and replacing it with Kentucky Bluegrass, refurbishing the wooden bench, and adding and removing plants. Most recently, in 2012, wifi was extended to the garden!

The May T. Watts Reading Garden can be accessed through the Library Tuesday through Friday from 9am to 5pm, and Saturdays from 10am to 4pm. When the library is closed on Sundays and Mondays, the garden may be accessed through its outer gates.

To view more of the Library’s resources on the May T. Watts Reading Garden, search ACORN, the library’s online repository.

If you are interested in the plants currently living in the Reading Garden, check out BRAHMS Online. BRAHMS is an online database that provides information on the living plant collections of The Morton Arboretum. To find plants specific to the reading garden, click on the box under ‘Garden Location’ and scroll down until you see ‘Reading Garden’.

Now that you are familiar with the history of the May T. Watts Reading Garden, let’s explore some of the other types of garden from around The Morton Arboretum and the different resources the Sterling Morton Library has on these gardens!

Container Gardens
Contain yourself : 101 fresh ideas for fantastic container gardens by Kerstin Ouellet
The potted garden : new plants and new approaches for container gardens by Scott D. Appell

Four Seasons Garden
The nonstop garden : a step-by-step guide to smart plant choices and four-season landscapes by Stephanie Cohen
Time-tested plants : thirty years in a four-season garden by Pamela Harper

Fragrance Garden
Fragrance and fragrant plants for house and garden by Nelson Coon
The startling jungle : colour and scent in the romantic garden by Stephen Lacey

Ground Cover Garden
Covering Ground : Unexpected Ideas for Landscaping with Colorful, Low-Maintenance Ground Covers By Barbara W. Ellis*
Lawn gone! : low-maintenance, sustainable, attractive alternatives for your yard by Pam Penick

Herb Garden
Designing an herb garden by Beth Hanson
The Edible Herb Garden by Rosalind Creasy*

Maze Garden
Magical paths : labyrinths and mazes in the 21st century by Jeff Saward
Knot gardens and parterres : a history of the knot garden and how to make one today by Robin Whalley

*Access the Library’s e-book collection by entering the number on the back of your Sterling Morton Library card.