Category: Field Trips

Columbus Park Guided Tour

Garden Club of OPRF Field Trip
On Tuesday, October 6, the Garden Club of Oak Park & River Forest sponsored a walk-through Columbus Park. Jette Castro, along with her husband Tony, led the trip for the maximum group of 15. It was a beautiful fall day and most attendees had never visited that part of Columbus Park. You can find a fascinating read about what landscape architect Jens Jensen called, “Balm for the Human Soul,” at , which is the National Park Service official site. Enter in the search space: “Chicago’s Columbus Park.” If you only have limited time, we recommend scrolling down, past the teachers’ section to the section called “Determining the Facts.” Here you will find the fascinating history of the park. I think you will agree that the historic landmark status granted in 2003 is deserved. The group’s take away was one question: “Who knew?”

It was a beautiful fall morning and Jette (& Tony) did an excellent job helping us find birds. Collectively the following birds were observed: a Great Blue Heron, a Red-tailed Hawk, a Northern Flicker, a Brown Creeper, a Northern Cardinal, American Robins, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Wood ducks, Canada Geese, Mallards and sparrows. Club members also enjoyed the flowers like Blue Astors. We learned that the park district found that planting tall plants at the water’s edge keep the geese from walking, and pooping, on their way to the water. Instead they fly directly to the pond. We ended the tour at the Refrectory building patio where we admired its mural from afar as well as the building’s architectural designs. Columbus Park was inaugurated in 1920. According to the 100th Anniversary book, the group learned that Jens Jensen gave a presentation on “Landscape Gardening” to the Garden Club of OPRF in February of 1919.

Urban Rivers field trip

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.” (

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 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

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.

Elmhurst Expedition

Elmhurst Expedition

Today the garden club hosted a fun expedition to explore nearby Elmhurst (where I’d never been).  Elaine Allen and Marilyn Brumund led the trip, starting at the Wilder Mansion, where we enjoyed plantings by the Elmhurst Garden Club (they hold their meetings there), and a small but adorable conservatory.
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Marilyn B. and I were trying to figure out how we could fit a tree peony in our gardens…
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A highlight was the fabulous spinning kaleidoscope sculpture — now I kind of want every conservatory to have one of those.
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From there we walked to the nearby Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art and browsed the fascinating array of carved stone and gems.  It’s truly amazing what artists can do with carved stone:
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I know you can’t see the details in this screen, but they’re all carved stone, lovely and elegant.
This exhibit from my native Sri Lanka shows that in addition to the artistry involved in carving stone wrinkles into an elephant’s skin, sometimes, you just want to sprinkle some shiny bling all over your art:
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What can I say?  My people like the sparkly.  And anyone who appreciates sparkly gemstones will be impressed by the replicas of the Cullinan Rough (the largest gem quality diamond ever found) and the nine major stones it was cut into:
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I had no idea this museum was so close; I might suggest a field trip there to my children’s elementary school, as I think they’d love it.  Plenty of enjoyment for both children and adults, and the gift shop has a tempting array of stone and gemstone jewelry.  I bought some geodes for my children to smash open — hopefully they’ll find something sparkly inside.  The natural stones on display were stunning in their variety.
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Next was a delectable lunch at Cafe Amano; I particularly enjoyed the house soup (sweet Vidalia onion soup infused with cream & aged Cognac served with garlic crostini & Gruyere cheese, mmmmm….), and the delicious crusty bread with pesto butter.  May have to drag my husband back for a lunch date — I gather the place is hopping at night, but is nice and quiet for lunch.
After lunch we stopped briefly at the Elmhurst History Museum to see the exhibit “Patios, Pools, and the Invention of the American Backyard.” A fascinating history of the evolution of the backyard in America, from the late 1800s to today, in a beautiful old house worth appreciating for itself.  (There’s also a nicely-curated exhibit of local Elmhurst history upstairs, worth checking out.)
A lovely trip all around — thanks again to Elaine and Marilyn B. for taking us out!
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Photo credits:  Elaine Allen (3, 8, 9, 10, 13, 16, 17, 18, 21), Mary Anne Mohanraj (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 14, 15, 19, 20), and Marilyn Moore (12).