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Don’t Just Walk Past That Garden

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Abran Romero

Fourth Year Anthropology Major

Feature  •
Campus Life  •
Photo of plaque commemorating the Harper Humanities Garden

Photo by the author.

Views and statements from the author do not necessarily reflect official positions of the University of Denver.

If you’ve ever been to the University of Denver, there is a good chance that you have walked through the Harper Humanities Garden even if you didn’t realize it. It also turns out that when you pass through the garden, you might also be contributing to your well-being.

The Humanities Garden at the University of Denver is a beautiful little spot of nature within our urban campus. The Garden is situated in the middle of the south half of the campus, between the Anderson Academic Commons, the Mary Reed building, the Joy Burns center, and the Sie International Relations building. It is one of the many green spaces across campus, and like all the others, it has a number of sidewalks passing through it. Depending on the time of year, one will see a variety of interesting sights and plants. The garden tracks the passage of time, every year, from the annual plants living for just a brief time to the decades-old trees that dot the garden. One of these trees, a large cottonwood which sits nearly in the middle of the many buildings around the Garden, has overlooked the University of Denver for the better part of a century. If you look around, you will find a simple rock under a different tree with a metal plaque dedicated to the first major funder for the garden: Heber R. Harper. On that plaque is a quote by Keats reading, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.”

The quote speaks about how beautiful things never fade, and if you were to walk through the garden week after week, you would see the truth in that statement. In summer you could track the growth of lily pads and their flowers, watching them bloom. Through the winter, you can see the beauty of a garden covered in white snow. If you are lucky, you might spot the river that flows through the garden frozen before University employees drain the water for winter. The ice with plants frozen just below the surface is a unique sight. The garden grows in many directions, along water and pavement and alongside trees, and by observing it you might be able to better understand where you want to go.

The Humanities Garden is full of the incredible beauty of nature, and there is another quote inscribed on a bench near the Boettcher building: “A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). This quote leaves a lot to one's own interpretations. Does it say you can judge a friend by their reaction to nature? Or is it just asking you to bring your friends to the garden? I’ll let you decide. The garden is full of quotes you will find all over, and to consider them will allow you to explore your character.

A garden is a great thing to have on campus, and in one's life in general. As described by Sue Stuart-Smith in her book, The Well-Gardened Mind, nature is highly beneficial to one's mental health, be it interacting with a plant in your home or sitting under a tree. The Humanities Garden is a great way to help ensure students, faculty, staff, and campus visitors have a way to benefit from contact with nature. Along with the grassy lawn, there are a number of chairs and benches around the garden. It is a highly livable space, one that encourages and welcomes you to be there. By taking time to live in it, you can deepen your understanding of the world, and advance another part of your intellectual growth.

With support from a DU 4D Infusion Grant, between April 8-19, a pilot project will be promoting engagement with the Humanities Garden and other beautiful spots on our campus through a series of wellness walks. These were first piloted by students like me in a fall course, The Anthropology of Gardening. If you would like to try these walks on your own or have a class or campus group who might want to be involved, you can sign up here. But in the meantime, I encourage you to visit the Humanities garden or another favorite campus spot. Go and find the things you may never have seen—yet have always been right outside your campus door.

Abran is a senior at the University of Denver, majoring in Anthropology with an interest in preserving and studying the connections between people and places. As a student in Professor Bonnie Clark’s Fall 2023 course “The Anthropology of Gardening,” Abran contributed to a mindfulness walk in the Humanities Garden.