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Southwestward Ho! A Gardener’s Tour of St. Louis

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Birds, Bugs & Butterflies, Historic Places, Landscape Architecture, Public Gardens and Parks | 8 Comments

Someday I will create an app that is just for gardeners. My app will use your phone’s GPS to tell you every place nearby that would be of interest to a gardener: nurseries, garden centers, botanic gardens, cemeteries, parks, outdoor history museums, farms, that day’s garden events…YELP might be for restaurants and gas stations, GELP [Gardeners Eager for Local Places] would be for “anything garden.” Trip Advisor needs a gardener’s tour section too.

Take, for example, John and my recent two-night trip to St. Louis. We packed a lot in: first, we went to the University of Missouri’s Mercantile Library to donate an oil painting of the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau by Fred Greene Carpenter. I LOVE this type of museum: founded in 1846, it is the oldest library west of the Mississippi and is therefore FULL of “stuff”, art and books. My kind of heaven. When we visited, it had a display of Audubon (yes, the Library bought a double folio in 1858 from Audubon’s family) plus many other botanical, mammal, insect, and bird prints. AND they had a “phrenology head” on display. Way cool early psychiatry. Can ya just feel the meaning of your head bumps? (Btw, Amazon has these heads for sale for $73. Etsy=$17. Marvelous Christmas present, I’m sure.)

Phrenology head

Nearby we visited Bellefontaine Cemetery, which is of interest for three reasons. First, founded in 1849, it is a great example of the bucolic cemetery (and early park) movement in America. Second, Bellefontaine was designed by Almerin Hotchkiss, who is reputed to have also designed Lake Forest, IL, where we live. I wondered if there were obvious comparisons between the two places. Answer: yes. Third, when Lake Forest decided a few years ago to update its “Forest Park” (the Chicago region’s third oldest park, set aside in 1857), I (and others, including the family of O.C. Simonds) worked hard to have its chosen landscape architect treat it as a “cultural landscape” so that it would retain its historic character. Turns out the chosen landscape architect cared more about being contempo than being historic, so while the idea of cultural landscape preservation didn’t work out in Lake Forest, it has at Bellefontaine. Beautifully. The trees are awesome!

Winding roads made of macadam and having high crowns, trees right next to the road, trees and shrubs, lakes, and fabulous short- and long-views

Hotchkiss’ design for Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis is a fine example of the American tradition of park landscaping.

John and I were heartened to see that Bellefontaine’s streets are paved with macadam (lots of aggregate), has granite curbing flush with the grass, trees planted this-close to the streets, a high crown in the road to steer drainage, adherence to the topography, and sight lines created by the judicious placement of trees and shrubbery, including (this is a modern motif) pockets of prairie grasses. The cemetery–the fourteenth of the great rural cemeteries in America–is in itself an accredited arboretum.

Louis Sullivan’s 1892 mausoleum for St. Louis businessman Ellis Wainwright is at Bellefontaine:

After seeing this jewel, we were compelled to go downtown to see the 1891 Wainwright office building (“the building that changed America”), which has not fared as well as the mausoleum. To save it, the State of Missouri bought it (in the 1970’s?), saved the exterior (mostly), and turned the inside into the-most-banal-looking government offices. Even the Soviets would be embarrassed.

Off we went for lunch in “The Hill”–the fantastico Italian neighborhood–and then to the 79-acre Missouri Botanical Garden. The MBG is informally known as “Shaw’s Garden” for its founder, Henry Shaw, who often traded trees with…wait for it…Almerin Hotchkiss. This garden was Shaw’s home (still there) and dates to 1859, which puts it on the National Register of Historic Places. The MBG is well known for its 1977 Japanese garden, called Seiwa-en, which is the largest Japanese garden in America as well as its 1960 Climatron, the first geodesic dome greenhouse. Not to mention the Bavarian Garden. And we loved the 1882 Linnean Greenhouse, the oldest operating greenhouse west of the Mississippi.


Unfortunately, we did not see the “Jewel Box” greenhouse located in nearby Forest Park. This 1936 Art Deco confection is also on the National Register. You can see why:

I hope you enjoyed my one-day gardener’s tour of St. Louis. By the way, we also tried to take in Cahokia Mounds–just fourteen miles from St. Louis is Collinsville, Illinois–but it was not open. Welcome to Illinois’ budget cuts: this historic six-acre Native American site is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. If I designed an app, that info would be on it. G’rrr.##


So Beautiful, So Scary, It’s the Future

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Conservation and Ecology, Environmental Protection, Plants | 3 Comments

Fall is in its glory, with beautiful weather days, clouds, pumpkins and leaf colors surrounding us here in Chicago.

Chicago pumpkins

Revel in this loveliness, dear readers, because Climate Change is with us everywhere always. Last Saturday, I attended a seminar at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The subject? A scientific study of which trees we should be planting because they are well suited to….future heat levels in the Chicago region. Here’s some winners: American Hornbeam [Carpinus caroliniana] ‘Firespire’, Kentucky Coffeetree [Gymnocladus dioicus] ‘Top Hat’, Miyabe Maple [Acer miyabei] ‘State Street’. Here’s a loser: White oak. My heart weeps to think this tree may be gone from Chicago by 2050.

As I write, the biggest hurricane EVER is looming down on wonderful Manzanillo, Mexico, which we once had the pleasure of visiting, bringing with it 12″ of rain across the American Gulf Coast. 2015 is the hottest year on record. The oceans are already three degrees warmer than the 20th century average (and it takes a lot of heat to heat up an entire ocean), and drought will mean MILLIONS will be starving in Africa. India and Pakistan hit 118 degrees last spring, leaving no water supply. Thousands of people died. Did we even KNOW THAT? (Pet peeve: TV weather reports never show international maps, as if no one lives in foreign countries. Even Canada doesn’t show up on the TV news.)

But 25 “red” states are suing the Federal government for trying to reduce emissions via regulations to be published by the EPA today. It’s a disingenuous ploy to seem like they are saving coal mining jobs since most states** are preparing plans to do the right thing, climate wise, and meet the regulations thru their own cap-and-trade programs. (**Hard-core Governors that are suing the Feds without creating their own air quality plans are Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma.)

I’m grateful to live in Chicago, which seems fairly insulated from the big environmental disasters. But the “hot” news from elsewhere makes me want to either pull the blankets over my head and hide OR do something pro-active. I live in a big house (actually, two houses), own three cars (none battery powered), and own numerous gas-driven tractors, lawnmowers, chain saws and leaf blowers. Which means that I’m more responsible in thought (admission: I think electricity is the best invention ever) and deed for bleaching the coral animals than the average guy, although not anywhere as bad as the Koch brothers, the Tennessee Valley Authority (yes, the Federal government’s own power plants), or Exxon Mobil. Their coal companies power my house and their refineries power my vehicles. Moi? Mea culpa.

Here’s a great Forbes article that explains the big polluters and the trade-offs we make.

No matter how many (heat tolerant) trees I plant, it’s time for me to say “no” to gasoline and coal. Maybe one less person will starve or one more coral will live because I didn’t blow the leaves away quite so fast or (gasp) raked and composted the leaves. Less air conditioning and “cleaner” cars. Ya think?##

Sounds like I’m singing the blues today. Here’s some “blues”, in recent photographs…






It All Adds Up…or…Plants of the World, Unite!

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Birds, Bugs & Butterflies, Conservation and Ecology | 3 Comments

I think one of the best things about life on earth is the NY Times. I’ve been reading it daily–and fairly closely–every day since I was a teenager.

There is so much information in every issue that it can make my brains hurt. And since there is not enough room in my cranium (please no remarks) to store all this written material, I am compelled to share the paper’s good and fascinating information with…you. From time to time, that is. I won’t pester you with doomsday too often, promise.

Here’s some recent good stuff that relates to gardening, which relates to conservation, and animals, and minerals and health and capitalism and government and, well, to my life. And to your’s.

For example, an example of animal conservation. You will recall, no doubt, that our 19th and early 20th century cowboy ancestors thought the Prairie Chicken so delicious that they shot dead one million birds from the tallgrass prairies that lined the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana and Texas. They probably killed ’em all in just one day. Or maybe two. Anyway, it’s 2015 and now a TOTAL (!) of 104 birds struggle to survive at the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Eagle Lake Texas. Despite the best efforts of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the chicks that they had carefully and fairly recently hatched were dying.

Why? Because, the NYTimes tell us, an invasive species–red fire ants–“were decimating the insect population of the prairie. While adults eat plants and insects, the chicks dine primarily on insects, [so] the chicks were starving to death”. The good news is that “exterminating the fire ants and adding more plants that attract insects in the refuge has helped.” Last year, 60% of the chicks survived. Sadly, though, “a storm dumped more than 10 inches of rain on the refuge and the new chicks drowned or died of exposure”. Can you spell, “climate change”?

Next, the NYTimes leads us to the war between organic companies and the Monsanto regarding GMO labeling on the food we eat. The Federal government requires any product labeled “organic” to be free of ingredients produced from GMO seeds. On the flip side of that coin, Monsanto hires many professors to testify against the labeling horror in states that might want to follow the Federal  effort with their own labeling legislation. [Since consumers now doubt the profe$$or$, Monsanto’s advertising is soon going to feature more believable “mommy farmers”, but I digress.] But since the “organic movement” doesn’t feed the world or make billions in profits, the Agriculture Department in 2014 “approved GMO soybeans and cottonseed designed by Monsanto and treated with Dow-produced herbicide”.

Let’s keep going here. While the Feds or states don’t make most food companies disclose what’s actually in our food, the Federal government will now allow companies to say “made without ractopamine”, a chemical given pigs and chickens and some beef so that the animals can gain muscle weight while using fewer calories. Did you ever know about this practice before today? (I didn’t.) You want to know just how bad this stuff is? The Chinese won’t let us bring pigs or chickens into China because they don’t trust it. The Chinese! Now that explains why the big boys, like Tyson, are all of a sudden eager to have the Feds create a “made without ractopamine” label…they want to sell their animals to China (and to the EU and Russia and all the others that ban ractopamine.) So it was really not the organic crowd that got this label labelled…it was the mega-ag fellas.

Stay with me here. Can any of my readers imagine CROPS (ie plants) that don’t die after being (accidentally) sprayed by RoundUp? Well, okay, it’s old news that we eat soybeans and corn which are genetically engineered to withstand RoundUp. The new news is that the Ag Dept has approved corn and soybeans that can withstand spraying with 2-4 D. 2-4 D? OMG, do you remember Agent Orange?! Here’s the grim facts and “government speak” of this craziness:

“The Agriculture Department, in its environmental analysis, predicted that approval of the crops would lead to a 200 percent to 600 percent increase in the use of 2,4-D nationally by 2020. But it said analysis of the effects of that increased use was the responsibility of the E.P.A. The Agriculture Department said ITS [emphasis mine] approval depended mainly on whether the crops would harm other plants.” 

EPA is whether humans are poisoned. Ag is whether plants are poisoned. This is why people hate government.

Now, just in case you worry about human trafficking or slavery or child soldiers, as the State Department does, the NYTimes tells us there is a 356-page disclosure rule via Dodd-Frank that requires our companies to disclose “conflict minerals” in their products (like frozen shrimp from Thailand sold by Costco or tin that gives Party City’s balloons their sheen).

So, here’s an idea. If we can require such an onerous disclosure rule that probably has little real impact on slavery (compared with, say, paying decent wages), can’t we know that the food we eat was made with seeds resistant to the chemicals that kill the insects that kill the Prairie Chickens or the milkweed that feeds Monarch butterflies or the herbicide that killed people that lived or soldiered in Vietnam? Just sayin’.

Gardening these days requires a lot of thought.##

PS Here’s some good news: McDonalds, which uses 2 billion eggs annually, wants to let their hens be cage-free. This will take ten years to accomplish, but hey. Free the hens! Free the hens!






Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Birds, Bugs & Butterflies | 2 Comments

Thank you, o creator of heaven and earth, for bestowing this perfect moment.



September. Already?

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in My Gardens, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Man, time flies. And so many projects (ie dividing Iris, dividing everything, cleaning garage) are left undone, again this year. But I just had to go for a walk with Daughter #2 who snapped this great photo…

Pioneer Road barns 9-6-2015 1-46-53 PM

It was also important to create a feast (salad Nicoise) using our own “farm farsh” eggs. Alas, the black olives and string beans for the salad were not from our garden, but the broccoli and Brussels sprouts and herbs and tomatoes were. It’s been a lousy year for all tomatoes but those zinnias–magnifique–the best year ever!


Zinnias and beans 9-6-2015 8-26-42 AM

And I even managed to make peach preserves yesterday.


Happy Labor Day! Here comes Fall..#



Landscape’s Loss

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Gardeners & Designers, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

It is a sad day in Chicago landscape history, for internationally-known landscape architect Peter Schaudt, 56, died on July 19. Peter was co-partner in the firm [Doug] Hoerr Schaudt. Here is his obituary, written by Chicago Tribune architecture critic, Blair Kamin.

Blair also wrote a story back in 2011 when Doug’s prairie at Trump Tower in Chicago was ripped out after just one year and replaced with a more conventional garden. It’s wasteful and always shocking to me just how often one designer’s work gets tossed. A sad phenomenon.

Peter was a very great talent. Chicago should be very proud to have had him as our’s.#20150727-peter



Catching Up: First Monarch in the July Garden

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Birds, Bugs & Butterflies | 5 Comments

Monarch season is starting very slowly. The first Monarch I noticed, perched on a stockade fence, in our Lake Forest garden visited last week. Alas, I had no camera in hand. Yesterday morning, however, this mistah buttafly flitted onto the Allium ‘Summer Beauty’ (a must-have plant, durable as hell), completely ignoring the nearby, wait for it…Butterfly Weed [Asclepias tuberosa].  I haven’t seen any Monarchs at all at our farm in Richmond, about an hour northwest of Lake Forest. Hopefully it’s still early, but the Milkweed is going to seed already so…

Monarch on Allium Summer Beauty 7-23-2015 7-59-03 AM

Right nearby, a Red Admiral was enjoying the Allium as well. These are common “lady butterflies” which do take nectar but are more partial to eating overripe fruit, sap, and yes, old meat and poo-poo. (Butterflies may look beautiful, but the back story can be really terrible.) And, like some males of our species, it is said that the “males are territorial, especially in the late afternoon and evening. They select a perch where the sun shines and dart out at passing objects as they search for females.” Bring it on, fellas!#

Butterfly Red Admiral 1 7-23-2015 8-00-37 AM

Look but Don’t Touch

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Plants, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I know, I know, dear readers, that I have been absent from writing since April. And even today I am only given you un petit soupcon of a post. Here’s our lovely vegetable garden showing off broccoli and lettuce, but alas, there’s been too much humidity and rain to actually garden in it. But tonight, tonight, we will be consuming some of that lettuce–planted back in April when I should have been writing to you. All my best. It’s a rain forest out there… Rommy

Richmond Veggie Garden

UP in the Garden, UP in the Prairie, UP in the Lake

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Birds, Bugs & Butterflies, Conservation and Ecology, Plants | 4 Comments

It’s the end of March and the weather has been down (a horrible cold blustery day last Sunday, March 29) and UP (today is 60 and sunny). I heard a radio report  that ships won’t be able to get to Burns Harbor, IN for another two weeks because the Lakes are still too frozen. But out in the the gardens, it’s fun to notice hints of color popping UP thru the soil. And yesterday was, “Drop Everything Day! It’s perfect for the prairie!” so off we went to the farm to be pyromaniacs. Fire it UP! And then on the way home, two geese in Redwing Slough in Antioch gave me a great big chuckle…Bottoms UP!


















Reading Up on Land Use Political History

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Birds, Bugs & Butterflies, Books, Conservation and Ecology, Environmental Protection | 2 Comments

This has nothing to do with anything “gardening”, but if you want to read an interesting historical story, check this Lincoln photograph archive article out…Fascinating “garage sale” yarn. Hmm, I guess it is a “conservation”-related story…

Which brings me to this “conservation” insight. I have decided to read every book available on the politics and history of land conservation. Right now I am simultaneously reading The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise by Michael Grunwald and Politics, Pollution, and Pandas: An Environmental Memoir by Russell E. Train, who was President of the World Wildlife Fund but was also a key Nixon-era EPA director and Interior Dept deputy. Before that, he headed the [new in 1969] Council on Environmental Quality, which oversaw the law requiring Federal agencies (like the US Army Corps of Engineers, did you know it has 37,000 employees?!) to publish Environmental Impact Statements [EIS]. I’ve always liked this land use law stuff: my Master’s Thesis was about the value of EIS’s…

Anywho, the two books are a good combination, because one book gives the State/Florida angle on “saving” the Everglades and the other gives the Federal perspective. And it’s really interesting to think about names “from the past” like John Erlichman [who “put the kibosh” on the Everglades-killing Miami Jetport and was a Seattle land use attorney before going to DC], Nixon himself [who wasn’t actually personally interested in the environment but initiated hugely-important environmental protections as a political move to get or stay ahead of the Democrats], VP Al Gore versus House Speaker Newt Gingrich (whose 2007 book, Contract with the Earth, is on my reading list.)

And the walk down memory lane also includes deja-vu nuggets like, “[1995] didn’t seem like a very good time for political consensus. In Washington, partisanship had become so venomous that the Federal government shut down for a week over a budget dispute…The GOP majority began crusading to roll back environmental regulations…House Majority Whip Tom DeLay compared the EPA to the Gestapo…”. Or this excerpt from Train’s book: “In 1968, oil was discovered in recoverable quantities on the North Slope of Alaska…[and] the pipeline was being called the largest private construction project in history. I [Russell Train] was determined that we not simply accept the assurances of the oil companies but that we exercise due diligence about possible adverse environmental effects…[Studies, EISs, lawsuits followed…] While there was the inevitable claim of unnecessary delay, it was basically time well spent. As the president of ARCO Oil later said, “had the pipeline been built according to original specifications, the result would have been a disaster, environmentally and economically”. Plus ca change, n’est-ce pas? [By the way, here’s what EPA said in Feb 2015 about the Keystone XL Pipeline.]

PS While poking around on Federal websites, I found this “landscaping guidance for Federal facilities”, which is as good as anything I’ve seen to guide municipal decisions too. You can bet I’m sending it on to the City of Lake Forest which is about to hold hearings (Again. Long story.) on letting Whole Foods cut down 400 oak trees and demolish a landmarked mansion to build a new store and parking on Route 60. UGH UGH UGH. And here’s the Federal guidance on helping pollinators, such as honeybees, butterflies, birds, insects, and bats. Here’s one suggestion I have for helping pollinators: restore water to the Everglades! And don’t cut down 8 acres of oak trees in Lake Forest!#

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