ROGERS PARK — In a neighborhood on the far, far North Side, a new kind of garden and little library has opened — one offering Star Wars action figures.
The Galaxy’s Hedge action figure library and garden debuted Friday next to Howard Beach Park at the corner of Howard Street and Eastlake Terrace.
The display and library were installed by Rogers Park resident Orion Couling, who used his own childhood Star Wars toys plus donations to transform a portion of the greenway into an action figure garden. Kids are free to play with the toys — mostly miniature Star Wars character figurines — and to borrow them or take one home to keep.
Couling decided to publicly display the toys as a way to continue his mission of helping kids even after his nonprofit closed down.
Couling’s nonprofit, Edge of Orion, taught theater and gymnastics to children and adults with disabilities, but it recently closed due to lack of funds. Without his preferred method of giving back to the community, Couling thought of his next project when he recalled a former client’s parents giving him a sizable collection of Star Wars toys.
“A lot of this has been sitting in my closet for years,” Couling said. “I said, ‘As I process this chapter, I’m going to create a guerrilla garden with toys right next to the park.'”
The action figure garden already appears to be a hit.
When Couling checked on the site Monday, he saw the Han Solo and Princess Leia figures appeared to be buried, as they were surrounded by Storm Troopers and other Star Wars characters in what resembled some form of funeral.
Multiple kids walked up and asked questions. Couling enthusiastically told the backstory of the characters and encouraged the kids to take a toy home.
“Is this one available?” asked one girl, pointing at robot companion R2-D2.
“Take whatever you want,” Couling said.
“People have been playing with it, which is the whole goal,” he said. “It’s very cool to see.”
The action figure library and garden resides in a public strip of grass next to the Howard Beach Park playground.
Couling and a friend placed a weed mat over the existing grass and laid mulch on top. Bowling balls collected from neighbors were painted to resemble planets from the Star Wars universe, including Tatooine and Alderaan. The bowling balls are locked in place.
The pair then planted flowers and decorated the garden with toys and figurines, including a large All-Terrain Armored Transporter, the walking military vehicles featured in “The Empire Strikes Back.”
The scene is rounded out by a Star Wars spaceship and beloved figures from the franchise, including Darth Vader, Darth Maul and Chewbacca.
Some of the toys are Couling’s, while others — including the large armored transporter — are donations. Some are even from the first run of Star Wars toys in the early ’80s, he said.
Receiving the donations reminded Couling of the joy such toys brought him in his youth. He decided it was time to spread that cheer with others.
“As a country, we’re facing so much darkness,” Couling said. “If we could create a little bit of lightness, a little bit of positivity. … People forget the power of silliness.”
The figures neighborhood kids take home will be replaced from Couling’s collection. Donations have already rolled in since the garden went live Friday, including from local historian and tour guide Adam Selzer, who did a live segment with Couling on Monday. Neighbors can leave action figures at the garden or reach out to Couling on social media to donate items.
The action figure library and garden will be up and running through November. It will come down for the winter — when Couling spends his time in New Orleans — and will be displayed again next summer.
That’s if the city allows it to remain.
The garden sits on city property next to a public park. Couling hopes that Rogers Park history of “guerrilla gardening” on street corners will allow the city to look favorably on his creation.
If not, the library will have served its purpose by spreading joy and toys with neighbors and kids alike.
“It’s been nice to see people being really positive,” Couling said. “Can we make people smile and give some kids some Star Wars toys? We seem to have achieved that.”
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