Gina Iliopoulos (BIOL ’91) and Ed Caplan enjoy the view of Keeler Gardens from the front steps of their home.

Showcasing Nature’s Intrinsic Benefits

Gina Iliopoulos (BIOL ’91)


or residents of the Old Irving Park neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side, Keeler Gardens is an oasis of natural beauty. What began as a blog about a home garden in 2012 blossomed into a showcase built on the principles of biophilia (human tendency to be associated with other forms of life in nature) featuring a Pollinator Habitat, a space dedicated to hummingbirds, and a sun garden.

Gina Iliopoulos (BIOL ’91) began a blog about the gardens in 2012 and then established Keeler Gardens, which comprise the front and back yards of the home she shares with her husband, Ed Caplan, as a nonprofit in 2016. The pair model ways that nature can be introduced into an urban setting. At Illinois Tech, Iliopoulos focused on genetics and after graduating, studied horticulture for two years. Her green-thumb expertise grew and she became a recognized gardening and green industry consultant, and even appeared as the “Midwest Gardeniere” in a commercial series for HGTV.

What is the purpose of Keeler Gardens?
Our focus is to show that connecting with nature isn’t a luxury, but rather, a necessity for everyone. Nature gives you a sense of well-being; it affects health improvements. People don’t want to be out on the concrete. If there’s a large tree canopy on their street, they’ll go out in the shade and talk. Even if you live in an apartment, you can make a little railing garden with some nice potted plants. It isn’t too difficult to find something that will work for you.
Describe some of the educational activities that you and Ed have offered to the community.
We offer experiences that connect with nature beyond gardening—photography classes, a variety of creative art programs, and weekly community gathering events to help us connect with our neighbors and take time to focus on personal strength and health. We also have an internship program to support and educate students, giving them valuable knowledge and work experience.
What’s next for Keeler Gardens?
We are building Keeler Gardens into a remarkable, sound ecosystem, with a message that nutrient-dense soil provides the foundation for healthy plants, healthy green spaces, and healthy communities. We are working to be considered a pilot for communities everywhere. We hope to grow our sustainable practices with bolder resource management, including solar power and petitioning to have our city sidewalks replaced with permeable surfaces. And expanded programing would allow us to create seasonal internships, maybe even for course credit, and support those in need of a place to take a break from their very demanding services—for example, first responders and caregivers.

Photo: Olivia Dimmer
Caption: Gina Iliopoulos (BIOL ’91) and Ed Caplan enjoy the view of Keeler Gardens from the front steps of their home.