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Hosta and Heifers: We Salute Margaret Eyre…”our” ambassador of world peace.

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Gardeners & Designers, Plants, Social Impact of Horticulture, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Can you imagine being thanked by an international organization for helping to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth?

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That is the story of Margaret Eyre, who died recently at age 97. John and I had the remarkable luck of knowing Margaret for twenty years, meeting her not long after she became active in her son, Rich Eyre’s, business, Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery, in Woodstock, Illinois.  Her specialty was hostas and she propagated the plants and sold them for Heifer International. She raised at least $500,000 for world hunger, allowing Heifer to buy farm animals for people around the world with the agreement that those farmers would give what they received and pass on the gift to others in their community.  Some of those funds were donated to Heifer International Foundation, where the funds remain in perpetuity and the interest is given to projects in Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Haiti, and Bolivia.

Margaret was known as the ‘Hosta Queen’.  Margaret was thrilled when Tom Micheletti, former president of the American Hosta Society, hybridized a hosta and named it ‘Margaret Eyre’.  She worked every day at the nursery until she was 93 years old.

On December 21, 2015 with admiration and recognition, Mano a Mano International presented Margaret with a plaque for a 4-classroom school in Sora Sora, Bolivia, dedicated in her honor for her years of work on behalf of the people of Bolivia. This school will be completed by April 2016. Here’s the old school that Margaret’s hosta money will replace:

Bolivia old school

Thank you, Margaret, and thank you to all who bought Margaret’s hostas and, in so doing, contributed to BEAUTY AND PEACE ON EARTH. Margaret was a rare and wondrous bird. She will truly be greatly missed.#

Margaret-Eyre

 

 

How Far From a River Do I Want to Build? Ask Some Regular Americans

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Conservation and Ecology, Environmental Protection | Leave a comment

NOTE: I wrote this a few weeks ago and sent it to the NYTimes in the hope that it might get published. Well, it didn’t (altho it would have been nice to hear “no” from them, but anyway). So here it is for you to read. I hope you like it better than they did!

If you want a great example of American “think” about property rights versus sensible land use policy in these United States, do what I did this morning. Open the NY Times, read scary stories about record flooding along the Mississippi River and its tributaries (and we thought 1993 floods were bad), send $100 to the American Red Cross, and then google, “how far from a river do I want to build?”.

The first result was on city-data.com, a website on which seven typical Americans posted their answers to the problematic distance-from-river question, originally posed by “potatosoup”:

From UCONN97 [probably a professor, albeit one that flunked spelling]: “I would start with your town. They should have fema maps for your location that can tell you flood info. I would find out if its even buildable before contacting a contractor. Also, be aware of how where you build may incure additional insurance costs. Finally, if you do decide to build on this land, I am hoping that the land slopes towards the water. I would incorporate a walkout basement type of design into your home. This way if there is a flood, your basement and mechanicals might take on water, but it might not neccessarily be a catastrophic loss.”

Okay, fairly rational answer, but UCONN97 assumes that there is some hilly terrain on which to perch potatosoup’s walkout basement and its no-big-costly-deal mechanical systems. That might be true at hilly UCONN, but probably not in the flatlands of the Midwest.

Next, from desertsun in Houston, Texas:

“I know for example in NJ it is illegal to build on a flood plain or what might be labeled  wetlands. And wetlands can be simply defined by the type of vegetation growing there.

Hopefully you are talking about a place not so burdened with govt communist restrictions.

Personally I would want to build over the river as a first choice or on the river edge as a 2nd choice.

For those who fear mother nature, build on high ground near as possible to the river. Get the house up some but to me building on piers such as you see in any coastal developed area is unattractive”.

I suspect that “desertsun” moved to Texas (which now allows you to pack your gun visibly) from New Jersey, that “place so burdened with govt communist restrictions.” Maybe desertsun believes that Texas will allow him to build a house “over the river as a first choice or on the river edge as a 2nd choice”. All I know for sure is this: Desertsun, please never ever get appointed to a local planning & zoning board, even in Texas.

“Cosmic” [location unnamed, but then again, he’s c.o.s.m.i.c.] offers us insight into the chicanery of the real estate industry when it comes to buying close to a river:

“The first part is buying the land and being led to believe that it is buildable. Lot of those games probably being run. Reason the land is for sale.

If there has been floods in the area also beware FEMA may have made the place a permit nightmare. That happened down on the Ohio River in some counties. They were pretty laid back in terms of regulations, permits, etc. Had some big floods, FEMA came in and then demanded very, very anal building regulations. Know this one contractor who moved up to my county. Sezs [sic] could not even think about making a living there, anything required a zillion pieces of paper.

Do not assume because the land is there it can be built on. NEVER, NEVER trust them realtor types. You may very well find out after the fact the horrible jam you are in. There may even be houses directly in the area, does not mean you can ever build another. Was out to see a buddy I grew up with couple weeks back in a small town, they have a creek running thru the town. Been a 22 year flood cycle, some very bad. FEMA again demanded some houses be moved, some were jacked up, there are empty lots all over. You never will get permission to build on any of them. Empty land may not be what it appears. FEMA really wants to tear them all down, big fights about it.

I would talk to knowledgeable locals first, hopefully some not in the trades or real estate business and get the history / local buzz of what is happening. Can try just the clerks in the Court House, chat them up a bit, ask would they buy that piece of property?

Go wary into danger. Too close to the wrong river is definitely standing [sic] into danger.”

“rubytue” posted a screenshot–the part about “never never trust them realtor types”–of cosmic’s reply, and then proceeded to tell a story about how the previous owner of her formerly double lot wanted to [and did!] sell off one lot separately even though the lot didn’t “perc”. Somehow rubytue conflated the dopey yet greedy landowner with “them realtor types”, but this mix-up in rubytue’s logic might have been predicted as rubytue lists her location as “sometimes Maryland, sometimes northern VA, depends on the day of the week”. Or maybe the flood threat.

But last, finally, a rationale man, mitch3 from eastern Washington, who posted his answer: “As far as possible, nowhere near it”. Bravo, Mitch! Alas, Mitch must be on a planning and zoning board, for like most land use officials he didn’t really want to make the tough call ie “NO BUILDING ALLOWED. EVER. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. THAT MEANS NEVER. EVER NEVER. END OF STORY”. Mitch wavered, dammit. He followed his bold answer and lost all credibility with this pitiful capitulation: “IMHO [in my humble opinion], anyway”.

NY Times writer John Eligon identified the correct issue this morning: “the river levels [are] so high that vexing questions have again been raised about whether anything can be done to truly ease the threat.” Good question, answered by regular Americans uconn97, desertsun, cosmic, rubytue, and mitch3. They appear to hate govt communist restrictions more than they hate paying taxes for cleaning up potatosoup’s flooded riverfront house. IMHO, anyway.#

Whoa…just how would we protect the habitat of a butterfly?

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Birds, Bugs & Butterflies, Environmental Protection, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

This situation with Monarch butterflies is serious and getting serious-er. And just imagine if our Presidential candidates have to express their views on it? The Donald might propose building a wall, but it would be a beautiful wall…maybe orange and black stripes?

http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2016/jan/enviro-groups-push-feds-on-monarch-butterfly-protections

Second Snow

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

How can you not like snow when it blankets the trees in white? So beautiful…so quiet…there’s peace. On earth.

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Brussels Sprouted…into a topiary!

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Plants, Social Impact of Horticulture, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Thanks to Chicago Botanic Garden veggie garden manager Lisa Hilgenberg for sending us a photo of her Brussels Sprouts topiary, which she says was inspired by chefs at The White House. (Recently Lisa was a special guest for a tour of the First Lady’s organic garden and the White House kitchen(s)(s)(s). How cool is that?)…

Brussel Sprout topiary

It’s a lovely thing, this topiary, and it makes me happy to look at a thing of beauty because I was just watching TV news. Another gun massacre. Which means another call to Mark Kirk, who I called this morning to say that Mitch McConnell cancelling health money for the 9/11 first responders is shameful. And I spent all day finding new health insurance (which I didn’t finish yet because I can’t figure it out) because my $900/month Gold Blue Cross policy is now useless at all Northwestern hospitals and “out of network” at Rush (check your policy if you go to Rush). Grumpy? YES, I AM, aren’t you? Makes me want to throw a Brussels Sprout at a Republican.##

Genius at Work!

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Birds, Bugs & Butterflies | 6 Comments

I am so excited. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and my invention is a success!

The squirrels have been foiled and the birds have a feeder tray along with the usual hanging feeder(s), all “perched” on one post. Here it is for your amazement at Queen Bee’s most clever work to date:

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Birdfeeder with Squirrels 11-30-2015 12-49-56 PM 480x640

My gardener, Algoberto, and I collaborated on the design. We got the parts and he welded them together. The pole is stuck in the base of an outdoor umbrella, but it could be hammered into the ground because the top comes off. As you can see, I finally found a site well away from trees and bushes, so there’s still always that problem…

EUREKA! I think Algoberto and I are ready for Costco! What do you all think of our idea?! ##

Brussel Sprouts or Brussels Sprouts?

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in My Gardens, Plants, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

When I was 21, my Aunt Rita and my Mom (Aunt Susie to my cousins) gave me a backyard picnic party. I was thrilled to see the long-stemmed rose box, tied with a big red ribbon, since no boy had yet seen fit to present long-stemmed roses to me. So imagine my giddiness, then shock, then dismay when I opened the box to find a long-stemmed Brussel (Brussels?) Sprout plant. HaHa. Not funny.

Fast forward forty years and here I am, picking Brussel (Brussels?) Sprouts from our garden in time to roast them for Thanksgiving.

Brussels Sprouts 11-15-2015 1-13-10 PM 4000x3000

If you want the history, I recommend an interesting website: foodtimeline.org. Here you will find the dates of cultivation of Brussels Sprouts (yes, the Romans carted them north, but the Persians and Afghans had them first, then across the pond to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello by 1812) right next to important dates in the history of…my favorite vegetable…brownies.

What I now know from reading Sprout History is that those that write “Brussel” instead of “Brussels” don’t know nuthin’ bout Sprout Geography. Then again, the Crusaders are once again to blame. They stole and renamed the sprout. We are really eating, “Babylon Balls” or some such.

I made some Brussel(s) Sprouts for Thanksgiving (not a big seller) and so there are more in the refrigerator. Here’s two “slaw” recipes in case you are in the same bucket.

http://www.greenkitchenstories.com/shaved-brussels-sprout-christmas-salad/

http://fromthelandweliveon.com/brussels-sprout-cranberry-salad/

Cold and gray today. Almost December… ##

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.

IMG_7598

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…

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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!

chickens