Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The End of the Line

(insert best Rod Serling voice here)

Submitted for your consideration: the lowly common milkweed.

Nestled inside their pod, the invaders line up, ready to launch their assault on unsuspecting gardens and fields. . .

Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, commonly is thought to be a weed. Here in the Midwest it's most often found along roadsides or in those infamous "disturbed places" mentioned in wildflower guides. It's a fairly safe assumption that most people look down upon milkweed as an undesirable plant.

So I was surprised several years ago when I was giving two German horticulture students a tour of the greenhouse where I worked. The first thing the women asked about was the milkweed plants growing near the road. They told me that the plant had been featured on the front cover of a seed catalog in Germany, and that it was considered a rare and unusual garden plant there. They were surprised to see milkweed growing in undervalued places here in the U.S.

Their excitement over the plant made me look at it with a new appreciation. Have you ever really looked at a milkweed flower? They can be quite stunning! Have I thought to take a nice photo of one? Um, no. Note for 2010!

But I find myself even more fascinated by the seed pods. Inside the pods, the seeds line up with military precision. Take a closer look:

When the pod is ripe it cracks open, and one by one the seeds peel out and launch their parachutes of fluff. That's the reason why milkweed is considered to be a common pest - just the slightest breeze will carry the fluff with its attached seed into your garden, your lawn or your farm field.

Since I have the "luxury" of being surrounded by restored wetlands and recreated prairies, I'm rather free to admire the milkweeds and the geometric preciseness of their seed pods.

But yes, when the end of the line for those seeds turns out to be in my garden beds, I do yank them out.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Inspiration, Part 2

Sometimes ideas arrive half-baked. The question then is if that idea will ever mature into a full-fledged great idea, or will it always remain half-baked? And more importantly, will you have the patience to let the idea ripen, or will you discard it too soon?

A couple of years ago, I had the idea to plant about one hundred drumstick Allium in a bed on the east side of my driveway. I loved the way that these burgundy red heads floated above other plants in early summer, adding little exclamation points to the garden. The problem was the "other plants" in that vision. The planting that first inspired me had used near-white daylilies under the alliums. But that always struck me like a one-hit wonder. "Give me a ticket for an allium. . ." It would look great for a short period of time, then all those daylilies would start to look a little ratty.

So my alliums floated away above the mulch. I added some liatris, which only added more vertical interest to a very vertical vision. What to do?

Thanks to Fran Sorin's excellent interview with Piet Oudolf on Gardening Gone wild, I began to explore Piet's great website. And there I found directions on how to finish baking my idea.

Piet is a huge proponent of ornamental grasses and uses them in his designs with breathtaking effect. One of his gardens has paired my infamous drumstick alliums with a low-growing, clumping ornamental grass. That's when the light bulb went off over my head, and I muttered, "Sporobolus!"

Next week I shall plant about a dozen Sporobolus heterolepis, or Prairie Dropseed, in that bed. Stay tuned for photos next summer of my alliums floating above a bed of grass!

And my next post will be on my favorite topic of patience.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I'm lichen this!

When I was taking the sunset photos on Friday evening, I noticed that the lichen growing on the trunk of the ginkgo tree looked intriguing.

Today, I was very glad that I had taken the photo then. After two frosts, snow flurries and a hard freeze, the ginkgo leaves today looked rather sad and the lichen was not as colorful as it had been Friday night.

Hard to believe that we've had our first "official" snowfall on October 10th! A cold fall on the heels of a cold summer does not leave me thinking warm thoughts about winter.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday evening sunset

Today was a cold and rainy Fall day that felt more like early November than October. I put my jacket on at 6:30 in the morning to head to work and at 6:30 pm I still had not taken it off; I couldn't seem to shake the cold and damp.

I was wasting time on the computer when I looked outside and realized that the setting sun had dropped below the layer of clouds. I grabbed the camera and headed outside to capture the amazing light. Here's a good photo of the sun highlighting the little bluestem and Indian grass:

In this view, the sun is just catching the Red Wing Viburnum. This bed is on the east front corner of the house.

Here's the west front corner of the house. I wish I could photoshop out the antenna on top of the house, but I sure do appreciate the internet speed it provides.

I was thinking the other day that I don't have a lot of fall color, but looking around tonight I think that perhaps I was too hasty in my judgment.

Finally, a view of the western sky with the clearing clouds.

Those clearing skies contribute to the likelihood of a frost tonight. I think I'm ready to say farewell to the annuals.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Some Fall Color

I took a quick walk around the garden yesterday afternoon to capture some of the fall highlights. We tend not to have a "blaze of glory" in the autumn; instead we find gleaming jewels here and there in the landscape.

About four years ago I was intrigued by a little viburnum in a quart pot at Vareigated Foliage Nursery in Connecticut. I brought it home in my suitcase, only to find out later that it's a Chicagoland Grows introduction. The Viburnum is V. trilobum Redwing, and it is supposed to be a true V. trilobum, which is the native American Cranberry bush. The spring foliage emerges with a red blush on the leaves, and in fall it really glows.

If you're not familiar with Chicagoland Grows, this is a plant introduction program that is a partnership among the Chicago Botanic Gardens, The Morton Arboretum and the Ornamental Growers Association of Northern Illinois. The goal of the program is to introduce plants that are well-adapted to Midwest growing conditions. More information on the program and the plants can be found at (Sorry, but Blogger is not letting me make that a clickable link right now.) Disclosure: I am on the board of the Ornamental Growers Association of Northern Illinois.

I also love the foliage of the Oakleaf Hydrangea. My plant didn't bloom this year due to a late cold snap, but it grew quite well and is starting to get some nice fall color.

Enjoy the fall!

Monday, October 5, 2009

My Abundant Harvest

Silphium integrifolium - Rosinweed

When I first saw that the theme for the Picture This Photo Contest on Gardening Gone Wild was Abundant Harvest I was disappointed. Our unusual summer weather has left us with a harvest that is far from stellar and a vegetable garden that has not one speck of beauty left in it. Tomato vines grew too slow, then too fast and then gave it up to fungus in our cool wet, September. Green peppers just didn't grow. Ever. I have a pepper plant that was transplanted into the garden in early June that is the exact same size today as it was back in June.

But then I realized that the harvest I most appreciate is the harvest of prairie seeds that we gather every fall. As we work to restore native prairie plants on our land, our annual fall task is to collect as many seeds as possible from the various natives. After the seeds are cleaned, we combine them for different planting conditions and spread the seed in other areas - hopefully, just before a December snowfall.

This rosinweed really caught my eye yesterday. The seed heads aren't quite ready for harvest, but I'll be keeping a close eye on this one over the next week or two.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Harvest time!

No, I'm not bringing in the corn or beans. I'm harvesting seed from the native plants in the garden areas around the house. Later this fall, we'll spread this seed in areas where we're re-establishing native plants.

Today's harvest included thimbleweed, cup plant, nodding onion, Culver's root, liatris, baptisia and lead plant. Here's a photo from July 1st of the lead plant in full bloom:

I've read in a few places that lead plant can be hard to start from seed, but several years ago we spread seed in the prairie area on the west side of our property and now we have lots of lead plant coming up over there. I'll sow some of this year's seed in areas that are a little drier and more gravelly.

I'll continue to work on collecting seed over the next several weeds. Assuming that the goldfinches don't attack me first, since they were not happy that I took the liatris seed that they've been feasting on.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Prairie Grasses in the Fall

Fall is my favorite season of the year, and not just because of the leaf displays. The prairie grasses hit their peak and begin to dominate the landscape. It seems wrong to wax poetic about the color brown, but these grasses truly bring out the beauty of the many shades of brown. Little bluestem turns a rusty brown, then covers itself in little bits of white fluff that glow in the evening sun. Big bluestem goes for a purplish brown while Indian grass takes on golden brown hues. Switch grass stays green a little longer, but eventually turns the palest tan.

The last several days have been cloudy and damp, so there are no good photos of the grasses glowing in the sun. But the raindrops add their own special touch. Here's a stand of switch grass (Panicum virgatum) covered with drops of water from the previous night's rain:

The switch grass is the frothy-looking stuff in the photo; the occasional darker seed heads are Indian grass.

Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) has its own way of displaying the rain:

These grasses all were grown from seed sowed directly into an old field. The seed was sown approximately 17 years ago, so these grasses are well established. They tend to situate themselves in the conditions in which they are happiest, so the Indian grass stays on the higher ground, avoiding the moist areas.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Restoration Home Run!

We went for a walk in the prairie on the west side of our wetlands today. This was the first area that we began restoring on this property, and we started by seeding a mixture of prairie grasses - little bluestem, Indian grass, big bluestem and panic grass. Several years later we added some forbs (flowering prairie plants) and we've been pleased to see a number of those become established. Today, though, we were amazed to discover about a hundred bottle gentians in bloom. This was not a plant we had seeded here, nor had we ever seen it anywhere on the property, so this had to have returned from the seed bank in the soil. I can't imagine how long those seeds lay dormant, waiting for conditions to be right.

This definitely was the highlight of my day!

Thursday, September 24, 2009


A friend's teenage daughter "friended" me on Facebook recently. Today, she posted some rather melancholy thoughts. I don't know her quite well enough to know if I should be alarmed or just amused at a display of teenage angst. Then I reread her post and realized that it sounded a lot like song lyrics. Sure enough, a quick Google search revealed that it was indeed the words to a song by a band I didn't know.

I replied with words from one of my favorite Dan Fogelberg songs.

"Love when you can,
Cry when you have to,
Be who you must,
It's a part of the plan."

Words that I found inspiring when I was in college and words that I still enjoy.

And words that I thought can apply to gardeners as well! We need to love those moments when our gardens (or parts of them, anyway) simply shine, and sometimes we just need to cry when a storm wreaks its havoc, the dog destroys a favorite plant or some other tragedy strikes. But most of, we need to "be who we must" in our gardens. My gardening style is not formal but it makes me happy. And I know that my style can make those who crave neatness and clean edges a little crazy. But we all need to be who we must in our gardens! It is a part of the plan, after all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rehashing Summer

As fall begins, it's not a bad time to think back on what worked and didn't work in the garden this year. I think I'll pick three winners and three losers for today.

1. Echinaceas - 'Pink Double Delight', 'Coconut Lime', 'Pixie Meadowbrite' and 'Virgin' all returned in fine shape after a rough winter and performed well all year. The first two did get a bit floppy as the season progressed.

2. Eragrostis spectabilis - a native grass that's been planted along side the stream for three years now. Last year I was wondering what all the hype was about this grass. This year, I can tell you that it was "Spectabilis!" Nice mounding growth habit and a great froth of seed heads later in the year.

3. Hydrangea 'Limelight' - Wow! what a great flower display this year. All of them are growing well and just thick with good-sized flower heads in late summer.

1. Carex muskingumensis - this native grass looked wonderful last year but this year looked overgrown and shapeless. I need to investigate whether I should be dividing this grass or perhaps if it just had a bad year. Awkward teenage grass?

2. Chasmanthium latifolium - yes, it's time to admit that it DOES reseed - a LOT! Too much. Time to purge!

3. Me - I didn't take many garden photos in August. What was I thinking?

And I didn't take pictures of the stuff that looked bad, so this half of the post is not illustrated.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Season of Asters

Season of asters
Sweet relief from goldenrod,
Purples and sky blue

Fall is the season of asters. I love the shades of blue, purple and pink that dot the fields. I even like the ubiquitous white asters for the softening effect they give the prairie. I grabbed some quick photos after work will there was just barely enough light. Enjoy!

Friday, September 18, 2009


Fall sun on prairie
Ignites the Little Bluestem
Making all things glow

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I feel like I have been lacking in inspiration lately. I was going to say that I've been searching for inspiration, but frankly it's all around me this fall and I just am not being moved by it.

I want to make a small promise that I will create a small post at least four days a week for the next six weeks. I can do that, right?

This morning as I was walking Mystic, about 20 egrets and herons flew across the back of our property. So the egrets have not gone south just yet.

I did like my haiku last week; I just wish I had a great photo to go with it. Perhaps tomorrow I will leave early and take my camera with? Perhaps???

Layers of fog rise,
threading through the morning sun.
September settles.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I was cleaning out my purse . . .

And I found this haiku I had written:

Books can be the source
Of comfort, laughter and tears,
Wisdom, well-written

The yellow magnolia was photographed at Northwind Perennial Farm on May 10.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Emerging Maple Leaves with Flowers

Emerging Maple Leaves with Flowers
Originally uploaded by Veronicastrum

Maples are most famous for their fall colors. But have you ever noticed the spring leaves as they emerge? Or the flowers?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Madness in Merry May

One of the things that I resent about my job is that, just as things are starting to pop in the garden, things at the office are exploding and I have such limited time in the garden. But I did get a chance to get out today and see a few things.

A couple of years ago we planted a white garden behind our firepit area. I've been surprised to find that I really like working with this very limited color palette. The first year that we had the garden, I made a very, very brief stop at a garden center that was almost out of spring bulbs. I grabbed some all-white daffodils, white hyacinths and white tulips - variety unknown. I had very small numbers and spread them sparingly through the garden. I've been surprised to see that the small numbers of bright white flowers make as much impact as some larger displays.

One combination that I've really liked is Fothergilla 'Mt. Airy', Artemisia 'Nana' and the white tulips.

Over in another area, Papaver 'Ruffled Patty' is getting ready to bloom. I read somewhere that the flowerbuds of Papavers are very frequently photographed, and I understand why.

Purple silk unfurls
Emerging from flowerbud
Beauty a-borning

Monday, May 4, 2009

White Trout Lily

White Trout Lily
Originally uploaded by Veronicastrum

Trout Lily is one of the native plant survivors. When all other woodland natives are long gone, Trout Lilies may remain. I've heard of people who live in "converted" woodlands who have these come up in their lawns. The flowers make me think of pixies.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mayapple flower emerging

Originally uploaded by Veronicastrum

The bud of a Mayapple is nestled between two sets of emerging leaves. The speckled leaves in the background are white trout lily.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Phalaenopsis Orchid

Originally uploaded by Veronicastrum

On Saturday I did a presentation on perennials at Orchids By Hausermann in Villa Park. I was sure to bring my camera along since their greenhouse always is a treat. Here' s just one of the hundreds of Phalaenopsis ordhids that were in bloom. These are great orchids for beginners as they are not very expensive, not fussy and they will bloom for quite a long time.

If you've never tried an orchid, consider getting one of these.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Caltha palustris

Caltha palustris
Originally uploaded by Veronicastrum

This Marsh marigold is blooming in the man-made blog at the top of my waterfall. The flowers are just stunning. I wonder if I can remember to collect the seed from this plant?

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Cranes Come Calling

Saturday morning was the annual sandhill crane count in our area. Since we were out of town that day, on Firday my husband spent two hours, starting at 5:30 am, watching for cranes on our wetlands. He had one land, and with the help of the new camera and zoom lens, took this photo.

You can see the area that was burned the previous weekend behind the crane. the early morning sun created some interesting colors as well.

I love sharing my space with the sandhills.

Friday, April 17, 2009

"April is the Cruelest Month..."

It's Aprils like this one that make you believe T.S. Elliot was a very wise man. After such a long, snowy winter you're just dying for spring to get off the ground but it seems to take forever.

We've finally broken through the 60 degree barrier, but it still seems like not much is moving in the garden. This is when you start wavering between the sheer panic of "Nothing's coming back! It all died!" and the common sense view of "It's just too early yet."

I will say that this is the smallest I've ever seen my Heucheras coming out of winter.

Today and yesterday have been warm, and tomorrow promises to be even better. I'll try to remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson and check the garden again on Monday.

"Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience."

Monday, April 13, 2009

April Showers...

They may bring May flowers, but they also bring cool temperatures, gray skies and crummy home opener days!

The sun was shining for a while on Sunday though, and I received a new camera. So I documented the daffodils that were brave enough to bloom in the front yard.

Right now these flowers look so lonely out there. It's hard to believe that in another month or so the bed will be full of plants.

It's a good time to remind ourselves to take some long shots of the garden beds. These will be good to look back upon in the summer when we are thinking of ordering more bulbs to plant. Where do we need more? How much more? Now is the time to answer those questions. Once those beds are full of summer growth, we'll have forgotten how forlorn the clumps of daffodils appeared in April.

Daffodil faces
Brighten our early Spring days
Cheerful yellow smiles

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Thinking in Haiku
Keeps my random thoughts ordered
Brings in some beauty

Just five syllables
And then you get seven more
And end it with five

Secret, sacred place
Lift up your prayers and concerns
Take in your God's love

25 Questions - Sliced and Diced

The 25 questions in my previous post appear in the order that they came to me. I then copied this list and sorted them by what I saw as the four main topics. The questions that I have prioritized under My Goals and The Land would be my 10 most important questions.

My Goals:

Will I find a successful alternative to working behind a desk every day?

Do I have what it takes to be a published writer?

How will I reprioritize my life so that I have more time to spend doing a few things deeply instead of doing too many things shallowly?

Will I give up everything and move to New Mexico?

The Land:

How will our wetlands fare through 2009?

What will be the next invasive plant I have to deal with?

Have I eliminated the Dame's Rocket and Garlic Mustard from the front woods?

Will I ever take the plunge and raise my own chickens and/or goats?

Will the local food movement change the way we grow our food and eat, or is it just a passing fad?

Will my husband and I be able to preserve what we have done on our land forever?

The Future:

Will President Obama be successful in changing this country for the better?

Will my employer have enough money to last until the end of April?

Will I lose my job as a result of the economic downturn?

Will the weather this spring be favorable for garden center businesses?

Will my son and his fiancé have a long and happy marriage?

Will my daughter find someone to share her life with?

Will my children be happy and satisfied as adults?

How long will my older lab live, and will I have to deal with her death on my own?

How long will I be able to garden as I do now?


Will my husband's faith be in tune with mine?

What would my mother think of my children all grown up?

Will people in America ever stop being so deeply divided on so many issues?

Trivial Stuff:

Will my favorite public radio station get their antenna replaced soon so that their signal improves?

Will I maintain my #1 position in the NCAA pool?

Will the Cubs ever win the World Series?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Reflection

He would have been 56 on Monday, but he chose to end his life in February. He was my very first boyfriend, and while the relationship had been over for many years, I was sorry to learn that his life ended so badly.

When I was a teen, most people would have described me as shy. I was quite happy to have one or two close friends and didn't feel a need to be part of a large group. But in the summer of 1972, my closest friend left town for two weeks to visit her sister and I decided it was time to expand my world a little bit.

After seeing my friend off at the airport, I got on my bike, headed over to Marquette Park and started riding around the main road. I was pleased that within a few minutes a "cute guy" in a Camaro smiled and waved to me. On my second lap, he waved again. By the third lap, he had parked his car and was sitting on the hood waiting for me. I stopped and we ended up talking for a couple of hours. It was the beginning of a 14 month relationship.

That Christmas, he gave me a small ring. Some called it a promise ring, others called it a pre-engagement ring. When he gave it to me, he explained that he had not had the money to buy a class ring in high school, so he couldn't give me his ring to show that we were going steady. That was fine with me at first, but when I went back to school and everyone asked when I was getting married, I wondered if I had been right to accept the ring.

The turning point for me came in April. Led Zeppelin was playing at the Chicago Stadium; we had not been able to get tickets but he decided we would try to buy a pair from the scalpers outside. He bought two tickets that were not together and figured we would meet somewhere inside. Unfortunately, one ticket was on the main level and the other was in the balcony. At the old Stadium, there was no way to get from the main floor to the balcony without exiting the building and re-entering another gate. And of course, your ticket would not be accepted at the other level's gate.

So I ended up spending the entire concert with total strangers. And had a wonderful time! When I re-joined my boyfriend after the concert, I realized that the relationship was not what I wanted for the rest of my life.

I waited until shortly before I left for college to officially break up with him. I can criticize myself on many levels here. Yes, I took advantage of his company all summer. Yes, I took the easy way out and waited until I was leaving town and thought I would not have to see him again. We were working in the same place that summer (to be fair, my mother had helped both of us get the jobs) and I didn't want my job to be uncomfortable. It's been a long time now, and I hope that I would handle it differently today but I wouldn't bet good money on it.

So we had the big, dramatic break up scene and it did not go well. I packed my stuff and moved into a dorm in Urbana. My 18th birthday was at the endof the first week, and there were plenty of new friends on my dorm floor who were willing to help me celebrate. We were getting ready to leave the dorm when there was a knock on my door. He had driven down from Chicago, unannounced, and wanted to take me out for my birthday. I was quite upset that he had shown up, and quite firm in insisting that I was not changing my plans.

At the end of the night, he showed up in the dorm again. I "borrowed" my roommate's friend, who stood six foot four inches tall, and had him act intimidating and a little possessive to get the ex-boyfriend to disappear. He left that evening, but a stream of letters followed all through the year. Back at home, my parents reported that he often drove past the house and sometimes stopped to ask how I was doing. The term really wasn't used back then, but his actions bordered on stalking. Finally, well over a year after we broke up I stopped hearing from him.

When the internet and search engines surged in popularity, I started to think about this ghost from my past. I often wondered if he would ever dare to try and contact me again. I suppose I did a little "reverse stalking" in that I would Google his name about once a year to see if he had any presence on the internet. I always took a little comfort in never finding him.

Then about a week ago, I decided to try again. This time, I was surprised to find several hits for his name. Surprise turned to shock when I realized that the hits were the result of his death. He apparently jumped off a bridge over the Chicago River, and although he missed the river he did die as a result of the fall. I will admit that there was a definite sense of relief to know that he will never turn up unexpectedly at my door. But I never would have wished for this end to the story.

The obituaries only peeled back the thinnest of layers of his life. Although he had planned to become a college professor, his occupation was listed as truck driver. One obituary made no mention of a spouse but another named one. She is a psychotherapist and a published poet, and she signed a guest book as "your wife of thirty years who was relegated to oblivion". I feel that there is either a very interesting or a very sad story behind that comment.

So many thoughts have gone through my head. I'm very glad that my life has followed the path that it has. I don't regret the decisions I made so long ago,but I hope that those decisions did not lead to an unhappy path for him. And then I wonder if it is egotisical to even speculate in that direction. I don't want to sound opportunistic, but I can see the beginnings of a fictional story speculating on the relationship between him and his spouse. Overriding all of this, though, is that sense of relief that it has finally, truly ended.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

25 Burning Questions

1. How long will I be able to garden as I do now?

2. Will I give up everything and move to New Mexico?

3. Will I find a successful alternative to working behind a desk every day?

4. Will my children be happy and satisfied as adults?

5. Will I lose my job as a result of the economic downturn?

6. Do I have what it takes to be a published writer?

7. How will our wetlands fare through 2009?

8. What will be the next invasive plant I have to deal with?

9. Have I eliminated the Dame's Rocket and Garlic Mustard from the front woods?

10. Will I ever take the plunge and raise my own chickens and/or goats?

11. Will the local food movement change the way we grow our food and eat, or is it just a passing fad?

12. Will President Obama be succesful in changing this country for the better?

13. Will my husband's faith be in tune with mine?

14. Will my favorite public radio station get their antenna replaced soon so that their signal improves?

15. How will I reprioritize my life so that I have more time to spend doing a few things deeply instead of doing too many things shallowly?

16.Will my son and his fiancé have a long and happy marriage?

17. Will my daughter find someone to share her life with?

18. How long will my older lab live, and will I have to deal with her death on my own?

19. What would my mother think of my children all grwon up?

20. Will people in America ever stop being so deeply divided on so many issues?

21. Will my employer have enough money to last until the end of April?

22.Will I maintain my #1 position in the NCAA pool?

23. Will the Cubs ever win the World Series?

24. Will the weather this spring be favorable for garden center businesses?

25. Will my husband and I be able to preserve what we have done on our land forever?

The 25 questions above appear in the order that they came to me. I then copied this list and sorted them by what I saw as the four main topics. The questions that I have prioritized under My Goals and The Land would be my 10 most important questions.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Stepping Stones - Appreciating the Natural World

1. My Little Golden Guide wildflower book - I thought a city kid never would see those flowers in real life
2. High school retreat - wandering into the forest preserve area and being awed
3. Allerton Park in college - more natural beauty, and wanting to know what things were
4. Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards - starting to learn and to work with the land
5. Buying Land, hoping there was some potential for restoration
6. Discovering what's really there
7. Appreciating a Land Ethic
8. Going forward

Letter to the Land

Dear Land,

First of all, I'm not really sure how to address you. I want to call you "my land" but I know that land ownership is such a man-made concept. I prefer the concept of stewardship, but if I am the steward, are you the stewardee? Awkward title at best!

My family has been your caretaker for almost sixteen years now. Before we took charge of you, you had been farmed for corn and soybeans in the recent past, and likely for hay at some time in the more distant past. But not all of your acres had been farmed. The front woods seemed to be undisturbed for a long, long time, and your wetlands never were drained thoroughly. Once we built our house and moved in, the farming came to an end and we began working to restore your natural state.

What I really would like to know is if we are doing the right thing? We hope that we are restoring your health, but it's so hard to know if we are doing the right thing, or if this is just the "current fashion" of the right thing. Will some future generation look back at what we did and shake their heads in disgust? I try in all aspects of my life to do the right thing, but without feedback it's hard to know if I am.

Yours in stewardship,


Dear Marlene,

Over the years, the treatment that I've received at the hands of man has varied greatly. For a long time, there were only those that you call Native Americans. They never spent a lot of time with me because my waters are very seasonal. The Native Americans came and went with the waters and left very little impact.

The earliest farmers showed up about 150 years ago. At first it wasn't too bad. The farm was small and not very intensive. Some years, I had so much water that they couldn't farm large areas. Then the idea of drain tiles came around. The land to the south, my sister acres, had lots of drain tiles installed and her waters disappeared almost entirely. But the man who was farming me only put in one drain tile, and not very well at that. I kept hearing him mutter about money, and what he would do if he had his neighbors' money. Perhaps it was best for me that he didn't have a lot of this money?

As time passed, the machines that rode over me got bigger, harsh chemical were poured onto me, and the rows of crops became more dense, sapping more and more out of me. But then one day, it ended. Of course, there was that huge hole gouged into my brow, but the other indignities stopped.

And I began to respond. Can't you see it? Remember that spring before the farming ended, when I pulled your shoe right off your foot? Have you seen muck like that since the plowing stopped? Of course not. I'm rebuilding my structure with the roots of the prairie plants that you sowed. In other places, you've removed plants that I did not care for. As the buckthorn has disappeared from my woodlands, I've been able to resprout the wildflowers that have grown here for years and years.

Overall, the answer to your question is yes, you've been doing the right thing. Of course, you always can try to live a little more lightly upon me. I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't dig any more of those big holes in me, and please be careful of what you dump on me or drive over me. But keep removing the brush. I fear it will be a never-ending battle for you but the results are worth the effort.

You mention worrying about future generations. The best thing you could do is promise to protect me forever. Then I could rest easy every winter instead of fearing that the next spring will be the one that brings back the destruction.

Thanks for the concern,

The Land Under Your Care

Monday, March 9, 2009

I Prefer

I prefer the call of the sandhill crane to the wail of an ambulance
I prefer the color blue
I prefer to putter in the garden on a summer's day instead of shoveling snow
I prefer to chat online instead of on the telephone
I prefer singer-songwriters and jangly guitars to rap (but I will listen to hard rock)
I prefer Etsy to Wal-Mart
I prefer things to run smoothly (especially computer things)
I prefer to be with my extended family instead of a crowd of strangers (but I can be very comfortable in a crowd of strangers)
I prefer to have a strong faith in a higher power
I prefer pizza
I prefer dogs, especially labs
I prefer botanic names to common names
I prefer that everyone plays nice and takes responsibility for their actions
I prefer Trader Joe's
I prefer blue states
I prefer peace
I prefer a good red wine
I prefer prairie grass to Kentucky bluegrass
I prefer my agaves in pots
I prefer to have someone else clean the toilets so I can rearrange the garden
I prefer homegrown tomatoes right off the vine
I prefer NPR to TV
I prefer reading to working (but reading doesn't pay the bills)
I prefer to think before I speak

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Winter's Day

And so we begin. Since it's a little early for gardening advice, I thought I would start with a tale from life in the country today.

I should have paid more attention to the crows. As I was enjoying my coffee this morning, I noticed several crows flying about in the snowstorm, but I didn't think to wonder why there were so many of them about. A murder of crows, as they say. When it was time to let the dogs out, my black lab, Mystic, made a beeline for the area that the crows were hanging about. Sunrise, the older dog, gave me a couple of guilty looks over her shoulder and headed off to join Mystic. Of course, neither one of them paid any heed to my calls.

I threw on my fleece and shoes, grabbed the leashes and headed after them. What I found was not too pretty. There was a deer that had been killed very recently. The coyotes and the crows had been doing their thing, but I wasn't going to let the labs have too much venison sushi for their breakfast. It took a little work, but I finally got them herded back to the house.

Needless to say, they were walked on leashes the remainder of the day. Now, Sunrise is snoring rather heavily at my side. Do they make C-Paps for dogs?