The Huntington Library is a research library in California with an 120 acre botanical garden on its grounds. While few (if any) public libraries boa
Japanese Gardens at Huntington Library, San Marino, CA; CC: Altair78; Used with permission.
st the acreage that this private nonprofit library sits upon, library gardens are taking off as a vital addition to the landscape and mission of public libraries nationwide. Many libraries host garden workshops and provide books and other materials to serve the needs of gardeners. This article will explore the use of actual gardens affiliated with libraries, and their use as living laboratories, ecologically diverse environments, and civic space, as well as collaborative and marketing resources.

Why should libraries have gardens?

As public libraries in particular are tasked with finding collaborative partners for their services and need to expand their mission to incorporate more "library as place" social planning, gardens are becoming more prevalent in the library landscape. Issues such as sustainability, education, outreach and welcoming the community are all directly addressed by gardens at libraries.

Many library gardens are associated with children's programs. They may focus on teaching children about growing food, such as the San Franscisco Teaching Garden and the Beaver Dam Community Garden .These gardens may also donate food to local food pantries. Children's gardens may be play spaces, or geared toward teaching organic techniques. The Wayne Community Garden, hosted by the Wayne County Public Library has as its goal "to cultivate plants and people through gardening" (WCPL community garden, n.d.)

At the Madisonville, Ohio Library Garden the children's librarian became "interested in getting a learning garden growing on the library’s side yard. Since the library is already a gathering place for the community, it made sense to offer the space and information we have access to about gardening, composting and the use of Rain Barrels" (Growing community, 2010). The Salem Community Garden in Wisconsin states that its reasons for having a five-acre garden are to:
  • Beautify the landscape
    Beaver Dam Community Garden, Beaver Dam, WI; Copyright holder; BDCL; Used with permission.
  • Improve wildlife habitat
  • Limit the use of pesticides and other chemical applications
  • Create a more diverse landscape
  • Reduce maintenance
  • Provide gardening information based on first-hand experience

It has been certified as a National Wildlife Federation Backyard Habitat and holds a series of children's programs each summer which has a waitlist because community interest is so high. (Gardens, n.d.).

Some library gardens act as memorial spaces, like the Warrenton Library Garden and the Ruth V. Perkins Reading Gardens . Library trustees, friends, staff or donors are honored with gardens. Other gardens may be on rooftops or in fact comprise the roof surfaces as greenroofs. Library gardens differ from more conventional landscaping because the gardens are used as outreach or educational adjuncts to the library building.

Public Library Gardens
Glendale Xeriscape Garden, Glendale Main Library, Glendale, AZ; Copyright holder: George & Audrey DeLange; Permission pending.

The Glendale Arizona Xeriscape Botanical Garden is located on the grounds of the Glendale Main Library. This desert garden is a perfect example of the possibilties of collaboration and education through landscaping. The garden project was funded by the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records Agency, Institute of Museum and Library Services, City of Glendale Water Conservation Office, Glendale Community College, Historic Sahuaro Ranch, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension and the library. Tales from the Garden is a publication detailing the plants in this landscape, and some local history about the plants and those who collected them. The library's website offers a useful interactive map and listing of the plants in the garden, lists of library classes and opportunities for volunteers (Water conservation--xeriscape, 2010).

The Beaver Dam Community Garden was a response to many aspects of the library's mission, from education and programming to a sense of place
Beaver Dam Community Garden, Beaver Dam, WI; Copyright holder: BDCL; Used with permission.
and even collection development. Librarian-gardener Anita Streich explains "I really felt many people had a disconnect between the food that's produced, how it comes about, and how it gets to your grocery store. We looked at this as a teaching opportunity. Over the years it's been used for educational programs for kids and adults, providing cut flowers, and produce for the food pantry" (Tillema, 2009, p. 17). Designer Shannon Barniskis spoke to the need for a multisensory garden: "We wanted places for kids to hide and dream and lay down on the lawn and think of things. We didn't want them to just walk through, we wanted them to interact" (Tillema, p. 18). Streich mentions that the garden affects collection development. She seeks to reflect the learning that occurs in the garden with books that support similar experiences at home. Staff members eat lunch in the garden, community members make salsa from the fruits of the garden, and children learn about organic pest management and edible flowers in the garden. Partnerships with the Senior Center and Food Pantry bridge generations and socio-economic divides.

Imaginarium Garden, Southfield Public Library, Southfield, MI; Copyright holder: Crisssim Metz Andriese, Phillips Swager, Southfield Public Library; Used with permission.

The Southfield Public Library's Imaginarium garden looks quite different from either of the proceeding public library gardens, but the mission is similar: to connect library users to "the central themes of the Library, those of discovery, exploration, and the preeminence of reading" (L. Taylor, personal communication, April 29, 2010). Landscape designer Paul Andriese collaborated directly with the library's architect, Eddie Davis of Phillips Swager Associates, and the Library. Ornamental grasses, flowering trees and birdhouses fill the courtyard. The surrounding brick wall features 36 tiles by Laurie Eisenhardt of Royal Oak, which take viewers on a tour through the seasons. A sculpture of three books is the focal point of the garden. "Children can climb on The Very Hungry Caterpillar and be inside Alice in Wonderland" (L. Taylor, personal communication), while the book The Secret Garden floats above them. Laurie Taylor, the coordinator of Youth Services, notes "As you enter the youth room the wall has the letters W.O.W. which stand for Worlds of Wonder. We always tell school children who come into the Library for tours that a Library card will open our Worlds of Wonder for them" (personal communication).

Imaginarium sculpture, Southfield Public Library, Southfield, MI; Copyright holder: Crisssim Metz Andriese, Phillips Swager, Southfield Public Library; Used with permission.

The Madison Public Library of Alabama has a Children's Living Library garden, in which art, music, sustainability and gardening classes will be taught. The garden features a life-sized Scrabble board, an amphitheatre for storytimes and themes from the children's book Where the Wild Things Are. Partners for this project include: Madison County Beekeepers Association, the Huntsville Botanical Garden, the Madison Gardening Club, the Madison Beautification and Tree Board, and the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Madison Sustainability Committee. Professional landscape architect Lori Severin with 4Site, Inc. donated the design of the garden (Library, n.d.).

Some library gardens are more sculptural than botanical, such as the Cleveland Public Library's Eastman Reading Garden. The use of the term "garden" in this context is more about the idea of an outdoor area. Maya Lin, also known for her Langston Hughes Library and Vietnam Veteran's Museum, created the sculpture for this courtyard space, called "Reading a Garden." While few plants are used in this garden, the juxtaposition of playfulness and peace make this a gardenlike synthesis of art, architecture and landscape (Cleveland Public Library, 2010).

An Academic Library Garden
Greatwood Gardens, Goddard College, Plainfield, VT; Copyright holder: Goddard College; Used with permission, Courtesy of Goddard College

The Greatwod Gardens at Goddard College were designed by Arthur Shurcliff and built between 1908 and 1918. In 1996 the gardens were added to the National Register for Historic Places. Shurcliff was an associate of famous American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and they founded the first four-year landscape architecture school at Harvard. Shurcliff went on to design landscapes in Colonial Williamsburg and Sturbridge Village
("Arthur Asahel Shurcliff," n.d.).

A Special Library Garden
Winterthur Garden, Winterthur, DE; Copyright holder: Karl Gercens; Used with permission.

Like the Huntington Library and Garden, Winterthur is a private research library that is surrounded by award-winning botanic gardens. 60 acres of professionally-maintained gardens were designed by Henry Frances du Pont and Marion Coffin. The library is for scholars researching the history and culture of the United States from Colonial times onward.


On April 20, 2010, the State Library of Ohio announced that it was awarding $76,285 in IMLS Special LSTA Growing Community Grants to several public libraries. For example, "Plain City Public Library, $7,045 to help turn vacant library green space into a library garden that will assist the city in beautification initiatives, provide opportunities for library programs, and help support the local food pantry. Community members will be able to “check out” garden beds. Although the space would be free of charge they would need to pledge either food or volunteer hours to the library/food bank. A children’s garden will include activities associated with the Summer Reading Program and for adults there will be a speaker series featuring members of the Madison County Master Gardeners and local culinary talents" ("April," 2010).

The Beaver Dam Community Garden is funded from the library's programming funds, since it is used as both the theme for and location of much of the summer programs. The award-winning Southfield Library Imaginarium is funded in part by the Friends of the Library (L. Taylor, personal communication, April 29, 2010).


The Beaver Dam Community Library has faced many challenges with their community garden. Finding time to water, volunteers to weed, resources for trellises, graffiti and theft of vegetables have been just a few of the problems faced by this garden library. Other libraries face similar issues, as well as funding considerations and lack of space. Despite the challenges, more and more libraries are incorporating gardens into their landscape and programming plans. The 2010 National Library Week theme was Communities Thrive @ Your Library. This theme of public library service is a natural fit with the idea of the library garden.

external image nlw.web.jpg


The Huntington Library
San Franscisco Teaching Garden
Beaver Dam Community Garden
Madisonville Library (PL Cincinnati & Hamilton Co., OH) Garden video and story
Salem Community Garden
Warrenton Library Garden
Ruth V. Perkins Reading Gardens
Glendale Arizona Xeriscape Botanical Garden
Southfield Public Library's Imaginarium garden
Eastman Reading Garden
Greatwod Gardens at Goddard College
Winterthur gardens
Bushwick Library (Brooklyn NY) Community Garden
Landa Community garden Garden of the San Antonio (TX) Public Library
Schreiber (ON) Public Library Community garden
Karl Gerscens photographs of the Winterthur gardens.


April. (2010, April 20). State Library of Ohio. Retrieved from‌Marketing/‌PR/‌2010/‌April
Arthur Asahel Shurcliff. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved May 2, 2010, from‌wiki/‌Arthur_Asahel_Shurcliff
Cleveland Public Library Eastman Reading Garden. (2010). Cleveland public art. Retrieved from‌projects/‌completed/‌cleveland-public-library-eastman-reading-garden
Gardens. (n.d.). Community Library. Retrieved from‌index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC=%7B8570A181-6F49-44C9-92FD-7ECAFCBC081D%7D
Growing Community . (2010, January 13). WebJunction Ohio. Retrieved from‌ohlstagrowcomm
Library. (n.d.). Madison Alabama. Retrieved from‌index.aspx?nid=295
Tillema, R. W. (2009, July). Growing a community. InSpire Magazine, 16-18.
Water Conservation - Xeriscape Demonstration Garden . (2010). Glendale AZ.
WCPL Community Garden Program. (n.d.). Wayne food initiative. Retrieved from‌our-work/‌wcpl-summer-garden-program/