Rescuing Local Ravines

Renee T. —  July 30, 2014 — Leave a comment

At first, the tree-shaded ravines near Lake Michigan look inviting, a place of filtered sunlight in the Chicago area’s North Shore. But the ravines—with homes built on the bluffs above them—are in trouble.

Overgrown with invasive plants that block the sun, the ravines are losing the native plants that help keep their soil from washing into Lake Michigan. Although some erosion is natural, the rate of erosion is accelerating, partly because of runoff from urban areas atop the ravines. The Chicago Botanic Garden and the Park District of Highland Park have stepped in to try to keep the ravines from crumbling any further.

“These are systems that have been beaten up for a long time,” said Rebecca Grill, natural areas manager for the Park District of Highland Park.

PHOTO: A bike path along the bottom of Millard Park ravine, next to a small stream.

Millard Park is one of the many Lake County ravines that face challenges from erosion.

The Garden and the Park District have put together a scientific research and “ravine trauma” team to help reestablish native plant cover that will slow surface erosion. The team is developing a mix of native seeds that private landowners can sow to help restore vegetation to the slopes of ravine and bluff properties. The seeds will be sold commercially. In addition, the team will provide homeowners with a guide on how to care for the native plants.

“The Garden has a responsibility to partner with our neighboring communities to conserve and protect oases of biodiversity such as those found within the Lake Michigan ravines,” said Bob Kirschner, the Garden’s director of restoration ecology and Woman’s Board Curator of Aquatic Plant and Urban Lake Studies. “We’re pleased to be able to pair our ecologists’ knowledge with the Park District of Highland Park’s progressive approach of helping landowners help themselves.”

The project team includes Garden ecologist Jim Steffen. With 25 years of experience, Steffen has worked on other Lake County ravines, where the lake’s cooler, damper air is funneled to create a microclimate not found anywhere in Illinois. (The ravines also are home to some of the state’s rarest plants.) As part of the project, Steffen helped design a seed-trial experiment and develop potential seed mixes.

PHOTO: Jim Steffen.

Garden ecologist Jim Steffen in the field

For the next three years, the seed mixes will be tested in plots within Highland Park’s Millard Park, one of the district’s four lakefront parks with ravines adjacent to Lake Michigan. (Check pdhp.org for more information.)

After that, the next step will be up to homeowners near the ravines. “We hope to build a better awareness about the potential they have to regenerate the diversity of native plants,” said Grill.

This post was adapted from an article by Helen Marshall that appeared in the summer 2014 edition of Keep Growing, the member magazine of the Chicago Botanic Garden.


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Victory Garden is gaining ground again, 70 years after redefining gardening in America. Check out our infographic to learn more.
 
An infographic about Victory Gardens
 

Desert Island Herbs

If you were being marooned on a desert island and could only take one (culinary) herb, what would it be?

Adriana Reyneri —  July 22, 2014 — 3 Comments

In case you missed it, the International Herb Association has named tarragon the herb of the year. “What?” you might be thinking. “What about basil?” 

PHOTO: Unusual herb cultivars in display pots.

Discover a world of uses for your herb harvest—essential and flavored oils, vinegars, jams and jellies—at Herb Garden Weekend.

Sure, tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) has silvery leaves and an anise-like flavor, but basil is the king of herbs, beloved by all. It’s such a crowd-pleaser that we’re giving away Napoletano Bolloso basil seedlings during Herb Garden Weekend, July 26 and 27, and the rest of the month as well.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink tarragon and the diverse palette of herbs available to modern cooks. The late author and farmer Noël Richardson once wrote, “If we could take only one herb to grow on a desert island, it would be difficult to choose between basil and tarragon.”

How about you? What (culinary) herb would you choose? We put the desert island question to staff at the Chicago Botanic Garden and received colorful, informed, and surprising answers.

PHOTO: Italian basil in the garden.

Italian basil—and other basil cultivars and species—find their way into the cuisine of many nations.

“Wilson! I’m sorry!”

Basil, it turns out, not only tastes delicious, but might also help deal with the many stresses of island life. Gabriela Rocha Alvarez, plant labeling technician, notes that basil repels insects, has antibacterial and antifungal properties, and could help her keep calm while she’s waiting to be rescued. She would pick the varieties Ocimum basilicum and O. tenuiflorum. “These types of basil need warmth and full sun, and self-seed.”

Sophia Shaw, president and CEO of the Garden, says, “Hands down, basil.” She uses dried and whole fresh leaf basil, and pesto. “I hope my island also has tomatoes and garlic!”

Survivor: Desert Island

Inspired by the practices of many coastal societies, Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation, would choose dill (Anethum graveolens). Besides going well with all types of fish and seafood, it’s also a good source of vitamins C and A, and the minerals manganese, iron, and calcium, he says, and the monoterpenes and flavonoids—antioxidants and chemoprotectors—help neutralize the carcinogens found in smoke. “I do love smoked fish,” says Tankersley. “Please let there be driftwood available!”

PHOTO: Dill plant in bloom with an abundance of yellow flowers.

Beautiful in bloom, dill is delicious as a fresh herb, or use the seeds as part of a pickle.

Dill is also known to help soothe upset stomachs and relieve insomnia. “Although the sound of waves on a sandy beach normally puts me to sleep—I might be a bit stressed if marooned. And dill’s volatile oils have antibacterial properties that could come in handy,” says Tankersley, “if I get injured and need to dress a wound.”

The savory herb also wins a vote from Lisa Hilgenberg, horticulturist at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, who likes dill for both its flavor and growing habits. “It’s my favorite tasting herb, especially with fish, which I suppose would be a staple of my diet,” she says. “It is a self-sowing annual so I could save seed and grow it again the following year if I hadn’t been rescued.”

PHOTO: Parsley in a pot.

A mediterranean standard, don’t underestimate parsley—it’s more than a garnish!

It will get stuck in your teeth!

Parsley is the choice of horticulturist Ayse Pogue, who says it reminds her of growing up in Istanbul. “We have many dishes where we mix parsley and feta cheese—pastries, breads, and salads. We also sprinkle it on cold dishes cooked with olive oil and served with parsley and lemon juice.” One such favorite is barbunya.

Pogue appears to have chosen wisely. Parsley is also packed with nutrition—and is used as a natural breath freshener. 

I’d Have the Thyme

Versatility—and a pleasing bloom—makes thyme the herb of choice for Celeste Vandermey, supervisor of plant records. “Thyme adds flavor and aroma to any soup or stew. It is easy to grow and creeps along the ground, producing beautiful little spikes of pink or white flowers,” she says.

PHOTO: Spearmint in bloom.

A refreshing digestive, mint can be harvested more than once in a season; use it fresh in your mojito, or dried as tea.

 

Mojitos, Mint Juleps, and More

Many refreshing drinks—think iced tea, mojitos, and mint juleps—get some of their cool from mint, the herb of choice of Laura Erickson, coordinator of market sales for our Windy City Harvest Youth Program. “Hopefully, I could bring a hammock and a few good books along, too.”

Herbes de Provence

What about cilantro, chives, rosemary, and sage? What about herbes de Provence, a mixture favored by the French? If you’re interested in learning more about these and other flavorful, nutritious, and potentially beneficial herbs, come to our Herb Garden Weekend, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, July 26 and 27, in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

Looking for more herbalicious ideas? Check out our previous posts on herb grill brushes, and a host of flavorful basils for your home garden.


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

True Garden Love Stories

Summer of Love

Karen Z. —  July 20, 2014 — 1 Comment

Of all the summer evening sights at the Chicago Botanic Garden, only one can compete with the flowers: the brides.

38 Weddings at the Garden in 2013!

Beautiful in their gowns, stepping delicately into the Krasberg Rose Garden or walking down toward the fountain at the Esplanade, they trail bridesmaids and tuxedoed men and happy families. As they pass, we onlookers stop in our tracks, smile goofily, gawk unabashedly…and let our thoughts turn to romance.

Over the years, the Garden has been the site of many a romantic story for both staff and visitors.With summer in full swing—and romance in the air—here are a few more of our favorites.

2013: It Takes a Flash Mob

Early on a 2013 summer evening, a seemingly random group of visitors slowly gathered at “the Ken,” the lovely green field with the photo-perfect view of the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden. As a young couple approached, a few people walked out on the grass, took their places, cued the music, and began to dance. Popping up from benches and stepping out from trees, others skipped into the action…and suddenly the young man of the couple jumped into the flash mob and joined the choreography, while his girlfriend threw her hands up to her face in surprise. 

PHOTO: A group of people dancing on the Ken, a green field in front of the Japanese Garden.

When the music finished, the crowd of friends and family formed an aisle, and the young man lowered to his knee to propose.

 

PHOTO: Wedding proposal at the Garden.

She said yes.

2008: Starting off on the Right Track 

The engineers in the Model Railroad Garden: Landmarks of America love to tell the story of the groom-to-be who worked closely with them on a one-of-a-kind, finely-timed marriage proposal.

Strolling leisurely through the Model Railroad Garden with his girlfriend, the thoughtful young man arrived at a pre-determined spot just as a miniature train pulled up (guided by engineers in the wings). Surrounded by a curious crowd (and the wedding party-to-be), he stepped over to the track, reached down to the flower-bedecked gondola car that bore an engagement ring in a box, and dropped to one knee to ask for his lady’s hand. She said yes. 

2005: Where to Hide a Ring in Spring

PHOTO: Heather Sherwood and husband Tommy.

She said yes—Heather and husband Tommy married in McGinley Pavilion.

Like any workplace, the Garden has its share of romantic stories starring staff, too.

For horticulturist Heather Sherwood, the story began with a memorable date: 5/5/05. She worked late that day, and was ready to head for home when her beau came by and insisted on a stroll around the Garden to see the tulips in bloom. After quite a long walk, they came to the Graham Bulb Garden, where he asked her to look at something strange inside one of the bright red tulips planted there. Leaning in, she saw something…shining. He reached down, pulled out the diamond ring he’d hidden there, and proposed on the spot.

1989: Dedicated to the One I Love

PHOTO: A tree tag labeled, "Will you marry me?"

When you make a tribute gift of a tree at the Garden, a tree tag marks your personal dedication. See what other tribute dedications you can make here.

It’s 25 years later, but the hybrid paperbark maple tree in the Waterfall Garden that bears the dedication “Will you marry me?” (Scott asked Laura; she said yes) is still called the “marry me tree” by our staff.

(Curious romantic? Find this unusual maple near a bench at the path split between the third and top levels of the garden. In fall, its leaves turn a brilliant red, and in winter, its cinnamon-brown bark peels to reveal beautiful texture amid the snows of winter.)

Sketch by artist Tuki79 of deviantart.com of Chip and Dale Disney chipmunks.Timeless: “Oh No, I Do Insist!”

A former horticulturist recounts having weeks of critter problems in the Heritage Garden, when a man dressed in a chipmunk costume sauntered into her garden, grabbed her, and started dancing. Turned out to be her future husband, who asked her there and then to marry him.

Love: it’s in bloom at the Garden.

Daisy Chain

Music and Dance to Enhance Your Romance

Daisy Chain

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Flower-Powered Picnic

Summer of Love

Karen Z. —  July 19, 2014 — 1 Comment

What does your mental checklist look like when you think “romantic evening”? Does it include picnicking? Flowers? Music? Dancing? Sunsets? Selfies? Walking hand in hand?

Spur-of-the-moment picnic? We have you covered.

PHOTO: Grilled salmon over a bed of julienned greens.

The Garden Grille is open ’til 9 every evening (last order, 8:30 p.m.) and, yes, you can get it to go!

On Monday nights at the Chicago Botanic Garden, start with the first item on this list, and all the rest should fall right into place. That’s because Monday night is picnic night. It’s also Carillon Concert night—but more on that in a moment.

A romantic picnic need not be formal or fancy. The secret to making it romantic is a personal touch—something that both reflects your personality and makes the evening more fun. It could be a picnic blanket with a story. It could be real plates/glasses/flatware instead of plastic. It could be a home-cooked meal or an out-of-the-ordinary beverage.

One of our favorite ways to make picnic fare more special—whether it’s homemade or store-bought—is with edible flowers.

Dress your picnic with love.

Gathered from your garden or from a trusted source (no florists or foraged flowers, please—read why here), edible flowers can make even the simplest dish taste more interesting and look decidedly more romantic:

Edible flowers.

PHOTO: Pansy blossom

Violas or pansies come in beautiful and dramatic colors (including near-black), and are shaped like little hearts. Their flavor is sweet and perfumed. Conversation starter: the word “pansy” comes from the French “pensée,” or “thought.”

PHOTO: Nasturtium blossom

Nasturtium flowers’ summery colors—yellow, orange, red—beg to be tossed into salad greens, where they’ll deliver a bit of bite (peppery, radish-like). Decorate cheeses, dips, and even a humble potato salad with nasturtiums’ edible blossoms (the pretty leaves are edible, too).

PHOTO: Rose petals

Rose petals are quintessentially romantic. Use the petals from heirloom roses rather than hybrids—the former have the fragrance and thin delicacy that the latter do not. Add rose petals to salads, ice creams, homemade vinegars; candied, they’ll store for months.

PHOTO: Lavender blossom

Lavender buds are delicious sprinkled on a fruit salad (terrific with berries, cherries, figs). Lavender has more than fragrance and flavor to offer: it’s a natural source of calcium, iron, and vitamin A.

PHOTO: Chive blossom.

Chive blossoms are so beautifully purple that you’ll be tempted to use them on everything, but a little of their onion flavor goes a long way. Float a few florets on a chilled potato-leek or spring pea soup for all the extra zip you’ll need.

Carillon concerts every Monday night in summer—be there with bells on!

PHOTO: View of the carillon from the Nautilus.

Tables at the Nautilus on Evening Island are a great place for a Carillon Concert picnic.

Now back to the third item on the checklist: music. Monday night is Carillon Concert night, when carillonneurs (such a great word) local, national, and international take the stage to new heights at our 48-bell carillon. With such a global lineup, the musical repertoire is always rich and surprising. Dancing is, of course, both spontaneous and encouraged.

Picnickers can gather any time before the 7 p.m. concerts. (Every 15 minutes between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. there’s a carillon tour and demo—a great way to break the ice and/or keep the kids intrigued.) The lawn at McGinley Pavilion is a favorite spot to set up your picnic—and to prepare for those selfies, as the sunsets are simply spectacular.

As for the last item on the checklist—walking hand in hand—we’ll leave that to you.

Daisy Chain

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org