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  • Kim Piekos

New Discovery Garden Blooms at Elawa Farm

By Kim Piekos

Lake Forest’s Elawa Farm, originally developed for the A. Watson Armour family in 1917, opened its Discovery Garden to the public this year. Lake Forest Love sat down with Education Manager Jesus Cuezzi to see how visitors are enjoying the new spot.

What was the inspiration for the Discovery Garden?

Elawa Farm created the Discovery Garden to ensure that we provide a fully accessible garden to all, regardless of age, ability or socio-economic status. To the best of our knowledge, this is the only place in Lake Forest and greater Lake County that provides a free, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant green space.

"The Discovery Garden is my place of respite," says Elawa Farm's Jesus Cuezzi.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one in four adults in the United States have either a physical and/or cognitive disability. To promote healthy well-being and to encourage everyone to enjoy the pleasures of nature, we created this garden.

What does the garden look like?

The garden was already framed with boxwood hedges which provides a naturally bordered classroom. We planted raised beds of herbs, vegetables and a mix of annuals and perennial flowers at a height of 36 inches so that guests in wheelchairs or strollers could see, touch and smell what is planted. Two standing beds and wall gardens allow visitors to engage with what is planted there. ADA-compliant crushed gravel paths allow guests in wheelchairs to move around the garden easily. Lastly, the pergola we erected provides an outdoor classroom space. The Virginia Creeper that is climbing the pergola posts will likely fully cover the top of it next summer, offering complete shade.

We worked with Grounded in Design, a Chicago-based landscape architecture company, to design the garden. Manfredini Landscaping Design, a Libertyville-based landscaping company, built it.

What will the garden be used for?

Gardening is, among other things, a profound way of fostering a sense of connection with nature and each other. The Discovery Garden is being used to enhance our existing youth education programming, including our free weekly family activities, field trips, engagement programs and summer camps.

We are proud to maintain the Discovery Garden with volunteers from the Center for Enriched Living, a Riverwoods-based non-profit organization that serves adolescents and adults with disabilities. On most Fridays, you can find our volunteers watering, weeding and harvesting produce.

Who sponsored the creation of the Discovery Garden?

This collaborative project was made possible by major support from the Fletcher Family Foundation, The Grainger Foundation, Helen Post/Plansoen Foundation Northwestern Medicine and the Lake Forest Garden Club. We are grateful for their support, along with the vision and support of our board of directors.

Are there any events the community can look forward to in the Discovery Garden?

This season, we held summer camps in the Discovery Garden, Campers germinated microgreen seeds to learn about the lifecycle of a plant. They learned to make sun tea and enjoyed other horticultural activities.

We offer a myriad of engaging classes and community events each season. Community members can also join us for free weekly farm tours and fun family activities every Saturday morning, grounded in sustainable agriculture and therapeutic horticulture.

Are there any plans to expand the Discovery Garden?

Yes! The garden on the opposite side of the pathway from the Discovery Garden, which currently is where we grow winter crops, is going to be converted into an extension of the Discovery Garden next year. Visitors will be able to come here to explore and learn different aspects of gardening, the outdoors and nature.

What does the Discovery Garden represent for you personally?

The Discovery Garden is my place of respite. I associate many memories with smells. The sage that is planted here reminds me of time I spent volunteering on an agritourism farm in Italy. I was tasked with harvesting sage for a pasta dish being made for dinner and every time I smell the sage here, I recall that precious memory.

Having an outdoor classroom has exponentially expanded our hands-on activities and experiential learning. I can’t think of a better way to have guests learn while also getting their hands dirty, tasting new foods from the field and getting involved in the work of their community food system and a working farm.

When Alexis de Toqueville, a French diplomat and aristocrat, toured the United States in the 1830s, he was impressed on an 1830s tour of the U.S., by the American habit of communities coming together to build and create non-profits to tackle local issues. Our mission is to steward this historic farm and broaden access to education around our local food system. This is not an easy feat but a mission we wholeheartedly believe in as we work towards building a green space where everyone of all ages, abilities and economic status can gather. The creation of the Discovery Garden is an important part of our effort to achieve that goal.

The Discovery Garden is open every day of the week from sunrise to sunset. Learn more about Elawa Farm’s Discovery Garden at


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