Sunday, August 26, 2007

Detour to Northwind

For the past four years, I've spoken at Northwind Perennial Farm Nursery in Burlington Wisconsin on the last Saturday in August. Setting up a date a year ahead of time when I know we won't be planting has determined this scheduling. This year, the weather gods have given our region quite a challenge. Wisconsin has suffered its worst flooding in about 30 years and the Chicago area was hit by a massive storm on Thursday; the rain & 70 mph winds knocked out electricity for about 200,000 people, took out huge trees and caused substantial flooding.
I left Evanston about 7 am. The skies were magnificent and after weeks of rain, this first day of sun felt like a blessing of biblical proportion. Once across the state line, a few exits off the interstate were closed due to high water. Then, the much-traveled road between 94 and the resort town of Lake Geneva, highway 50, was shut down because the Fox River had risen over the road. The nursery sent me on an alternate route (142) which, while less-direct, turned out to be so beautiful that I think this has to be my new drive. It passes through the Bong Recreational Area ( see car-shot above). In the mid-1970s, this land was saved three days before being converted into a jet fighter base and now houses camping sites, a wildlife refuge, falcon training grounds and trails through restored prairie, wetland and woods. Look here for pictures: I will try to visit in the fall or winter.
The alternate route took me through the high crossing point, the town of Burlington. I stopped and photographed the swollen river a few foot over from the main bridge.

Later, at the nursery, Roy Diblik (plantsman extraordinaire) told me that they had had 14 inches of rain in August! He showed me Sedum 'Red Cauli' (as in "Cauliflower") a gorgeous red sedum that had miraculously kept its form and color intact despite the deluge....see it top of blog entry looking a little faded because sun was shining heavily, but take my word for it: this cultivar is one to note.
I was happy to witness the new section (two years) of the exhibition gardens filling in. Steve built this impressive stone pyramid with the entrance rock making a transition to the weight of the beds beyond. What you can't see at the base of the pyramid is the gravel garden Roy has installed: about 4 inches of gravel with the plants planted right into it...apparently folks are doing this in Europe. I saw it done at Gunnebo Slott in Sweden a few years ago; you can see that on my website.

Monday, August 20, 2007

MELA Picnic at Chicago Center for Green Technology

What's cool about this picture (courtesy of former MELA president, Mike Nowak) is that the setting is right in the middle of Chicago, just West of downtown. Not only can you see the fabulous prairie plants (on what used to be a brownfield), but up to the right, you can spot one of the cisterns for recycling rain water. You can pierce the smoke if you go to our MELA website and click on annual picnic details. Our current board details will be updated soon, as will our joint APLD/MELA conference on Oct. 26, 2007: "Towards Sustainability: Designing Tomorrow's Landscape Today."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mark di Suvero: Public Sculpture

This summer, Chicagoans had the opportunity to see one of the US's best living sculptor's work at Millennium Park. Not only does Mark (our family knew him in the 60s) produce the most wonderful, interactive, recycled works of art, but as well, he has always been politically vocal & active: a true American patriot.

Even Broader Home Front: BP & Lake Michigan

You can find out a lot on this topic by Goggling the subject of mercury emissions/ammonia/waste water and BP's refinery in NW Indiana. The CHGO TRIB had a good article on 27 July 2007. Once again, we have a situation where Federal standards are not necessarily devised or exempted with the health of the environment and those of us who live in it, primary. Actually, this issue is bipartisan and, at least in Illinois, has Republicans & Democrats on public record against the current EPA exemptions. Of course, we need to be part of the solution by tailoring our habits to reduce, reuse & recycle so we won't need to use so much of BP's main product.

Why the picture of young children above? To remind us of whom toxins damage the most.

More Home Front: Change is the constant

Our Condo (ongoing challenging karma for me) lost its primary gardener of 40 years this past winter. Until last year when her feisty self was challenged by illness and a ninth decade, Joan Kearney kept up a beautiful perennial border through her devoted & diligent daily activity. People told me they would go out of their way as they walked to the "El" to catch their train to work to enjoy the results of her green thumb. Since then, the condo has reassigned her area to three people, among them they embody a range of garden skill. It is interesting to note that the "vigorous" plants are starting to take over the bed. I wouldn't shed a tear if one of the new gardeners ripped out all the Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm' (Black-Eyed Susan). If you like the yellow flower, there are many better, more restrained cousins available....go look at Demo gardens at Northwind Perennial Farm for ideas.

Our parkway trees used to number six American Elms. Now we have only one left. Last night's rain brought down a number of branches seen here near city recycling bin which gets converted to compost/mulch over at James Park. Not a good sign that branches are weakening. Just on my drive from home to office, about a mile, I have seen a few majestic Elms bite the dust during the period of intense heat in July/August. Of course nothing is simple and the debate in Evanston about treating & saving them might have me on the wrong side of the fence. In my trying to learn about Dutch Trig treatment, from my arborist colleagues I have gotten the sense that because our weather patterns differ so much than Holland, the sap may not be running at the right time here to save our Elms. Also, if treatment begins too late, there isn't much hope. So like many illnesses, one of the tricks is to notice and act early.

Out of sheer laziness, I planted my backyard container with an available houseplant (mother-in-law's tongue) and some Coral Bells (Heuchera 'Caramel' & Heuchera villosa...a native). Then I popped in some left-over red Coleus for contrast. Imagine my delight when the native bloomed recently. The subtle flower provides vertical height, movement and a bit of medium to filter & trap the bit of light it receives while north facing. Note too that the proportions take on the large scale of the courtyard.....FYI: You can't see what's just on the other side of the turf grass (kids): our one backyard tree: the native Ostrya virginiana (American Hophornbeam) well-maintained by Chicago's most forward thinking arboriculture company: Care of Trees.

On the Home Front

Topmost plant is one I am trialing since it doesn't have nearly as much sun as it would like. It's Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger,' or Tiger Eye Sumac. I love the chartreuse against the dark red brick which is usually in more shade. The void comes in the form of the white, heart-leaved perennial, Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost,' aka Siberian Bugloss. It seems to tolerate the little sun it does receive, in a heavy dose around noon, and has shown relatively little scorch except during drought.

A few feet over you can see maximum texture, minimal color variation. The mostly green palette is done with Box, Coral Bells, Spurge, Periwinkle, Geranium, Anemone, Autumn Moor Grass and the annual: I get a prize for remembering all the common names?

Saturday, August 4, 2007