With a generous grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens has begun the restoration of Robert Tinkers Railroad Gardens.
The gardens were created across the suspension bridge on the north side of Kent Creek, next to the Illinois Central Railroad tracks (now Canadian National.)
The gardens were created for the pleasure of the passengers both arriving in and departing from Rockford.
The view of the Tinker Cottage and suspension bridge is spectacular from the Railroad Gardens, and it was not unusual for passengers to have their photograph taken while leisurely walking on the paths and waiting for their train to arrive or depart.
The first steps in the restoration process began early in the summer with Tinker volunteers Sheryl Almquist Hall and her brother Dean Almquist rototilling and preparing a triangular garden space for planting at the base of the bridge. Student volunteers from the YMCA Hispanic Achievers Program then planted canna lilies in the garden as a community service project. The plants took root, and provided inspiration for the remainder of Phase I of the Railroad Garden Restoration project.
The pond in the garden was cleared of vegetation to more closely resemble the way in appeared in the original garden. The pond will be aerated to allow fresh water to circulate and to eliminate algae. The pond is rich with turtles, frogs, ducks and fish, and it is hoped that the fresh water will encourage habitation. Because there is no access to water on the Railroad Garden site, irrigation had to be provided by the Rockford firm Evergreen Irrigation. Electrical power for the pump was brought to the site from the cottage by Wilson Electric. J.J. Powers will grade the area, create the historic paths, and sow grass seed in the areas between the paths. Phase I of the project will be complete by the end of 2007.
Phase II of the project will be to create the five separate flower gardens that Robert Tinker created within the Railroad Garden space. Each garden will then be adopted by a sponsor or donor to ensure funding for the planting and maintenance of the garden for a year, five years or for perpetuity.
Historic Garden expert Tari Rowland conducted a study of the Railroad Garden and, using Tinkers notes, photographs and postcards, has provided information about what flowers and plants Tinker would have planted in the garden in 1906, 1907 and 1908. Museum staff and the volunteer Master Gardeners will use Rowlands study to determine what flowers to plant and what resources to use to purchase the historic and heirloom seeds and plants.
Phase II of the restoration is hoped to be complete by early fall 2008 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Tinker Railroad Gardens. Phase III will possibly include restoring the west side of the garden, where Tinkers cows once grazed, to Illinois Prairie. With the pond, gardens and prairie complete, visitors will be able to enjoy the wonders of not only the Tinker Cottage and Rose Garden, but also the beauty of the suspension bridge and Railroad Gardens during their visit. Curriculum units will be prepared offering new experiences for student visitors.
For more information about the Tinker Railroad Garden project, or other programs at Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens, call (815) 964-2424, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.tinkercottage.com.
from the Oct. 10, 2007, issue