HistoryNamed for The Morton Arboretum's noted naturalist and educator, the May T. Watts Reading Garden is an intimate, walled garden adjacent to the Sterling Morton Library. Not only was the garden named in Watts' honor, but she also helped design the space with the librarian, Mary K. Moulton. While the library and the reading garden are connected physically, the two spaces, which both opened in 1963, also derive inspiration from each other. Moulton stated that she selected, "plants of international background to illustrate botany, history, literature, horticulture...the heritage of knowledge." Some of the plants in the garden were chosen because of their association with famous botanists, landscape architects and other plant experts. On a more whimsical note, Watts selected a white pine that was planted outside the east wall to mimic the librarian's "Shh..." as the wind blows through its branches. Other interesting plants in the garden have included the May T. Watts hosta (hosta 'May T. Watts'), Orange MeadowbriteTM coneflower (Echinacea 'Art's Pride'). Worth a special visit are the espaliers of dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) and ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) on the library's outer wall.
In addition to the limestone walls and wrought iron fencing, the garden also includes overhead enclosures, which contribute to the garden's intimate feel. There are three subspaces within the garden: an entrance that looks onto a small fountain, a sitting area with shade provided by a Kentucky coffeetree, and an open space with seating exposed to the sky.
In 2003 George and Jane Berry started a fund to honor their friends, John and Sally Bloom, well-known landscapers and long-time volunteers at the Arboretum. Because of their particular love of the reading garden, the fund supported the garden's renovation including the reconstruction of the fountain.
The May T. Watts Reading Garden can be accessed through the library's reading room or through an entrance gate on the garden's north side when the library is closed.