Saturday, April 30, 2011

Going wild for natives

Okay, so I went a little overboard at the Wheaton Native Plant Sale today. I volunteered to help with the sale, and was stationed behind a table of brown-eyed susans, blue-eyed grass, and ironweed. The wonderful thing about volunteering for this sale, besides meeting a bunch of other crazy plant people like myself, is that volunteers are able to shop an hour before they let in the throngs of crazy plant people! Here's a list of my loot:
  • Carpinus caroliniana - Ironwood
  • Ostrya virginiana - Hop hornbeam
  • Bouteloua curtipendula - Side oats grama
  • Hamamelis virginiana - Witchazel
  • Viburnum prunifolium - Blackhaw viburnum
  • Viburnum acerifolium - Mapleleaf viburnum
  • Spirea alba - Meadowsweet spirea
  • Penstemon digitalis - Foxglove beardtongue
All of these plants are native to Illinois, so they will be able to withstand our harsh winters and hot summers. They are all also very attractive to wildlife and should bring lots of birds and butterflies to our property. Now, I don't plant strictly natives, but I do try to ensure that I have a larger percentage of natives than non-natives. And I incorporate some natives into landscape designs for my customers. By using native plants in your landscape, you contribute to the ecological balance that developed here in Illinois over thousands of years. So before you head out to the nursery for new plants this spring, check out which natives might grow in the spot you are planning for and try one out!

Mayslake Peabody Estate Native Plant Sale, Oakbrook, May 6-7, 2011 
Illinois Native Plant Society
Wild Ones
About Illinois Native Plants

Monday, April 25, 2011

Plant snobs and sunflowers

In my horticulture studies I've encountered quite a few "plant snobs." Instructors and other students often share their disdain for certain plants, like hostas, daylilies, and arborvitae. "Those are gas station plantings," I've heard more than once. I love this article by potager gardener Anna Pavord on how to be a plant snob. Well, I am standing up to say - I LOVE HOSTAS! I even love daylilies so much I have Hemerocallis 'Joan Senior' in my front yard (daylilies in the front yard - gasp!) And my few arborvitaes create a nice backdrop for my peony garden, and attract lots of birds. Yes, these are common plants, but there is a reason so many people plant them. Hostas will grow in dry shade, which I have far too much of in my yard. And daylilies will grow anywhere. While these plants don't provide much as far as food for wildlife, they do provide cover. And none of these plants require lots of water (in fact, after the first year, I never water them at all), making them an eco-friendly choice. So, I say, don't worry about what people think about you and your plantings. If hostas make you smile, then by all means, plant more.

Another plant subject to snobbery is the sunflower. Maybe because it's the first plant any of us grew, excitedly trotting home from school with our styrofoam cup full of soil, a sunflower seed, and possibilities. Does a plant need to be difficult to grow to escape being labeled a "throw-away plant"? I love planting sunflower seeds with my little one, and watching her excitement as the small plants emerge, grow huge, then burst open in all their glory! Plant some sunflowers and watch as the honeybees and yellow finches call your garden home. 

Two projects utilize sunflowers to bring about planetary change. The Sunflower Project is "a global appeal to all people on planet earth concerned about nuclear war, pollution, violence, injustice, and threats to the balance of nature -- to plant at least one sunflower seed in a sunny place where it will be noticed. This simple, yet radical act of planting a seed will demonstrate the energy, simplicity, and practicality of nature." I like it. The Great Sunflower Project asks people to plant sunflowers that will help the honeybees that are in a great decline. They can then use data collected by people like us to produce the first real map of the state of the bees. A fun project for families with a bigger purpose. I like that too.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fairy houses and local green events

Legend has it that if you build a fairy house and leave it in your garden, one just might come to visit! After watching the latest Tinkerbell movie, my little one and I were inspired to build our own. We started with a gallon milk jug and collected the rest of the materials from the yard. Pine cones, pine needles, and pieces of mulch made the walls, last year's flowers from our ornamental grasses covered the roof, and we gave it a stone chimney. Our fairy will be living in style! My girl loves the house, and loves checking for fairies. It was a fun project to do outside in our recent 80 degree weather, which I miss greatly after a week in the 30's and 40's.

Earth Day is tomorrow, so I'd like to share some local freebies and free green events.

April 22: Participating Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, and Whole Foods are offering free coffee tomorrow if you bring in your own reuseable drinkware.

April 23: Stop by your local Lowe's and pick up a free tree!

April 29: Visit the Morton Arboretum for their Arbor Day Celebrations. Ever wanted to meet Curious George? Well, here's your chance. Kids will enjoy a special story time and tree planting, along with a celebration and scavenger hunt in the Children's Garden. More...

May 1: Green Earth Fair, 12:30 - 5pm at the Green Earth Institute at the McDonald Farm in Naperville. Learn about GMOs, solar power, organic lawn care, rain gardens, the impact of nutrition on learning, wind power, and much more. Buy rain barrels and organic heirloom vegetable seedlings. Lots of activities for the kids too. More...

May 7: Less is More Native Landscaping and Walking Tour, 9:15 - 11am, Glen Ellyn. Join Jack Pizzo of Pizzo and Associates, as he explains how you can incorporate sustainable practices into your landscape while touring some of Glen Ellyn's sustainable gardens. More...

May 14: Gardenology, 10am - 4pm, downtown Geneva. It's all green in Geneva as the stores and restaurants go garden crazy - offering specials on garden-related products, and new menu items straight from the farm. Gardenology advisers will offer information on everything from gardening for wildlife to organic fertilizers. I couldn't possibly list all this event has to offer on my blog, so please go here for more info. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why you should grow your own food.

There are so many reasons that homeowners today are choosing to grow their own food. Not only is there no other way to get fresher, healthier produce than by growing it organically just steps away from your kitchen, but it's also tastier! Have you ever tasted really fresh peas, just seconds after picking? Fresh picked foods are one of life's greatest pleasures, and no supermarket can compete with that.
When you grow your own produce, you know exactly where it comes from. You have the peace of mind knowing that no harmful herbicides or pesticides were used, and no one's labor was exploited in the growing and harvesting of your crop.

If you have children, exposing them to vegetable gardening is a wonderful learning experience. Preparing the soil, planting seeds, watering, and finally picking the ripe produce become lessons in patience and responsibility while providing healthy activities that the whole family can do together. And your kids are more likely to eat the veggies if they grew them!

The next time you are browsing through your local market, take a look at the produce labels for their country of origin. Peru, France, Spain...while great vacation spots, imagine the transportation costs to the environment to get these foods from there to your door. If you grow your own food, you take yourself out of that environmentally damaging process.

Growing your own food can be extremely satisfying! Imagine your pride as you sit down with your family to a meal featuring a veggie that you grew yourself, knowing that you are eating the freshest, healthiest food possible? Yes! You grew that zucchini!

And finally, tending a garden can be lots of fun, and a great way to escape the daily grind and get in touch with nature.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

No bees, no veggies.

When most people think about bees, they think about getting stung. Maybe it's because I've never been stung by a bee, or maybe it's because I grow vegetables, but I'm fascinated by bees. Did you know that many of the foods that we love would not grow without the work of honey bees? Apples, carrots, onions, avocados, broccoli - the list of plants that require pollenation by honey bees is long. According to the Natural Resources Defence Council, without honey bees the US would lose $15 billion worth of crops, and most of the fruits and vegetables we like to eat, simply would not be available.
You might have heard about the mysterious colony collapse disorder, a situation in which bees leave their hives and don't return. It's estimated that 1/3 of the bees in the US have vanished. The honey bee population has been in decline since 1980 and causal theories abound from mites and insect diseases to overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

So, what can we do? We can plant bee-friendly flowers, and grow our own fruits and vegetables. We can stop using pesticides around our homes, which not only kill the pests, but also kill beneficial bugs, degrade the soil, and pollute our waterways. We can buy organic foods, which sends the message that we don't support traditional agricultural practices like chemical fertilizer and pesticide use. A local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm offers the convenience of home-delivered produce. Or, for the most local produce, grow your own on your own property!

Now, I know that bee stings can be painful, and even dangerous for some. But there are some ways we can avoid bee stings. When working in the garden, wear muted colors, wear shoes, and resist scented hair and body products. Bees rarely sting when unprovoked. If we can do our part to help the bees, we will benefit with an ample supply of healthy fruits and vegetables for generations to come.

You can learn more about colony collapse disorder here. I was inspired to share this information by hearing Ellen Page talk about the documentary that she narrates, The Vanishing of the Bees. You can watch a trailer here. To find a local CSA, look here.

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