Monday, July 30, 2007

AFOPADI Abduction: I should have posted this sooner

If you want a bad English translation, you can Goggle AFOPADI and when you get to the link to CMI, you can click: "Translate this page".

What this press release details is the abduction by armed men of both Omar Ventura [of AFOPADI (Asociacion de Formacion para el Desarrollo Integral) and PA (La Platforma Agraria)] and Carol Puigarnau [a Spanish volunteer for AFOPADI]. AFOPADI is the group that the Earthways Reforesting/Organic Agriculture projects works with down in Guatemala. And, the project for which I am now delighted to be project director for Earthways. Though I visited a second time in February of 2006, my most recent report on my website details the previous trip in May of 2005.

The great news is that Omar & Carol were released unharmed (as far as I can tell from one phone conversation & my passable Spanish language skills). The amazing news is that Omar is feeling encouraged by the tremendous response they had to the news by concerned people. The bad news is that their jeep was stolen. I wish I had a picture of the road up to the village during rainy season but a dry season image will have to do. Imagine the road during months of torrential rain and you have an idea of why it's important to replace it.

The loss of the truck is certainly an inconvenience. Omar took it in stride and said its loss was far outweighed by the energy the group has had ignited by the outside support. Having ridden the buses & walked to the village, I am in awe of AFOPADI as always. My inspiration is renewed by their strong and continued quest for integrating social justice with myriad other factors that conspire to make daily life an incredible challenge in rural Guatemala.

As I've said before, nature (in the form of deforestation) does not honor man made borders. We are all in this global warming thing together. In the same vein, I believe that the struggle for human rights, whether in a Guatemalan mountain hamlet or in a Hispanic neighborhood of citizens & immigrants in Chicago, unites us all.

Masters of Architecture and Plants: Oehme & van Sweden

James van Sweden and Wolfgang Oehme's collaborative design for Evening Island at the Chicago Botanic Garden is a great joy and education. Not only do they have their professional partnership worked out (a great fusing of structure and plant material), but the regional setting perfectly highlights their vision. The space is large enough to showcase their mass plantings and can be viewed from a distance across the pond.

Van Sweden's abilities as a master architect are evidenced here in this tricky transitional spot at the base of one of the two gorgeous bridges. Here he artfully manages to integrate many diverse materials and balance the needs of circulation.

The green industry has Wolfgang Oehme to thank for introducing many of the perennial plant materials we now take for granted, including a number of ornamental grasses & natives.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Right Plant, Right Place

Even the dreaded, spreading Ribbon Grass (Phalaris arundinacea) has an appropriate home somewhere. Here, my neighbors have placed it brilliantly where it is not only contained, but dresses up the alley telephone poles. Remember A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? That book featured Ailanthus altissima...when it lands in my clients' gardens, I suggest removing it quickly since it puts down a toxin that discourages competition (You Go, Darwin!). However, a brief internet search revealed some of its features new to me. Among them, the fact that in France caterpillars from silk-producing moths like its leaves and that the tree also contains various medical properties. All living beings are complicated with both a sunny and dark side, eh? No axis of evil in my book.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Midwest Groundcovers

I attended my second Garden Writers Association (GWA) event today. A tour of Midwest Groundcovers (MG), it proved to be not just educational but very engaging. This wholesale nursery just west of Chicago is a family run institution greatly respected since the 60s. I know it through the legendary Roy Diblik of Northwind Perennial Farm and Grace Koehler, not only the stellar MG sales manager, but a dynamic MELA board member. Here is an image of the wonderful prairie plant Eryngium yuccifolium (Rattlesnake Master) in a planting bed fronting the main building. If you've been to Millennium Park in Chicago you might recognize the designer's hand as Piet Oudolf's. We have much to thank Piet for re: not just rediscovering the genuine four-season beauty of many of our native plants, but for reclaiming the delight of texture, movement & change. And we should thank MG for supporting the installation of such a valuable teaching tool and beautiful garden. On that note, I also noticed a rain barrel in the area where MG has created a rain garden. Step by step...

Also, Midwest Groundcovers is in the process of developing a line of plants soon to be on the shelves of independent garden centers in our region. You can check out the national program at American Beauties. It's a great concept and I totally support the project. From what I can tell of the AB website (through National Wildlife Federation), however, the on-line plant lists appear national, so just like vitamins, you need a custom careful to note your own garden conditions in terms of soil, pH, moisture, light etc. And remember, plant lists don't necessarily tell you about pests or invasiveness or lots of other considerations. If all this stuff were obvious, then eveybody's garden would look like Eden. And last I looked.....when that happens, I will be glad to find another vocation.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Check out

Zona Gardens (see Links) led us to this terrific on-line Journal of the "Built and Natural Environments." My past life as a poet/teacher and daughter of photographer & painter make reading a fully integrated experience. If you have read any of my website's commentary on the Guatemala community of Casaca & AFOPADI's work there (children's garden above), you might be interested in Terrain's latest issue w/ this essay on a sustainable Tibetan mountain community:

AIC infiltrates Michigan Ave. Planting

Meeting a client for a lecture on landscape architecture at the Arts Club provided a moment to check out the annual plantings along Michigan Ave. The Magnificent Mile has been transformed during recent years into an annual showcase. This wonderful sea-change began when Doug Hoerr, LA, first initiated parkway plantings for his client: Crate & Barrel. Other merchants followed suite and now we benefit from the competition. I love the effort but have mixed feelings about the results. The intent is to draw in more tourists so they will spend more dollars (my husband and I were discussing a time in the not-so-distant past when tourists did other things besides shop, and Disney and Nike stores weren't yet considered cultural destinations). To this end, it appears that there is no limit on what will be planted. The creativity thrills me, but, in my Midwest Ecological Landscaping Association (MELA) hat I am sometimes challenged but the lack of sustainability. Not that an annual planting would speak to that category, but I think there are better choices. This summer, I was heartened to see a combination featuring one of our native sedges, Palm (Carex muskingumensis). On the other hand, despite its aesthetic appeal, moss is not a good choice for our area. So, I worry that local gardeners will try to mimic the effect. On the east or NW coast where the soils are more acidic, Martha Stewart may be able to coax them with buttermilk, but in the harsh, high alkaline environment of Chicago one has to go to extreme measures to keep mosses going and it's rarely through winter. That being said, fun & fashionable sculpture from the Art Institute of Chicago School inhabits and enlivens these plantings making them a worthy destination.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Did I Say That?

Friends in the know say I must toot my own horn and so I refer you to current issue of HORTICULTURE magazine, August/September 2007. Check out Scott Calhoun's article on vertical plant combos. His seeing me quoted in a different rag and contacting me for ideas for this led to our current mutual admiration society.

Speaking of tall plants, we ran into this annual sunflower at Chicago Botanic Garden last week. Even though I can't resist orange, I also can't recall the cultivar...the joys of age.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Scott & Zoe Visit from Tucson

We finally meet our friends from Zona Gardens in person when they visit Chicago to photograph for Scott's upcoming book on garden designers' plant combos. He and his daughter are great company and welcome any time! His images and text are superb. I have been reading Scott's newest book: CHASING WILDFLOWERS: A Mad Search for Wild Gardens (Scott Calhoun, Rio Nuevo Press, Tucson, 2007). Scott's trademark passion for plants, enthusiasm for all layers of life (including fun food, history, science), his compassion and humor combine to make his book an addictive and highly satisfying read. Wonderful stories & meditative reflections on life mean this could be a gift for anyone slightly interested in, you will learn a lot about Southwestern wildflowers: cheaper than travel.

Dad's Ghost Speaks Through My Canon G7

Monday, July 9, 2007

Fern Forest

All our clients are terrific...however, some are great gardeners that greatly enhance my knowledge and wonder. One such client, Steven in Hyde park, has fostered a most remarkable fern garden over time. ChicagoLand Gardening Magazine will shortly publish a feature that details many of his garden delights. Here, I present two you may not see in print: first: Steven positioning Resurrection ferns atop a Live Oak branch...both from South Carolina and not driven home. Second: Fabulous edging found in an alley: think outside the box!