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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!#

This Scene Will Be Here Soon. Really.

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Plants | 5 Comments

To cheer you up on this gray Chicago day, a scene that will be here soon. Really.#

Woodland backyard

Migrations North

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

During Monday’s blizzard (!), I glanced outside and a flash of orange caught my eye. There were two Robins, poor dears, hunkered down in the Honeylocust tree closest to the bird feeders. This reminded me of the day, several years ago, when I looked out at the Christmas-green-filled containers on our front terrace where dozens (and I do mean, dozens) of Robins were feasting on the shrivelled Winterberry [Ilex verticillata] berries. The next day, we had a terrible terrible cold snap with snow. I called my husband’s aged uncle–a retired surgeon but also an amazing birder who in his lifetime saw every specie of North American bird but two–and asked him what he thought might have happened to all those Robins as a result of the sudden cold. Pity me for asking such a question of a surgeon with no “bedside manner”. With no hesitation, he said, “They probably all died”. Body blow.

But I digress. Journey North is a really interesting website which has an app allowing us to record our first sightings of Robins, Butterflies, Hummingbirds, Frogs, Earthworms and many other creatures. Check it out. Love the maps!#

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)


“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…##


Here’s a great deal!

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

Weedpatch Subscribers: I hope we have 100% participation in this lovely offer from Kay MacNeil to receive Milkweed seeds. Just send her $2 and a SASE. (I just did. And I will find a great spot along a roadway or park to toss the seed. This is my ‘suburban guerrilla’ planting for pollinators campaign.) But I digress. Here’ s Kay’s offer:

“Hi, Rommy. I am the chairman of the Garden Clubs of Illinois President’s Project, Milkweed For Monarchs.  This is an effort to educate gardeners and others to spread more Milkweed around their yards and community. The idea is that next fall we will harvest and clean milkweed seed  and give it to IDOT and hopefully also the Tollroad.  I also send 3 kinds of milkweed seed to anyone who can’t find another source if they send me a stamped self addressed business envelope with $2. If you go to Milkweed for Monarchs for information, you will also find my new  How To Become A Caterpillar Mother” information”.

Kay’s address is: Kay MacNeil – Milkweed for Monarchs, 689 Golf Club Lane, Frankfort, Il 60423.

Thanks for helping the Monarch Butterflies! And don’t forget to plant dill or fennel or parsley for the Swallowtails.#

Re-Blogging the Ultimate Pollinator & Native Plant Gardening Guide

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Birds, Bugs & Butterflies, Conservation and Ecology, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Benjamin Vogt, a Nebraska landscape designer, has a blog that I recently added to Favorite Places: The Deep Middle. His post on March 17 was a Resource Guide to information about pollinators and native plants.

The Ultimate Pollinator & Native Plant Gardening Guide
I’m [Benjamin Vogt] celebrating 2 years of Milk the Weed with the nerdiest, awesome-ist list of links on butterfly and pollinator gardening I can come up with. It’s certainly not a complete list, but I hope it’s helpful to you as both a practical and philosophical guide. Prairie up!

(from The Deep Middle, B. Vogt)

Here are a few links from the article to get you started:

Basic Steps for Propagating Milkweed

Milkweed & Monarch Concerns

How Monarchs Use Milkweed

Create a Habitat for Monarchs

Butterfly Gardens 101

Pollinator Partnerships

Benjamin’s article contains a wealth (pages!) of resource links.  Visit his site to see them all. Note that his statement sentences do not look like links, but if you hover over the text, it will highlight to show the link. I have also posted a link to his article on the “Cool Links” page, so you can have that resource at your fingertips. Prairie Up!#

Harbinger of Spring

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Pat Hill posted this article recently on her terrific blog, Pat Hill’s Natural Midwest Garden. She and I seemed to be thinking similar thoughts about spring that day… Enjoy! rl

Harbingers of Spring

I wonder if the sap is stirring yet,

If wintry birds are dreaming of a mate,

If frozen snowdrops feel as yet the sun 

And crocus fires are kindling one by one:

sing robin, sing;

I am sore in doubt concerning Spring.

Christina Rossetti

Spring Begins

March is the drabbest month of the year in the Midwest.  The snow has melted revealing vast expanses of brown grass and a winter’s accumulation of trash that’s been hidden beneath its white blanket.  March is completely unpredictable—warm and sunny in the 50’s or even 70’s one day, cold and raw the next.  Rain, wind, snow, and sometimes ice storms are part of the March package.  Some years Spring starts in March; other years, she stubbornly waits until mid-April.

But spring is in the air, literally.  On warm evenings one can smell spring, bringing back memories of every spring one has ever lived.  Green tips of plants poke through the wet soil; the male cardinal (which has been here all winter) has started his cheery whistle—his courtship song—once again.  The robins have begun to arrive; the snowbirds will leave by mid-April.  The cacophony of great flocks of ducks, geese, and sandhill cranes flying north to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Canada brings us to the window to marvel at whatever primal instinct causes them to do this every March, flying high in their perfect V-formation.

Harbingers of Spring

pussy willow

Pussy Willow (Salix discolor), every child’s favorite symbol of Spring, opens its furry gray catkins at the beginning of March or some years as early as February.  Easily found on spring walks, it grows in shrubby marshes and wetlands throughout the Midwest, frequently in the company of other willows and Red-osier Dogwood.  With permission, we cut armfuls of branches to bring Spring indoors.  (The Pussy Willow sold in flower shops is usually Salix caprea, a European import.)  Salix discolor grows into an attractive, multi-stem shrub, 10-15’ tall, that is suitable to grow on home grounds in moist to wet areas.  It doesn’t appear to be available at nurseries, but stems root quickly in water.

A source of ornament, sentiment, shade, and aspirin, the willows are a rich part of our history and landscape.

Dick Young

                                                                  Kane County Wild Plants & Natural Areas

The round, furry gray catkins of Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) are the first to appear in spring, sometimes as early as February, even before those of Pussy Willow.  The catkins soon turn into delightful, fuzzy, maroon and gray dangling caterpillars.

quaking aspen timber drive

Quaking Aspen is found in every county in the Chicago area, mostly in low ground, but conversely in sandy areas, as well.   This colony I have photographed is next to a railroad track, in the town where I live.  (These and several Bur Oak trees were cut down a few weeks ago–it seems they interfered with truck traffic.)

Its tall, straight trunk, covered with a whitish bark, marked by black horizontal scars and prominent black warty patches, is topped by an upright oval crown.  The round, glossy green leaves, dull beneath, become a striking golden-yellow in autumn.  Its flattened petioles allow the leaves to flutter and rustle in the slightest breeze.  It colonizes through its root system cloning itself into large groves.


popple lake in boat

Every summer, when I was a child, we went to my grandpa’s cottage on Popple Lake,  near Chippewa Falls in Wisconsin for our summer vacation.  Popple is a local term in the Upper Midwest for Quaking or Trembling Aspen .


hazelnut catkins 2

American Hazelnut  (Corylus americana)

“One cloudy April day, when threatening rain caused  the west to be in a dramatic  mood, we were scurrying along to reach some shelter before the worst might happen.  A lone hazel bush, perhaps the last of a great colony, made us pause on our way.  Why it had been spared I do not know, but there it was in a festive spring outfit.  We were astounded by the attraction this simple  plant possessed.  The secret of it all was its yellow catkins against the threatening purple clouds in the west, bringing out their exquisite beauty…I had known the hazel since boyhood days, but I had lived almost an average lifetime before I saw its real significance and its charm.  From that time on, a hazel bush, backed by the purple branches of our native plum, has graced a corner of my garden, and every spring I wait for the spring song of its catkins.”

Jens Jensen


From early-to-mid-March to mid-April. golden pollen spills from the pendulous male catkins, lighting up savannas, woodlands, and fencerows.  Growing 8-10’ tall, American Hazelnut forms colonies by means of root sprouts.  It makes a splendid hedge, or combine it with American Plum (Prunus  americana )    as  Jens Jensen suggests.   I’ve searched in vain in the  Forest Preserves of northern Kane County where I live to see it in its native habitat. (I once found a Hazelnut growing in the midst of a tangle of Buckthorn in the backyard of a client, much to my delight.)

skunk cabbage 2

This photo was taken at Bluff Spring Fen on March 17, 2009.

The very first herbaceous plant to bloom is the Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus).  It creates its own heat, melting the snow that covers it—its unusual flowers may emerge as early as February.  The yellow-green flowers, arranged in a knoblike spadix inside a green and purple-brown mottled, hood-like spathe, are attractive to early pollinating insects and to those of us who are eager for the earliest signs of spring.  Skunk Cabbage grows in colonies in fens and springy places.

With our suddenly warm weather that started last Tuesday, Winter Aconite (Eranthus hymelis) has emerged from the cold earth, and is already in full bloom.   Winter Aconite is native to Europe, but it came along to this garden via some trillium I transplanted from my old garden.  A member of the Buttercup family, its golden cups are the earliest perennial to bloom in our area, sometimes as early as late February.  Plant it under deciduous trees–a spring ephemeral, it blooms in full sun in spring and then its flowers and leaves disappear until next spring.  The tubers increase making an ever enlarging circle.  Easy to transplant, they can be moved to other locations after bloom or given away to friends.

winter aconite 2015


snowdrop 2

I have only a tiny patch of Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) next to my back door, but they are always welcome in earliest spring.  Another early bloomer native to Europe, it, too, is an ephemeral that should be planted in sweeping drifts under deciduous trees.  It can be situated within a matrix of sedges.  It does increase, but is not considered invasive.

The temperature was In the 60’s this past week and 70’s is predicted for this afternoon–hooray! I heard the Cardinal’s whistle a few days ago.  I also saw a pair of robins on Friday hopping along in my grassy parkway.  What do robins find to eat this early?  No insects or worms yet.  The only thing for them to eat, as far as i know, are persistent berries which still cling to shrubs and trees.  I have a few rose hips on my Illinois Rose (Rosa setigera) and my Early Rose (Rosa blanda), but, alas, the robins didn’t find them.  Does anyone else have information on how robins survive March when they arrive here?  Please share with us.


rose hips and arch

Illinois Rose with rose hips on trellis.  Note previous summer’s robins’ nest on top of the trellis.

rose  hips and arch closeup

March doesn’t zap us with spring, as do April and May.  We have to look for it, but it is there as Nature starts her inexorable cycle once more.  Stay tuned.

A New Way to Look at the World

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Conservation and Ecology, Environmental Protection, Uncategorized, Weather | 2 Comments

Sometimes those forwarded emails are just too good to pass up and need to be shared. When I received a forwarded email about World Maps, I tracked down what might be the original source, at a blog called “The Story Reading Ape”. The Ape shares some unusual ways to look at the world:

the word in seven 1-billion-person sections


map-australia population

map-world population

You will find a link to this blog post on my Cool Links page.  Curious about where in the world they drive on the left hand side?  How about how many countries have McDonalds?  See the original blog post:  http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2015/01/02/very-interesting-maps-which-help-you-to-understand-the-world/

In Your Garden, Choose Plants that Help the Environment

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Birds, Bugs & Butterflies, Books, Conservation and Ecology, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Required reading (use this link to read the article) from Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home , via the NY Times. If the plants (that includes trees and shrubs) in your garden don’t help feed beneficial insects and animals, it’s time to re-think your choices. Which means a visit to the garden center, always a highlight of my week!

A Quote from Doug Tallamy:

“To me the choice is clear. The costs of increasing the percentage and biomass of natives in our suburban landscapes are small, and the benefits are immense. Increasing the percentage of natives in suburbia is a grassroots solution to the extinction crisis.

To succeed, we do not need to invoke governmental action; we do not need to purchase large tracts of pristine habitat that no longer exist; we do not need to limit ourselves to sending money to national and international conservation organizations and hoping it will be used productively. 

Our success is up to each one of us individually. We can each make a measurable difference almost immediately by planting a native nearby. As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered—and the ecological stakes have never been so high.” #