Beauty from tragedy
By Stephanie Henry
October 30, 2018

Sometimes, in the most tragic of situations, it takes finding beauty to find the path to healing.

Standing there in the sunshine, with more than a hundred other people, the sense of grief was palpable, but the support we find in community and how we care for one another in difficult times was present, too.

Just a few weeks ago, on Oct. 11, ACES, University of Illinois, and other visitors shared in a ceremony dedicating the Yingying Zhang Garden, a small, peaceful garden that memorializes the visiting scholar from China who disappeared in June 2017.

The 600-square foot garden was installed at the corner of North Goodwin Ave. and West Clark St. in Urbana, near the bus stop where Yingying Zhang, who worked in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in ACES, was last seen.

During the ceremony, various members of the ACES and U of I community shared memories of Zhang, as well as acknowledged the effort and cooperation of the many volunteers who made the garden a reality.

ACES Dean Kim Kidwell shared these words, “This garden is a beautiful representation of a community effort to create something positive out of a tragic situation.”

And she was right. As she read the long list of volunteers who helped with the garden, the number of donations—of time and materials—from businesses in the community, and the city leaders that approved the project, standing there near the garden, it felt good to be part of the community. 

The project was led by personnel from U of I Extension, with volunteers from the U of I Chinese Students and Scholars Association helping to install the garden. Champaign Master Gardeners Christina Nordholm and Phyllis Williams designed the garden, drawing from Chinese art history to create a place that would feel reminiscent of home to Zhang.

The garden features white rock, and a path leading to a stone bench. The plants, when mature, will fill the garden with blooms of white and green, symbolizing peace. The design also includes a weeping cherry, a dwarf Juniper Standard, hydrangea, evergreen boxwood plants, and others, carefully chosen to complement the theme. A garden stone was also unveiled during the ceremony.

Whether you pass this corner of campus regularly, or you are visiting campus, you are invited to walk the path in the garden, sit a moment on the bench, and take in the in beauty that was carefully and thoughtfully planned and planted to honor a member of the ACES community.