Something is growing in a food desert on Chicago’s West Side. A farm designed, built, and managed by Windy City Harvest for the PCC Austin Family Health Center began operation in the spring to help provide more of what the challenged Austin neighborhood lacks—ready access to produce that is fresh, affordable, and nearby—and enable the center’s patients to more easily fill the prescription for healthy living they receive in the examination room: eat more fresh vegetables. Spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, and other produce grown at the farm will be sold on-site.

PHOTO: Creating the raised beds at PCC Austin Farm last fall.

Creating the raised beds at PCC Austin Farm last fall

The project finds Windy City Harvest, the Chicago Botanic Garden urban agriculture and jobs-training program, partnered with an urban health provider, PCC Community Wellness Center, in paired missions of feeding communities and improving the health of those living in them. The Austin location is one of the PCC system’s 11 Chicago-area centers.

“We needed to come out of the four walls of our medical center and look at ways to give back to the community, get the community involved, explore ways to change the environment, and let people learn about gardening,” said Bob Urso, PCC president and CEO, explaining the project’s genesis. Funding comes from a $350,000 Humana Communities Benefit grant awarded to PCC Wellness Community Center by the Humana Foundation.

The farm’s groundbreaking took place in October on a grassy vacant lot a few steps from PCC’s modern LEED Gold-certified building at Lake Street and Lotus Avenue. Called the PCC Austin Community Farm until neighborhood residents choose a permanent name, the 8,000-square-foot site comprises more than 20 raised beds that include plots where eight families each year can grow food for their own use, a hoophouse (similar to a greenhouse), and a small outdoor seating area surrounded by fruit trees for gatherings and relaxation. Housing flanks the 50-foot-wide, fenced-in farm on two sides, with a parking lot on the third and more homes across the street. Trains rumble by on the Chicago Transit Authority elevated tracks a half block away.

PHOTO: Harvesting carrots.

Carrots: a late spring crop, and one of the first to come out of the PCC Austin Community Farm.

The farm’s seasonal coordinator is Windy City Harvest’s Brittany Calendo, whose role dovetails with her background in public health and social work. “It’s exciting to look at the farm as a away of promoting health and preventing disease rather than just treating symptoms,” she said. Plans include monthly workshops on nutrition and gardening for neighbors and patients led by Windy City Harvest and PCC. “Preventive medicine is some of the best medicine,” agreed Humana spokesperson Cathryn Donaldson. “We’re thrilled to be partnering with PCC on this important initiative.” Looking ahead, Urso said he will know the farm has achieved success when he meets patients who say they feel healthier and whose chronic conditions are under control after learning to eat better.

While it is among Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, “Austin is beautiful,” Tyrise Brinson said of the people in the place where she grew up and lives now. Although no one believes the project can by itself meet the area’s produce needs or change lifelong eating habits overnight, “It breaks cycles within the community,” Brinson said. “It’s the beginning of a chain of beautiful events to come.”


This post by Helen K. Marshall appeared in the summer 2015 edition of Keep Growing, the member magazine of the Chicago Botanic Garden. ©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Ten Romantic Spots to Pop the Question

Summer of Love

Karen Z. —  June 11, 2015 — 2 Comments

Gardens are romantic by nature. That’s why one of our most frequently asked questions is, “What’s the most romantic spot at the Garden?”

So we scoped it out, asked around, and compiled a list of our top ten most romantic spots. Now it’s up to you to…
Pop the Question.

Daisy Chain

PHOTO: Rose Garden arbor.

The Krasberg Rose Garden’s arbor is the perfect place to pause on a romantic stroll.

1. “Doesn’t it smell wonderful?”

Claim a bench under the Krasberg Rose Garden’s arbor and take a deep breath. Then another. Soon you’ll be discussing the bouquet of roses—one smells of musk, another of tea, a third of myrrh—just as you do a fine wine. (Which, by the way, is available at the Garden View Café.)

PHOTO: The blue bench in the niche at the English Walled Garden.

“Something borrowed, something blue…” sets the tone in the English Walled Garden.

2. “Would you like to sit here?”

With climbing hydrangeas overhead, a pergola of white wisteria just ahead, and a romantic morning glory tile inset behind you (are those leaves or hearts?), the vividly blue bench tucked into the niche at the English Walled Garden is the prettiest seat at the Garden.

3. “Shall we cross that bridge?”

On summer evenings, the bridges to Evening Island—the Arch Bridge and the Serpentine Bridge—are lit at night. A bridge is such a splendid place for a private conversation and…reflection.

PHOTO: The Serpentine Bridge at night.

The dramatically lit Serpentine Bridge is the path to summer evening romance.

4. “Can you top this?”

The top of the Waterfall Garden has it all: rushing water, a sweet arbor, birds chirping in shady trees. It’s one of the best spots at the Garden to sit…very…close.

PHOTO: Arbor at the top of the Waterfall Garden.

The peaceful hideaway atop the Waterfall Garden is a romantic destination in any season.

5. “Pics or it didn’t happen?”

Romantic memories need a great background. At the top of the Sensory Garden is the photo-worthy frame you’re looking for.

PHOTO: The view from the top of the Sensory Garden.

Tucked away in the Sensory Garden is this shady arbor, ready for a romantic moment.

6. “Want to try a new place?”

One of the newest—and therefore least-discovered—spots in the Garden is Kleinman Family Cove. (Yes, it’s open during construction on the Regenstein Foundation Learning Campus across the road.) Take advantage of the quiet, the deck that hovers over the water, and the natural chorus of frogs…

PHOTO: The Cove at dusk.

A shoreline chorus is the perfect accompaniment to your proposal at the Cove.

7. “Doesn’t that sound amazing?”

On Monday nights, carillonneurs from around the globe transform Evening Island into an outdoor concert hall. Not coincidentally, it’s also picnic night. Got the picture? A romantic picnic, the music of bells, and a secluded spot on Evening Island, where two perfectly placed rocks make a perfect seat for a perfect couple.

PHOTO: Sitting boulders at Evening Island.

Enjoy a concert for two on Monday nights from this secret spot on Evening Island.

8. “Which path do you want to take?”

A summer walk through the Dixon Prairie is inherently romantic, with grasses and prairie flowers taller than your head, and late-day light filtering through the foliage. Take the boardwalk bridge across the water to tiny Marsh Island for a memorable sunset moment.

PHOTO: The boardwalk to Marsh Island.

Prairie plants grow tall enough to hide stolen kisses off the beaten path on Marsh Island.

9. “Do you feel like a beer?”

There’s something different about this arch: it’s made from hops—which, of course, are the key ingredients in beer. Take photos under the archway, sit for a while in the Circle Garden’s very romantic “secret” side gardens, then ask the beer question. The answer will be “Yes.”

PHOTO: Arch at Circle Garden side garden.

Pop the question in one of the side gardens of the Circle Garden for a “hoppy” answer!

PHOTO: A sunset samba on the Esplanade.

Pop the question after a sunset samba on the dance floor with the best view in town: the Esplanade.

10. “May I have this dance?”

Dancing is romantic. Outdoor dancing is super romantic. Outdoor dancing at the Garden is meta romantic. And it happens every weeknight during the summer. Salsa, swing, big band, bluegrass, and jazz rock the most beautiful “dance floor” in town.

After you pop the other question…

Wonderful weddings happen at the Garden. Find out more from Connie or Kristina at events@chicagobotanic.org.

Wonderful weddings happen at the Garden.
Daisy Chain

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

World Environment Day at the Chicago Botanic Garden was a success! Visitors all over the Chicagoland area came to learn environmental and sustainable tips and tricks, and enjoyed educational displays and family activities throughout the day.

Popular culture moves in strange ways. Since the release of the eponymous movie, the idea of a “bucket list” has quickly become part of our modern vernacular.

My botanical bucket list includes plants like the ancient bristlecone pines of Nevada and the cobra-lilies of Northern California. Recently, in the Peruvian Amazon, I checked off my list the giant Amazonian waterlily. I’ve seen it many times before; it is grown all over the world. But coming across it in an Amazonian backwater, untended by people, is quite a different experience. 

PHOTO: Victoria amazonica, the giant Amazonian waterlily.

The giant Amazonian waterlily (Victoria amazonica), with its magnificent leaves beautifully arrayed like giant solar panels in the tropical sun

Plants like Amazonian waterlilies, bristlecone pines, and cobra-lilies have a presence. Even brief contemplation invokes a sense of wonder, and sometimes an emotional, even spiritual, connection. These charismatic plants are tangible expressions of the glory and mystery of nature. And paradoxically, that sense of mystery is undiminished by scientific understanding. As Einstein once said, “What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of ‘humility’.” 

The Amazonian waterlily is one of the botanical wonders of the world, but look closely and every plant has its own mysterious life story full of evolutionary twists and turns. Whether in the garden, in the forest preserve, or along the roadside, even the most inconspicuous weed is a twig atop the gnarled and much-ramified tree of life. Every plant is a living expression of the vicissitudes of thousands, often millions, of years of history. 

PHOTO: Guest columnist and Garden board member Peter Crane, Ph.D.

Guest columnist and Garden board member Peter Crane, Ph.D.

Over the past three decades the evolutionary tree of plant life has come into clearer focus, as we have learned more about living plants, including about their genomes. We have also learned more about plants of the past by exploring their fossil record. There is still much that remains beyond our grasp, but scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden are at the forefront of current research, including efforts to integrate information from fossils and living plants toward a more complete understanding of plant evolution. And viewing the world’s plants through an evolutionary lens only accentuates our sense of wonder. The leaves and the flowers of the Amazonian waterlily are massively increased in size and complexity compared to those of its diminutive precursors, which begs further questions about why and how such dramatic changes occurred. 

To borrow a phrase from Darwin, “There is grandeur in this view of life.” Such perspectives, rooted in deep history, emphasize the power and glory of evolution over vast spans of geologic time, as well as its remaining mysteries. In the face of rapid contemporary environmental change, they also underline the need for enlightened environmental management. Looking to the past to help us understand the present sharpens our view of the glories of nature. It also reminds us of our place in the world, and the value of humility as we together influence the future of our planet. 

Renowned botanist Sir Peter Crane is the Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. Dean, Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and former director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Dr. Crane is also a life director of the board of the Chicago Botanic Garden. In 2014 Dr. Crane received the International Prize for Biology, administered by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, for his work on the evolutionary history of plants. The award, created in 1985, is one of the most prestigious in the field of biology.

This post is a reprint of an article by Sir Peter Crane, Ph.D. for the summer 2015 edition of Keep Growing, the member magazine of the Chicago Botanic Garden. ©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Viburnum leaf beetle is here, and he’s not a good neighbor!

Yesterday was an exciting (yet worrisome) day for me here at the Garden. We found viburnum leaf beetle here for the first time ever—although his arrival was not unexpected. Two separate discoveries were reported to me within just a couple of hours. One of our horticulturists made a discovery in one location, and one of our trained plant healthcare volunteer scouts found the beetle in another location. Both finds were on arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), the beetle’s preferred host (and high on our watch list).

Click here to download the viburnum leaf beetle fact sheet with tips on managing the beetle.

If you live in the area, I suggest you monitor your viburnums for our new foreign friend. The sad thing about this critter is that once he moves in, he will become a perennial pest, just like Japanese beetles.

In ornamental horticulture (your home landscape plants), the viburnum leaf beetle seems to be on the verge of having a great impact in our area, as nearly everyone’s home landscape has viburnum. I’d like to take a moment to review this new critter.

Viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni)

The viburnum leaf beetle (VLB) is native to Europe and was first found in the United States (in Maine) in 1994. It was first found in Illinois (Cook County) in 2009. In 2012 and 2013, the number of reports increased from Cook County and also from DuPage County. In late summer 2014, there were numerous reports from Cook County and some specifically from neighboring Winnetka, where complete defoliation was reported—only five miles from the Garden!

PHOTO: Leaf damage to Viburnum dentatum at the Chicago Botanic Garden by viburnum leaf beetle larvae.

Leaf damage to Viburnum dentatum at the Chicago Botanic Garden by viburnum leaf beetle larvae.

PHOTO: Viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni) larva.

Viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni) larva

PHOTO: Viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni)

Viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni) by Siga (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The VLB larva and adult both feed on foliage and can cause defoliation, and several years of defoliation can kill a viburnum. If you live in the area, I strongly suggest you begin monitoring your viburnums for this critter. There are many great university-created fact sheets for VLB that can be found online, or contact the Garden’s Plant Information Service for additional information. Please report new finds to the Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois Department of Agriculture, or University of Illinois Extension Service.   

PHOTO: Plugged cavities on a viburnum twig containing egg masses of the viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni).

Plugged cavities on a viburnum twig containing egg masses of the viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni). Photograph by Paul Weston, Cornell University, Bugwood.org

The Garden is a member of the Sentinel Plant Network, a group that unites botanic gardens in monitoring and providing education on exotic plant pests and pathogens, and works in partnership with the National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN).

If you are a plant and bug person like me, please consider becoming a NPDN First Detector and help be on the lookout for these exotic invasive plant pests and pathogens. The NPDN offers an online training course to become a First Detector at firstdetector.org. It’s free, and upon completion, you even get a printable certificate!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org