Urban Rivers field trip

16 people gathered along the Chicago River by the Whole Foods at 1550 N. Kingsbury to hear Nick Wesley from Urban Rivers talk about the River and the efforts being made to make it clean, safe and useable.  He began by saying that numerous permits, requiring a lot of effort and patience, were required to even get started with the project.  He went on to talk about the need for the cleanup, namely that when there is an overflow of water in Chicago the city’s 2 water treatment plans allow raw waste into the river.  The city is taking steps to remediate this with adequate underground storage but that is still underway.  In the meantime Urban Rivers is using Phytoremediation which involves using plants and their associated microbes, to reduce the concentrations or toxic effects of contaminants in the environment. As the river water passes through “the Wild Mile’s root systems it will be filtered as the roots absorb the water, along with the substances in it.” (urbanriv.org)

So far plants have been in place on modules in the river for a year and four months.  The modules were assembled on land and anchored in place.  (See urbanriv.org for construction details.) Some of the plants in use are Hibiscus, Giant Ironweed, Spike Gayfeather, Canala Columbine, and Liatris Spicata.  These are plants identified by name markers.  To view a list of other plants used go to plants.urbanriv.org.

Vegetables were also planted and then tested for harmful results from the polluted water.  Surprisingly most of the vegetables tested were not contaminated except for Kale which had a high lead content. Trees which were planted and are being studied are River Birch and Paw Paw.

There are cameras checking the fish, birds, and wildlife inhabiting the area.

Nick discussed the Robot designed to clean up the River.  Hopefully by next year it will be actively cleaning up the debris on the River.

Perennial Serendipity

 The Garden Club’s July road trip took us a short distance north of Lake Geneva to Northwind Perennial Farm, a former dairy farm purchased by three friends twenty-three years ago. Sharilyn Smage, our tour guide/floral arranger, described the three owners:  Roy Dibik the philosopher/plant man/author known for his low-maintenance style of gardens; Steve Coster responsible for the unique wood plants, for master pruning, and for creating the hardscape on site—including a huge stone pyramid; Coleen Garrigan the antique guru responsible for the merchandising barn. (Some of the antiques Coleen featured are just to be admired, as Norma found out when she asked about purchasing an urn with a beautiful patina. Sorry, not for sale).Steve's stone pyramid


.The business grew utilizing the strengths of each person, and like the three friends that have harmoniously grown the business, their demonstration gardens have evolved into a kindred community with similar needs but a vastly different vision.  As the gardens were originally designed and planted, Roy did what most of us did twenty years ago:  piled on the mushroom mulch, rototilled or turned the soil over and planted his favorite flowers, fertilized them to death, and lastly, added a couple of inches of wood chips. (Oh yes, plus the belief that most bugs were evil and had to be destroyed with pesticides.)  Today he uses a couple of inches of locally composted leaf mulch around each new plant.   The following spring around March, he cuts down (or mower mulches) the plant material and lays it around the plants to provide their own organic matter.  A large drift of early spring bulbs are planted to come up and cover the debris, and then the new plants cover the bulb’s decaying leaves.  A little hoeing every couple of weeks in the spring eliminates most of the weeds. If that approach is too wild looking for your taste, remove the cuttings and use composted leaf mulch in lieu of wood chips.  According to Roy, wood chips cause weeds to flourish and new varieties of weeds to enter your garden.

But that is another story.

After growing more than half a million plants, Roy has narrowed his scope to approximately 300 varieties of regionally sustainable plants.  We have heard the dictum “Right plant, right place.” Roy’s philosophy about a low-maintenance garden can be summed up in his “know”-maintenance garden: know your plants needs for light, soil, and water and plant compatible plants close to each other.  A little knowledge about the plant’s growth habits helps to develop a beautiful intermingled garden with little open space for weeds to grow. One example I recall hearing about is a spreading blue star Amsonia paired with the vertical clump-forming grass Sesleria. (The plant botanical names were flying out of Sharilyn’s mouth faster than I could record them and how they were combined in this garden.  We will need to study the pictures.)  I will say I recognized an abundant variety of alliums, asters, campanula (bellflower) coreopsis, Echinacea (coneflower), geranium, hemerocallis, nepeta (catmint) and salvia, to name a few. It was the variety of these plants combined with grasses that played up their textures and colors that were so lovely to see.  We would frequently do a 360˚ turn to appreciate the light and color from all viewpoints. For shade areas they were utilizing hardy Carex, a sedge that comes in a variety of shapes, textures, and heights.  With sedge, we no longer have to rely on hostas to do all the work in the shade.

Common milkweek and Giant hog fennel

Dibik’s gardens are informal and rather like a display of family pictures highlighting the best of each participant and appreciated in all seasons. Out buildings on the farm are left unadorned and used as they are needed. In front of the “Swallow’s nest” building that had recently been used for assembling bridal bouquets were the largest flowering common milkweed I have ever seen accompanied by a  relocated, self-seeded Giant Hog Fennel (Peucedanum Verticillare).  The original seeds had been given to Roy by Piet Oudolf (Lurie Garden designer from the Netherlands), and broadcast in another area of the farm.  The Giant Hog Fennel was thriving here so no need to remove it.  The gardens looked like they had been there forever untouched by human hands, although that is not the case.  Occasionally they get the attention they need; a little thinning, weeding, water, whatever is necessary to keep the balance. If Mother Nature contributes another pleasing design, so be it. Gardening is a symbiotic relationship.

June 17 Field Trip: Batavia Wildflower Sanctuary

About 10 members and guests of the Garden Club recently visited the Wildflower Sanctuary on the Batavia Riverwalk. The Wildflower project began in 1991 during the development of the River Walk in Batavia. As in many other towns, the local residents sought to preserve the area along the Fox River from both unwanted private development and decay. Some of the new river walk features restaurants and public buildings, in addition to a very interesting collection of windmills.

see http://www.bataviahistoricalsociety.org/wmills.htm

The area adjacent to the river but north of the “cut”, a bridged stream flowing into the Fox River, was saved from development but contained an impassable, tangled mess of weeds, mostly buckthorn, a notorious non-native pest. With the cooperation of the Park District, some local community volunteers, including Nancy and Ed Weiss, got together to form the “Plain Dirt Gardeners” who helped weed out the buckthorn and renovate the large area into a meandering, attractive walk in a park-like setting along the river.  In place of the weeds, the volunteers planted beneficial native species.   Early on, Kane County Environmental Director Dick Young lent his assistance in this project.   Dick’s book:   Kane County Wild Plants & Natural Areas was, and still is, the primary reference in plant selection and retention. Today the Wildflower Sanctuary is a relaxing and beautiful walk featuring four different habitats, each with its own species of plants.

Fox River at Batavia River Walk
Fox River at Batavia River Walk

Our venerable tour guide was Nancy Weiss, who has been with the sanctuary from its inception. She was assisted by her husband, Ed, who herded us stragglers from the parking lot to the courtyard from atop his bike.

Nancy Weiss



The tour included woodland/floodplain, savannah, prairie, and rock shelf habitats.   We each received a checklist of the walk’s native plants and trees, approximately in the order we would encounter them in each of the habitats. Only some of the plants have markers, and the natives do tend to move around a bit. So it was helpful to have a written list; but most delightful were the guides’ personal descriptions of their experiences with the plants and their habits, typical of any conversation with a fellow gardener: (“Oh, this one is kind of a pest and we have to keep it controlled. That one just finished blooming and it was so pretty…”)

Photo by Linda Z.
Tour guide Ed Weiss with Garden Club members Marilyn and Lisa.



Elaine Allen and John Richter
Elaine Allen and John Richter

After the tour we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the nearby Apple Villa.  Some of the members finished the day with a visit to Hostas in the Garden with John Richter in Warrenville.




Thanks again to our Field Trip committee, Elaine Allen and Marilyn Brumund, for arranging a wonderful day.  ( Photos by Elaine Allen and Linda Zwierz)

Food, Friends and Flowers!


Food, friends and flowers!

Chicago -Tuesday, July 10

What a beautiful day to enjoy eating outdoors and catching up with friends at Park Grill (the food there is so much better than it has to be for a tourist destination!).  Others went to the Terzo Piano restaurant at the Art Institute.  Then it was on to a guided tour of the Lurie Gardens in Millenium Park.  We split the group of 21 garden buddies into three and off we went with the well-informed-master-gardener-guides.  Amazingly the garden had survived the interminable scorching heat of the last week or was it a year?  What a testament to native north american plants for drought resistance.  Our guide said that the weather was so extremely hot that the gardeners actually waterered the garden at about 3 a.m. last week.  As you probably know from your own gardens, the plants are about a month ahead of normal.  That means that many of the midseason plants have already bloomed.  The scarlet red “Chicago apache” daylily pictured above was blooming its heart out next to the red tipped switch grass.  This is my kind of perennial – a hearty bloomer that is drought resistant, can tolerate sun or partial shade, not fussy about soil and is good for attracting butterflies.  I will definitely be considering Chicago apache for a shot of color in my garden, maybe with the yellow lilies?   Lurie garden (chemical free) was literally “a buzz” with bees, birds, and butterflies.  I found out today that Lurie has bee hives located under the Nichols bridge and they harvest and sell the honey at their sales twice a year.  On the east side of the “seam” (an angled wooden walk over water that seperates the east and west gardens) I saw red winged blackbirds in the trees and felt a gentle, refreshing breeze from the lake.  I am telling you, this garden oasis in the midst of steel and concrete should be a “not to be missed” location on your bucket list.  Another plus, Lurie Gardens have four season interest, so you can return various times during the year and see something different and beautiful each season.  Pat and I were part of the initial planting of the 120,000+ spring bulbs, so the purple “river” in the spring is one of my favorite sites.  I imagine Marilyn will be a lot more informative in her article, she was taking notes.