Category Archives: Wicker Park, Chicago

Chicago’s Favorite Fast and Free Flora and Fauna

Having lived my first 20 years in the sparseness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, it’s no surprise that I get a little stir-crazy in the big city. Add to that several weeks of recent cold weather and this hibernation has me thinking a head of lettuce looks like the great outdoors.

But despite the weather, and perhaps armed with the optimism that the days are getting longer with a prediction of 60 degrees tomorrow, we ventured out this past weekend to get a much-needed dose of nature. We heard there have been Great Horned Owl sighting at Busse Woods, so we drove up to Elk Grove Village. This is what we saw:

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 If you’ve never visited the elk grove, it’s a quick and easy way to see some “wildlife” – granted they’re fenced in on a slice of acreage at Busse Woods. The elk are supervised and fed by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
After you visit the elk, follow their fence to the trail along the tree line. It makes for an easy hike with plenty to see- fields with picnic areas and pavilions if you’re looking for a  family outing. Or if you want to get your shoes in the snow/dirt, continue walking past the fields toward the small lake. You’re sure to see birds no matter the season. When we were there this past weekend it was cold but the trees were alive with tapping woodpeckers. We also saw several hawks and at least five deer. But, alas, no owls. On the back trails there were very few people, so chances are you’ll be able to enjoy a good stretch of quiet.
 
If you’ve already done the elk thing, another quick stop off for nature can be found along the city’s lakeshore. Did you know we have several bird sanctuaries on the edge of downtown? Montrose Point is an impressive place for bird watching and it’s particularly quiet and peaceful in the winter. Last year it gained attention for being a stopover for snowy owls. This year I haven’t seen any owls, but the cardinals are stunning against the dull brownness of this year’s winter.
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If it’s too cold, or in the case of today, too rainy, you can get your nature fix indoors. The  Garfield Park Conservatory, as I’ve said before, is one of the biggest and best in the country. You’re imagination can get lost in the Jurassic-esque tropical foliage swooping down over the brick paths. If it weren’t for the warm humidity, you’d forget you’re under a canopy of glass a few minutes from The Loop. The conservatory is always free (unless you live here, then you pay a pretty handsome city tax) so visit and visit often.
 
A final winter favorite is spending a day in Lincoln Park. Although the butterfly haven atop the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, requires an admission fee, it’s a pretty special place for both kids and adults. Just as fun as the 1,000 free-flight butterflies are the tiny button quail scurrying around under the trees and shrubs. If you sit quietly, they’ll probably come quite close. Intriguing little birds and I think I want one!

While you’re at Notebaert, stop by the nearby Lincoln Park Conservatory or the Lincoln Park Zoo’s petting farm. Both of which are free. Fast ways to get out of the house this winter and get your hands on some flora and fauna. To me that’s great therapy.

If you know of any other fast or free nature destinations in Chicagoland, especially for quick winter getaways, please feel welcome to share below.

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A Strange and Wonderful Growing Season

Well, I said I was going on hiatus from the blog for awhile but I guess this is what hiatus looks like…

It’s the last day of September 2012, but by looking at our rooftop you’d swear it was the first week of June. In the Great Lakes region we’re lucky to have one full growing season, much less two. But that’s exactly what it’s turning out to be- at least here in Chicago, 4 stories up.

Like the rest of the garden, these Atkinson heirloom tomatoes were an anomaly this year. I couldn’t get them to hold blossoms all summer – too hot? – but now in September I have plenty of fruit arriving at all stages from blossom to red ripe.

Green Bell Peppers were absolutely prolific this year and are still going strong. Each plant has more fruit than they can hold – and with new flowers blooming, there’s no sign of stopping. Will probably yield a crop of smaller peppers well into October.

Like the peppers, these Chinese eggplant were fantastic this year. In August the plants seemed to be on their way out. Leaves were yellowing and dropping. But when day time temps got milder, new growth sprouted and now flowers. Will easily have a crop of small eggs in a few weeks. They grow quite fast and can further ripen indoors if the risk of frost threatens the young’n’s.

What? A double season of squash? Now that’s a new one for me. This Dwarf Hubbard squash grew very quickly this month after the plant was surely about to dry up and blow away with the wind. Not thinking the season would support them to maturity, we actually had a September meal of squash blossoms. Glad I left one on the vine!

Another surprise – a third round of strawberries. These Ozarks are bound and determined to hold onto every last ray of sunshine this year. Fine by me!

It probably comes as no surprise that the Japanese Shishitos gave us more than we could handle this year. We ate, and ate, and ate, and gave away, and pickled. And guess what? Yup, another round of foliage and blossoms popped up this week. I think I’m going to start leaving them on people’s doorstep at night. Here’s a jar of pickled peppers that yielded amazing flavor.

Extra Dwarf Pak Choi did great in the spring but a second planting in the summer was quickly snuffed out by the heat. I planted these seeds a week and a half ago and expect to have several meals over the next couple weeks. Perfect weather for brassicas.

Mildly warm days and cool nights is ideal weather for late season greens like this arugula.

A flourishing Autumn herb garden? This cilantro seems to think so. So do its companions parsley and dill.

Not to be left out, this California poppy plant that had fully died back after its summer show is making a resurgence.

Attempting to upstage the entire crowd, this floribunda ‘Moondance’ rose towers over the garden in its 3rd blooming cycle of the summer. Am I going to have white roses at Christmas?

This year the news was full of stories about drought and poor farming conditions. Here in Chicago, it’s just been bizarre. If you felt this year’s season was strange too, I’d love to hear your story in the comment section.

Alright I really must put an end to these distractions. So back to work… unless I find more surprises up there.

It Was Almost Something – Friday June 29th 2012

Hey Chicago, did you catch those wicked clouds today? I thought we were in for some excitement but in a matter of minutes they flattened out and became a non-event. Here’s the view from Wicker Park:

 

Self-irrigated Planters and City of Chicago Gardening Rebates

I’m just about to head out to buy potting mix and then get the last of my seeds in. Aside from the inevitable wind & hail that spring will bring, the weather is looking great for the garden. In fact, just harvested my first batch of dwarf bok choy (pak choi) today. This variety from Kitazawa grew so quickly it was ready to harvest in just a few weeks:

Dwarf bok choi grown in an EarthBox. From seed to table in just a few weeks.

Last night at Home Depot I found a slightly cheaper alternative to EarthBoxes. The self-irrigated planter called “City Pickers” is made in the U.S. by Emsco Group. It was $29.95 which is a few bucks less than the online price of EarthBoxes, plus you save on shipping. Also, they claim the plastic is recycled & recyclable. The box measures 24″ x 20″ and holds 1.5 cubic ft. of potting media. Like EarthBox, Emsco suggests adding granular fertilizer and dolomite (lime). City Pickers comes with a mulch cover, aeration screen, fill tube, and, unlike EarthBox, the casters are included at no extra cost. Looking forward to comparing the two. The only other immediate difference I see is that the Emsco box has a shallower but wider surface area for root systems.

Since I’m sending in my rebate forms for Chicago’s “Sustainable Backyards” program this week, I thought it would be a good reminder for city residents to look into this program if you haven’t already.  The city will reimburse you up to 50% of the cost of certain landscaping plants, rain barrels, and composters that are purchased locally. After the rebate, my double chamber composter will only cost $50! The program runs until the end of the year.

Chicago, Is It Safe To Plant Yet?

The 10-day forecast is looking pretty decent Chicago (zones 5-6), save for tomorrow’s night time temp in the mid-40s. Dare I risk making a predication that we’ll be in the safe planting zone starting the end of this week? I don’t foresee frost being an issue, but many varieties of warm weather veggies don’t like cold nighttime temps- unlike leafy greens which thrive under cooler conditions.  So if you’re thinking spinach and lettuce, the 80’s we’re receiving this week is not a good seeding climate. Everything else, however might just be in the clear. But don’t take my word for it, I don’t want anybody knocking on my door with shriveled or stunted seedlings if we have a midwest surprise! Start the conversation here… what are you planting and when?

Chicago Events This Weekend (and next), 5/5 – 5/13

If you can make it to Wicker Park this weekend, visit the actual Wicker Park (field house) where they’ll be having a plant sale Saturday 5/5 & Sunday 5/6. Proceeds benefit the Wicker Park Garden Club’s maintenance of 10,000 sq. ft. of gardens within Wicker Park itself and the garden club’s 7 month lecture & workshop series (Saturday’s lecture is on raising chickens).

I walked the pup to Wicker Park today and it’s beautiful right now- the gardens are lush with greenery, white iris are in full bloom, and birds are singing. The garden club is setting up the plant sale today and they have a great mix of annuals, perennials and veggies. Gardening experts are on-hand to give advice on the best plants for your garden.

This weekend at Navy Pier is Green Festival 2012, an event dedicated to sustainable economy, ecological balance, and social justice. If you happen to subscribe to email updates from the Organic Consumer’s Association, check your inbox for a code to get into the festival for free (otherwise tickets are available at the door).

Version Fest  kicks off its big first weekend in Bridgeport with a blend of pop-up shops and rotating list of food trucks. Version 12 lasts for the full month of May in the Bridgeport neighborhood. Don’t miss Enoch’s Doughnuts, I wrote a blog about them a couple months back and according to their Facebook page they sell out fast.

Last event for this weekend is gazing at the “super moon” on Saturday night. It’s everywhere in the news but you might have needed a reminder. Chicago’s looking pretty cloudy so you might have to use your imagination on this one.

Next weekend you don’t want to miss THE CITY’S ANNUAL FREE PLANT GIVEAWAY!

Second TulipMania! and Mother’s Day Plant Sale
Saturday, May 12 and Sunday, May 13
Hours: 10 am – 3 pm
Where: Garfield Market Gate (on Central Park Ave, just north of the Main Lobby entrance)
Cost: Tulip bulbs are free!

Every spring, the City of Chicago and Chicago Park District pull all of the tulips from downtown and Chicago parks to replace them with warmer season plantings. TulipMania is an event that recycles these bulbs so they can be distributed to the public for free. Tulip bulbs are given on a first come, first served basis. They go fast, and the line begins to form early. Tulip bulbs are given away in mixed bags and yours may include varieties like “Maggie Daley,” “Rococco Parrot,” “Princess Irene,” and more!In conjunction with the tulip bulb giveaway, the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance is hosting a Mother’s Day Tropical Plant Sale in the Garfield Market Place, which will include a variety of tropical houseplants, succulents and a limited supply of garden seedlings. There will also be Hail Storm Glass pieces by artist Beth Berger Martin on sale to raise funds to rebuild after last summer’s hail storm. All plant sale proceeds benefit the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance’s programming and aid in the reconstruction efforts.

Seeking Tolerant Landscaping Suggestions

Today my neighbor enlisted me to help her find landscaping plants for the street adjacent to our property. So I’m enlisting help from my readers. I’ve been mostly a gardener of edibles and indoor potted plants, so ornamentals aren’t by strong suit. Here are the criteria and I’d appreciate any suggestions:

The length of the strip we have to work with is of less importance than the width. I’d estimate with width to be about 3 ft. max. This is alongside a busy road, so plants can’t have much horizontal ground spread. There are about 4 juvenile slow growing trees planted in the area already, so we’d want something below them.

The plants will be on the north side of a retaining wall, so there’s not going to be afternoon sun but strong morning sun & summer heat. There’s no irrigation, so they need to be midwest hearty plants. Plenty of spring and summer rain, but drought tolerant in late summer and fall. Snow & cold tolerant of course.

Okay, have I eliminated everything but dwarf hosta? We’re mostly looking at perennials,  ground cover, small shrubs or dwarf ornamental trees.