Monday, August 29, 2011

Meeting Shawna Coronado

When I pulled into her cul-de-sac in Warrenville, I knew which house was Shawna Coronado’s without even looking for the house number. Reflecting a landscaping style that is quickly gaining acceptance, there is no grass growing in her front yard. I knew I was about to meet a seriously eco-conscious gardener. Yet, “eco-conscious” does not even begin to describe Coronado; "recycling, native-plant-advocating, garden writing, community-building dynamo" might be more appropriate.

Besides having one of the most beautiful residential gardens I have ever seen, Shawna is a major voice in the gardening world. She is CEO of Mad 4 World Enterprises, a garden writer, on-air spokesperson, public speaker, and healthy lifestyle expert. I recently finished reading Shawna's book, Gardening Nude, and love how she breaks down "going green" into manageable steps with plans for addressing your health, lifestyle, use of resources, and community.
Gardening Nude, by Shawna Coronado

Let's get to the garden!
After moving to her Warrenville neighborhood, Shawna quickly installed a perennial garden in her parkway. "It was the first step in my addiction," said Shawna about the garden that served as a way to meet her new neighbors. "My neighbors started coming by, telling me I was not supposed to plant there. I said, 'Watch me!' Then we kept talking and got to know each other."
Shawna is most certainly a community builder. She's planted a drought-tolerant perennial bed, complete with benches for people to sit and rest upon, on the street side of her fence. And the neighborhood loves it. "People sit on the benches, read books, or just escape the hot sun out here," Shawna said as she gave me a tour of the community garden. "I've met lots of neighbors, and have gotten hugs, gifts, and plants from strangers!" She says the community garden has been her most influential, education-wise. People see what she is doing and are inspired to plant their own yards, which Shawna believes raises the economic value of the city.

Shawna's drought-tolerant community garden.

All this in the village easement. What a great way to improve a community!

This vertical garden in the backyard dresses up the fence, and saves two pallets from the landfill.

Shawna's front yard is an example of the potential of a grass-free space. She grows all kinds of vegetables here, many under the partial shade of a large crabapple tree. Basil, cabbage, kale, broccoli, and many other food-bearing plants thrive in these conditions, and look absolutely gorgeous. The front yard not only produces food for her family (and the local food pantry), it reduces rainwater runoff and supports wildlife.

Wouldn't you like to drink your morning coffee here? In the front yard?

Basil and cabbage thrive in a beautiful contrast of colors.

Shawna is just as sassy as her book title, and I'm glad to know her! Check out Shawna's blogs, The Casual Gardener, and Gardening Nude for great gardening and lifestyle tips.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

This Garden is Deep!

In an effort to squeeze in more summer fun before school starts for my older one, we visited Phillips Park (901 Ray Moses Drive, Aurora) with my sister-in-law and her little girl. The park is the perfect place to spend the day with kids, with it's (more than a petting) zoo, a huge playground under shady oaks, a mastadon museum, and my favorite feature - the sunken gardens.

The original gardens were designed by Ray Moses in the 1930s, but in 2002 were rebuilt on the east side of the zoo. I love the emphasis on "black" foliage plants; they are such a nice contrast to the more colorful annuals. The mass of Elephant Ears surrounding the fountain is breathtaking!

Speaking of dark foliage, does anyone know what this is? The berries were so shiny and eye-catching.

The kids enjoyed running on the curving paths through the gardens.

There is still more summer left! Pack up the kids, take along a picnic lunch, and head to Phillips Park. You won't be disappointed!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Plant Seeds Now for Fall Harvest

Some greens, like kale and swiss chard,
actually taste better after the first frost!
So, you're probably growing tired of your abundance of zucchinis, tomatoes, and cucumbers, but don't overlook planting for your fall harvest. I'm a bit late on this - a wonderful two weeks of celebrating a bunch of family birthdays has me behind on my gardening (and house cleaning, business marketing, and back-to-school shopping, but we won't go into that).

Today I planted spinach, pak choi, kale, and more swiss chard into empty spots in the potager that once grew lettuce. I used my new CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator to push away the grass cuttings I used as mulch, turn the soil a bit and break up soil clumps. It was the perfect tool for such a small job, but since it is so comfortable to use I plan to use it to prepare all of the potager beds in spring too. I threw in the seeds, covered them with 1/4" of soil, and watered. Easy as that! I should have a good fall crop of super healthy greens.

Here is some good information from the U of I Extension about planting the fall garden.

Disclaimer: I was given the CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator for free from CobraHead LLC, but that did not influence my comments.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Monday, August 8, 2011

Birdwatching with Kids

This afternoon, while my little guy was napping, my daughter and I took our first foray into birdwatching. Since planting lots of natives, I've seen many more different species of birds than before and wanted to start identifying them. I also thought this would be a great thing to do with my soon-to-be-four-year-old.

We sat at our patio table, drinking cool drinks, and whispering our excitement when a bird would come to the feeder. We saw five different varieties in about 15 minutes (which was as long as I could keep her sitting and quiet). Later, we went to National Geographic's Backyard Birding Page to identify those we saw. I plan to print out the pictures so she can cut them out and paste them into her nature book, a notebook where she adds pictures, leaves, and other things that fascinate her from outside.

Many birds will never touch a birdfeeder, which is why I am trying to increase the number of native plants and shrubs on our property. I just planted a gorgeous Viburnum dentatum 'Blue Muffin', which I hope will attract different birds, like cedar waxwings.

Black-capped chickadee

Field sparrow

Mourning dove

American cardinal (the Illinois state bird)

English house sparrow (considered a pest)

More resources
Birding with Children! Tips on Getting Started
Birdwatching with Kids - Loving Nature's Garden
Bird Watching for Kids - Big Learning

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Zucchini overload!

If you haven't noticed, zucchinis are in season. Anyone who has planted zucchini in their vegetable garden are surely noticing that it's zucchini time! Since zucchini plants seem to produce in waves (many ripe at one time, then a period of a week or two with nothing), many gardeners find themselves overloaded with too many at once and don't know what to do with them all. Well, I've got some ideas for you!

1. Eat them!
There is nothing like serving up food grown in your own yard, and there are so many delicious zucchini recipes out there. All you need to do is go to a recipe website like Allrecipes or Food Network to find some great ideas. You can also slip these babies into most italian or mexican recipes. Last night we had ground turkey and zucchini enchiladas. Yum! Throw half a zucchini into a smoothie for a folate, potassium, Vitamin A and C boost! And there is always zucchini bread...

2. Freeze them!
I've found the best way to freeze zucchini is to peel them, shred them, and place them in a freezer bag. You can then thaw the bag and use the shredded zucchini for bread, to thicken spaghetti sauce, and add to chili. Just be sure to drain after thawing and before adding to recipes.

3. Share them!
My friends who don't garden LOVE getting fresh zucchinis from me. Or at least I hope they do, considering I've been pushing zucchini on anyone who visits - friends, the nanny, even the guy who replaced our furnace. You can (and should!) also donate your fresh vegetables to your local food pantry. The Garden Writer's Association has developed the Plant a Row for the Hungry program to promote the sharing of fresh garden vegetables with those who need it most.