Select Page

A Smidgen of Good News…And It Concerns a Trump

This morning I read the relatively welcome news that Donald Trump the Younger “quashed a competing candidate [U.S. Rep Cathy Rodgers]” as Donald Trump the Elder’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of the Interior and led his father to instead nominate Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke. This is big news, given that the very conservative, evangelical Mrs. Rodgers is the highest ranking Republican woman in the Congress and has participated in “environmental work” in Congress since her election in 2005. In contrast, Mr. Zinke is practically new in Congress.

What did The Younger have against Ms. Rodgers? It appears that The Younger is “a hunter with a professed interest in land issues…a member of a sportsmen’s group, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, that vigorously criticized Ms. Rodgers because of her support for selling off public land” [NYTimes, Dec. 16, 2016]. Indeed, BHA’s website offers lots of articles arguing against selling off public lands. How about this recent one: “Tell Your Congressman Where You Stand on Bad Public Land Transfer Deals”?

Hurrah for a smidgen of good news. It seems the Donald The Younger and the Queen Bee [me] might have something in common: land preservation, or at least not selling Federal land “just because”. Can it be? (Maybe I’ll join Backcountry Hunters & Anglers–only $25 for a membership.)

Donald the Younger’s ardent interest in hunting immediately brought to mind another wealthy hunter who called himself a conservationist: Teddy Roosevelt. Could it be possible that The Younger could become appreciated by people like me for urging his father to set aside more (!) land for national wildlife refuges, national parks, national forests, and national monuments? If it takes a wealthy hunter from Manhattan to speak up for bison, okay. Let’s hope. Cancel that. Let’s PRAY.

Donald the Younger’s interest made me also recall another beyond-wealthy “conservationist”: Laurence Spelman Rockefeller (1910-2004), on whom George Bush the Elder bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal in 1991. It was the first time the medal was ever given for contributions to conservation and historic preservation. The President praised “LSR” for “a life and works that would stand in summary of a century in which Americans had come to appreciate the very real problems of their environment, indeed of the world’s environment.” (President Bush did renew the Clean Air Act in 1990 even though conservatives didn’t want to, and he did appoint Bill Reilly, head of the World Wildlife Fund, as Administrator of the EPA, but that was about it for George’s environmental record.)

Laurence Rockefeller began as a conservationist and ended as an environmentalist. They are not the same thing, of course, as his biographer, Robin W Winks, points out in the excellent book, Laurence S. Rockefeller: Catalyst for Conservation. The former, conservation, “was a response to the destruction of the bison, the extinction of the passenger pigeon, the transformation of a once abundant land into barren and sterile soil through harmful farming practices. Its supporters included sportsmen, the great fishing clubs, and trophy hunters. Theodore Roosevelt was a conservationist. Conservationists established the first national park, Yellowstone, in the U.S. in 1872. They restocked streams, rivers…they argued for the protection of forests as habitat for wildlife and for the creation of wildlife refuges and for the study of breeding patterns and mating calls.”

Donald the Younger appears to be a conservationist. But perhaps, like Rockefeller, he will evolve into an environmentalist. “Environmentalism came to mean leaving the natural landscape alone as much as possible rather than reshaping it to man’s definitions of beauty; to building no roads, planting no alien trees, letting nature take its course insofar as possible. Environmentalism recognized human beings are part of the natural order and that they must learn to live within it rather than seeking to transform it. Environmentalism demanded hundreds of decisions as to what constitutes moral behavior…should one put out only those fires caused by man? But if man were part of nature, should not the fires of man also be left to burn? Environmentalism required more education, more planning, and therefore more interference with traditional lifestyles than conservationists would tolerate.” [Wink, p. 15]

Much of America (or at least the Trump group) wants to return to Ronald Reagan‘s America, which signifies a return to the 1980’s: “the slowest period of growth in the modern history of the nation’s national parks, the appointment of a secretary of the interior [James G. Watt] who opposed any additions to the system, the politicization of the National Park System Advisory Board, and more political appointments deeper into the ranks of the national parks than any other president.” [Wink, p. 94]

Into those perilous environmental waters we go. Nonetheless, Donald the Younger advised his father to appoint Zinke, a Montana Congressman who has a degree in geology and spent twenty-three years as a Navy Seal (not much time under the oceans, I see, instead mostly doing “special ops warfare” duty in Iraq and Kosovo) before becoming Montana’s sole U.S. Representative just two years ago, in 2014.

Zinke was busy in Congress: I count 19 bills that he introduced (none passed). Interestingly, in 2010, Zinke signed a letter calling global warming “a threat multiplier for instability in the most volatile regions of the world” and stating that “the clean energy and climate challenge is America’s new space race.” The letter spoke of “catastrophic” costs and “unprecedented economic consequences” that would result from failing to act on climate change and asked President Obama and Nancy Pelosi (then Speaker of the House) to champion sweeping clean-energy and climate legislation. But that was 2010 and now, now is the alt-right. Now is Trump.

Congressman Zinke “drifted” to the right as he ran for higher office, so we shall see what he brings to an agency of 70,000 employees other than what may be a desire to open more public land to “drill, baby, drill”.  On the other hand, there’s still that glimmer of hope that he is not ridiculously idealogical. He actually withdrew as a delegate to the Republican Presidential nominating convention in July 2016 because he objected to transferring Federal lands to state control. To this I say, “YES, you are right, Congressman. Be careful what you wish for.” But maybe he’s just a one-trick pony: get’s his shorts all wrapped up tight about keeping Federal lands Federal but those same Federal lands are open for sale.

But I digress from Donald the Younger. Let’s hope that he will take after Laurence Rockefeller. After all, the Rockefellers and the Trumps are neighbors on 5th Avenue…

Let’s hope Donald the Younger convinces Donald the Elder and Mr. Zinke to find value, as Rockefeller did, in balance between conservation and environmentalism, in developing resorts that are “eco” and sustainable, in revitalizing urban parks to add refreshing green to an otherwise commercial landscape, in saving fishing jobs long-term by putting critical ocean reefs off limits to fishing in the short-term, by understanding that selling Federal land has a long-term cost, and preserving historic places by investing money in their restoration.

Queen Bee can hope that Interior stays strong, can’t she? And please, Donald The Younger, please don’t shoot the bison.##

Southwestward Ho! A Gardener’s Tour of St. Louis

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.##

 

Perennial Professionals!

If you’ve ever shopped at Chalet Nursery in Wilmette, or watched Channel 7 TV in the morning, or listened to Mike Nowak’s Garden Show (lamentedly it is no more), or well, just been around the plant world, you have seen the ever-enthusiastic Jennifer “Who Knows More Than God About Plants” Brennan.

Jennifer’s energy and exuberance knows no bounds. The woman doesn’t ever snooze. In addition to all else, she is now serving as the central region director of the Perennial Plant Association (PPA), which is the group which designates the “perennial plant of the year” for retailers to type. In 2014 it was Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind” which was grown from wild-collected seed from South Elgin, Illinois. This blue-green, erect grass was found by Chicago’s “very own” Roy Diblik, co-owner of Northwind Perennial Farm in Springfield, Wisconsin and author of The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden.

The PPA also holds seriously great conferences, most often attended by pro’s but they are nice people so anyone can go. So great that I’m still laughing about one that I attended in 1998 where a very famous landscape architect–old as the hills!–tried to kiss me out behind the hydrangeas. When I got back on the bus, I told my friend Pam about the incident. She laughed so hard, then said, “Ha! I was 1996!”

But I digress. Jennifer has organized a conference which every one of you MUST attend if you like perennials. And who doesn’t? Plus you get to go to The Morton Arboretum, which it’s time for you to revisit. It’s fantastic! Here’s the announcement of this wonderful conference. You will learn so much! Here’s the direct link for registration: http://www.mortonarb.org/events

 

regional perennial plant symposium

regional perennial plant symposium-2

 

The Governor’s Palace: New Bern, NC

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…##

P1020559

 

The Queen Loves Garfield Farm

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?##