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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.

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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.##

 

“We Say What You Think”

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Historic Places, Social Impact of Horticulture, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Having recently spent a month bouncing around the Lower Keys (we rented a place via VRBO. Don’t get me started on horrible landlords; then again, the sunset from the porch was awesome), I was intrigued to read this essay about Naples, Everglades, sugar plantations, and the Keys. Lucia does “say what I think” (her motto). In fact, she does a better job thinking through what I think than I think I could ever think. Read Lucia’s Symposium #31: Old Florida and The Everglades. Someday somewhere I hope I find a spot than doesn’t want (and doesn’t even take time to think about) to take paradise and put up a parking lot…##

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The Governor’s Palace: New Bern, NC

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Gardeners & Designers, Historic Places, Landscape Architecture, Public Gardens and Parks, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

If you find yourself in New Bern (eastern) North Carolina, as we did for a 2014 graduation, take the opportunity to see the 1770 Tryon Palace. Unforgettable. And amazing that it not only burned down completely and was reconstructed from drawings found in London but also had an entire highway and town moved so that the palace and grounds could be reconstructed. (Leave it to strong 1950’s Southern matrons to achieve such a feat.)

The 16 acres of gardens, which run all the way to the Trent River where ships would once have brought arriving visitors, are extensive and immaculate.

Amazing that this building burned down in 1798 and the site was filled in for over 150 years. It was reconstructed from its original plans in the 1950’s.

Formal boxwood gardens at Tryon Palace

Designed by Morley Jeffers Williams in the 1950’s from designs based on 18th c British gardens.

Two plans for the house dating from 1769 were found in London back in the 1950’s, but more recently, in 1991, Palace researchers discovered a garden plan in the collections of the Academia Nacional de la Historia in Venezuela. There they found a garden plan that Palace architect, John Hawks  apparently gave to Venezuelan nobleman Francisco de Miranda (Editor: don’t miss reading his bio: he wrote 63 volumes of journals, was the lover of Catherine the Great, and was the only “American” who has his named carved in the Arc de Triomphe, etc etc, etc. In short, what a guy!), who admired the Palace greatly during his 1783 visit to New Bern.

The Miranda plan suggests a strong French influence instead of the more-to-be-expected English garden style. But who created the plan? Some attribute it to Claude Sauthier (1736-1802), a French cartographer who in 1763 wrote his first great work, A Treatise on Public Architecture and Garden Design.  His map of New York is astonishingly beautiful and should have won the Revolution for the British. But I digress. Sauthier mapped all the towns of North Carolina including one of New Bern in 1769 for Governor Tryon. But, “when compared to plans of the Palace and other documents he created for Tryon, the handwriting in the Miranda plan is clearly that of John Hawks. The Miranda plan, furthermore, contrasts with Sauthier’s more rectilinear design…” [Source: tryonpalace.org]. When Williamsburg’s colonial gardens were re-created by landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff (1870-1957), it was Sauthier’s 1700’s renderings of colonial gardens that he most consulted.

None of the historic garden plans have ever been implemented at Tryon Palace. Morley Jeffers Williams (1877-1977) conducted the Palace archaelogical dig and designed the subsequent garden restoration. Before undertaking the Palace project, Williams had served on the faculties of Harvard and North Carolina State Universities and was hired by the Garden Club of Virginia to research, inventory and design the gardens at Mount Vernon (it was Williams who theorized that the landscape was designed to mimic the shield in Washington’s family crest), Monticello, and Stratford Hall (home of the Lee’s). Professor  Williams also restored “God’s Acre”, the Christ Church Cemetery, at Harvard Square.

Nice landscape design contracts, eh? (The Queen is envious!)##

By the way, in researching this article, I came across a website describing the 1820’s Foscue Plantation that’s just ten miles southwest of New Bern, NC. Too bad we didn’t have more time since I would have enjoyed seeing that as well. This historic site is open for tours on Thursdays…still owned by the same family, which had plenty o’ slaves right up until the “War Between the States”. Yes, that’s what their website calls the Civil War. The Queen will try to be “civil” about the whole damn mess when she visits…##

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The Queen Loves Garfield Farm

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Books, Historic Places, Public Gardens and Parks, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

It’s been forever since I wrote to you, and I apologize for the absence. I’ve been spending a lot of time writing house histories and family genealogies, advocating for better municipal land use decisions (hellooo, City of Lake Forest, even contemplating cutting down 400 oak trees to build a Whole Foods store is shameful) and thinking about what to write about in 2015. Hold onto your hat, the topics may not be limited to gardening or conservation. Hopefully, they will interest you…

So, let’s begin 2015.

Recently, I made some discoveries. First, it took me sixty years, but now I know that I hate big chunks of potatoes in soup. On the other hand, a larger revelation is just how much I enjoy visiting “living history” farms, historic houses, and preserved landscapes and lands. I fall a little bit in love with every place’s history. I imagine myself being one of those ancestors whose were determined to survive and thrive yet always seemed to bring beauty into the picture.

Naturally, I also invariably conclude that I would have keeled over early from cold, outhouse, traversing never-ending mountains and canyons, and too many damn potatoes in the soup. Unless I were Queen, which in my case seems likely, whereupon I would have thrived. After all, I love cake. And I would have been carried everywhere.

I was reminded of my passion for living history farms when I opened the mail two weeks ago to find a precious gift–a middle-school children’s book written by my friend, Anne Brack Johnson.

 

Angie of Garfield Farm

Anne is married to Jerry Johnson, who some of you may know because he is the erstwhile, intrepid, and longtime Executive Director of Garfield Farm and Inn Museum in LaFox, Illinois, which is just west of Geneva. Near St. Charles. Not as far as DeKalb. Twenty years ago it was cornfields and now it’s changed to McMansions and Meijer’s Grocery stores every mile. But nestled in the middle–like a time machine–is delightful Garfield Farm.

Garfield Farm

Garfield Farm is a treasure dating to the 1830’s. Anne’s book, Angie of Garfield Farm, is based on a little girl who was an actual Garfield family member. This pioneer family was smart enough to save EVERYTHING (diaries, tools, buildings) for posterity. And even luckier for us, the more recent residents of the LaFox area have been wise enough to donate money for Garfield’s preservation. The brick house–once a tavern on the route west–the barns, the sheds, the oxen, the way of life…they are all there for you to experience. Please do visit and become members. I try not to miss the Rare Breeds Show in May, but if you would like to learn about restoring an 1842 (!) barn, sign up for the restoration seminars on February 14.

One of my favorite–and certainly most enthusiastic–gardeners will be at Garfield on March 22. Vicki Nowicki is not to be missed. She will be giving a seminar called, “Historic Perspectives on Organic Gardening”. Vicki knows more about organic gardening than anyone I know AND she is the “(DuPage) Queen of Organics” through her heirloom vegetable garden design and education business. Sign up! You’ll have the rare opportunity of a wonderful, romantic venue and a wonderful learning experience.

Methinks I might like chunks of potato in my soup if they were always organic? And slow-cooked in a fireplace dating from 1842?##

 

 

Upcoming Garden Tour(s) in Lake Forest: Cultural Landscape Foundation

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Events, Gardeners & Designers, Historic Places, Landscape Architecture, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

One of my favorite reference books is Pioneers of American Landscape Design, edited (2000) by two luminaries of landscape history, Charles Birnbaum and Robin Karson. They began compiling biographies of noted landscape architects back in 1992 (about the time I started publishing The Weedpatch Gazette and wondering why it was so difficult to find histories of people like Alfred Caldwell and Jens Jensen) and never looked back. Today Charles and Robin run the prestigious and impressive organizations, The Cultural Landscape Foundation and the Library of American Landscape History.

Next weekend, two garden tours will be held in Lake Forest to raise money for The Cultural Landscape Foundation. You are invited! I hope you will put aside the time. I have recently visited both homes and gardens, and they are an incredible treat to see, especially as they are tucked way down long private driveways where prying gardeners like me fear to tread. Here’s a snap I took of an entry to the Ellen Biddle Shipman garden, which was rehabilitated by landscape designer Craig Bergmann (whose own garden is a tour de force for posterity), on Lake Michigan:

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Reserve a spot on the tours via this website:  http://tclf.org/event/garden-dialogues-chicago-lake-forest

Enjoy!##

How Did July Come Around So Fast?

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Birds, Bugs & Butterflies, Conservation and Ecology, Environmental Protection, Gardeners & Designers, Historic Places, Plants, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thanks for your patience, everyone, while I (and others) wrestled with a developer who wants to bring Whole Foods to Lake Forest. Yes, the same Whole Foods which, “in an effort to save trees” doesn’t publish quarterly shareholder reports, is asking us to let them (wait for it) CHOP DOWN 400 mature oaks and hickories to build a new store. The company also wants to DEMOLISH a landmarked house. There are technicalities in the zoning law that might still allow the developer to build WF’s store (and others ie a bank drive through), but for the moment the Lake Forest City Council agreed with us that a large green setback from Route 60 cannot be decreased by the developer.

If you want to write to Whole Foods (550 Bowie St, Austin, TX 78703) or you happen to know Chicago real estate moguls Mike Supera and Bernard Leviton (who are the owners of the property in question) tell them the world CONSERVES oak woods now. Clear cutting is sooo…OVER. Here’s what they want to demolish (house plus 8.5 acres of trees):

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See why the idea made many Lake Foresters crazy?!

But here we are with July practically done. How is that possible? Anyway, as I type this, I am looking through the window at 7′ tall single pink hollyhocks swaying in the wind next to pure white Asiatic lilies. Pure loveliness…

Hollyhocks and Lilies 2 horizontal

This is the best year ever for Chinese trumpet lilies in our garden. They are amazingly majestic–maybe 8 or 9′ tall, strong stemmed (no staking), and full of buds. They have names like, ‘Pink Perfection’ and ‘Golden Splendor’. All I can say is, “order some” for your own garden. I get mine from Van Engelen Bulbs. #

 

 

Not a Centerfold, but Close!

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Gardeners & Designers, Historic Places, Plants, Uncategorized | 19 Comments

I’ve always wanted to be a magazine centerfold, fodder for the tabloids, or a great read for your time in line at the grocery store. And this is as close as I may ever get:

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Country Gardens inside 3-10-2014 1-55-57 PM 2560x1920

Thank you to Better Homes and Gardens editor James Baggett, my longtime friend and garden “personality”/writer Shirley Remes, writer and editor Beth Botts, and photographer Bob Stefko for making our farm in Richmond, Illinois seem like the most romantic old farm EVER!

Please find and buy a copy–and then ask me to autograph it so that I can get the full experience of bein’ a glamour girl. A STAR IS BORN! A STAR IS BORN! Move over Meryl and Julia and Sandra and Angelina and all you glamour has-been’s: Rommy has launched! ##

Garfield Park Conservatory and Mothers Trust Foundation: Congratulations

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Conservation and Ecology, Gardeners & Designers, Historic Places, Public Gardens and Parks, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Garfield Park Conservatory, located on the far west side of Chicago not too far from Oak Park, is one of my favorite places. I love love love the fern room there–it’s a wonderful respite from the “concrete jungle”:

“Designed by Hitchings and Company, with the brilliant assistance of Jens Jensen, the Conservatory was completed in 1907. It is still one of the largest conservatories in the world. Jensen’s use of native limestone in layers is used to create ponds, waterfalls, cliffs, and lush winding paths. The total effect seems to overwhelm one’s senses as the sound of the water, the verdant greenness, and the pleasant aromas calm the nerves and transport me to another time and place, when the prairie was a nearby paradise..”. (Cindy Mitchell, The Weedpatch Gazette, Summer, 1998).

Garfield Park Conservatory

The Garfield Park Conservatory won a 2013 Philanthropy Award from the Make It Better Foundation:

 

Congratulations!

And congratulations is in order for Mothers Trust Foundation which also won a Make It Better Philanthropy award. Take a look at this excellent video and see if you can spot me, in good company at a meeting with other wonderful volunteers.##

This Land is Your Land! And so is Lake Michigan…

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Conservation and Ecology, Historic Places, Weather | 3 Comments

I know, I know, it’s gray outside. Waking up in the morning to “no contrast” is a struggle. But let’s be optimistic and say that the monochrome makes us appreciate the sun and chlorophyll so much more than those people who never see seasonal change. Here’s a few photographs of the Openlands Preserve at Fort Sheridan. We are so lucky that people stepped up to the fundraising challenge and funded the preservation of this 77-acre parcel of lakefront property after the US Army decommissioned it in 2004. Walking in this natural environment–really not a house in sight–is a real treat. Here are a few photos from a recent morning walk:

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Ice and water, seagulls cawing, a few souls walking about with their dogs, one man sitting on a cold bench staring at the lake. Yet the waves still wash up on the shore, relentless, energetic.#

Restoration Ecology: Bad Signs, Good Books, and Henry Cowles

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Conservation and Ecology, Environmental Protection, Historic Places, Plants, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

I am not a biologist nor a botanist, merely an interested gardener, but our trip to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore did offer a few “head scratchers”. For example, why is it that so often I notice signs like this…

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…which are then surrounded by non-native plants (in this case, coreopsis and agastache)? In our town, the “Restoration Area: Do Not Mow” signs posted on the publicly-owned Lake Michigan bluff are apparently markers for inviting rampant noxious weeds to invade the hillside.

I wonder if Henry Chandler Cowles (1869-1939)would laugh and shake his head in bewilderment that so often we still “miss the mark”. Do you know Mr. Cowles, the Chicago botanist who was a pioneer of “ecology” and discovered the phenomenon of “plant succession” in large part from his observations of the Indiana Dunes and its hinterland? It was Cowles, along with Thomas W. Allison (can someone provide biographical information on him to me?) and landscape architect Jens Jensen, who formed the Prairie Club of Chicago in 1908 and began to propose the preservation of the dunes via a “National Park for the Middle West”. That was before the National Park Service itself was established in 1916. The group’s promotional efforts were very successful, but regrettably, World War I intervened as a national priority.

There is a most interesting book, Henry Cowles: Pioneer Ecologist written in 2007 by Victor Cassidy. I learned a lot, particularly since Cassidy incorporated Cowles’ own writing about various local-to-Chicago ecologies. Right now, I am trying to learn about what grows within Lake Michigan’s ravines, which are an ecology which Gerould Wilhelm calls, “unique among the world’s ecologies”.

Speaking of good Chicago ecology books, here are some of the intriguing titles for sale at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore:

 Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History, edited by Helen Hornbeck Tanner

The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas, by Jerry Dennis

Talking Landscapes: Indiana Dunes Poems, by Paula McHugh

Great Lakes Shipwrecks & Survivals, by William Ratigan

Calumet Beginnings: Ancient Shorelines and Settlements at the South End of Lake Michigan, by Kenneth J. Schoon

Roadside Geology of Indiana, by Mark Camp and Graham Richardson

Nature Walks in Northern Indiana, by Alan McPherson

The Nature Conservancy’s Guide to the Indiana Preserves

60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Chicago, by Ted Villaire

Birds of the Indiana Dunes, by Kenneth Brock

A 1,000 Mile Walk on the Beach: One Woman’s Trek of the Perimeter of Lake Michigan, by Loreen Niewenhuis (I heard her lecture on her trek: very very interesting!)

Thanks to all these authors, beginning with Professor Henry Cowles, for writing down all this wonderful research for us. An amazing commitment of time and energy!##