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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

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!

IMG_7557 Hotchkiss’ design for Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis is a fine example of the American tradition of park landscaping.[/caption]

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.##

 

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?##

 

 

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

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:

Ellen Biddle Shipman Garden

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

Enjoy!##

News Briefs from around the World…

In case you missed these stories…

. TWIGITECTURE: my new favorite word and my new favorite garden idea. Gotta have my own nest! Check out this NYTimes story by Penelope Green. People are soooo creative…

Nest-of-Twigs

 

. Conserving water is very important, especially when Illinois is in drought and, despite a lot of rain this year, Lake Michigan is 19″ below where it should be. I live in Lake Forest, which borders Lake Michigan, where we have a daytime “sprinkling ban” by which half the town (even-numbered houses) gets to irrigate between midnight-10 am or 8 pm-midnight on one day, and then the other half of homes gets to irrigate the next night. We don’t have automatic sprinklers at our house because I think they waste more water than they save, and my plants don’t need equal amounts of water. Thus I hand-water–in the morning. Usually. Maybe on an even day. (So arrest me.)

But, according to the NYTimes, the water-parched City of PHOENIX, AZ doesn’t have such restrictions. “There is no limit to how many times someone can wash a car or water flowers in a yard…that’s just myopic”, says Phoenix’s Policy Advisor for Sustainability. Instead, it uses strategies such as “graywater” from bathrooms and washing machines to irrigate, or uses treated wastewater to cool a nuclear power plant and a man-made wetland. Water use is a factor in zoning decisions. While Phoenix does not, other cities such as Mesa, Las Vegas, and Tucson give rebates for residents who remove grass and xeriscape, harvest rainwater, or use graywater for landscaping. Some towns regulate homeowners’ trees, shrubs and flower choices. The article does not say how much residents pay per gallon of water, but these strategies appear to be working: in 1990, Phoenix residents used 250 gallons of water/day. Now they use 123. H’mmm…

1-P1050277 los angeles

. NYC aims to make recycling mandatory by 2016. Wow, good! That means 1.2 million tons of food waste will be made into COMPOST!

. CHINA is moving 250 million (yes, you read it right) farmers off their land and into high-rise apartment buildings in newly-made “cities”. The hope is to create 250 million CONSUMERS. Can you say, “worldwide social, moral, cultural, and economic DISASTER”?

. NYC has released its Climate Change report which predicts that 800,000 people will live in the 100-year flood plain by 2050, more than double the current 398,000 currently at risk. The number of days with temperatures above 90 degrees is expected to jump from 22 to 48/year by 2050. See current information at: nifi.org.

. LOURDES, FRANCE is under flood water. They are hoping for a miracle.##

Lourdes-photo

 

Japanese Beetles, Honeybees, Gypsy Moths, and Congress: Which one is not a pest?

TWG [The Weedpatch Gazette] subscriber Adrienne Fawcett, who nobly publishes news of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff on her blog, Gazebo News, wrote to ask how to control Japanese Beetles on her Knock Out Roses, which are claimed to resist Jap Beetles. So much for truth in advertising…

Japanese-beetles-on-roses

 

My shoot-from-the-hip answer is, “From your lips, Adrienne, to God’s ears. Ain’t no control except doing what Mom did (so gross, but I do it too). Pick ’em off and throw them in a can of gasoline”. Or, Adrienne, I can suggest this: we once owned a wonderful little chicken named Henrietta, and that bird loved loved loved Japanese Beetles. Sweet lil thing would follow me around, so eager for me to shake the roses. Alas, Henrietta has passed on. She did live a good long life, but could it have been longer if she did not overconsume? No matter, this is what Henrietta and I would say, “eat and be happy”. Also, Adrienne, get yourself some beetle-lovin’ chickens.

For those who cannot believe me and must have real knowledge of the lives and deaths of Japanese beetles, the University of Kentucky supplies all the answers. They, too, believe there’s no hope. The Japanese beetles will eat your roses no matter what.

Adrienne, I don’t use “chemicals” because we have honeybees at our Richmond, IL farm and my neighbors in Lake Forest have them too. That said, the farmer next door to our farm called this week to tell me that helicopters would be flying near our farmhouse to spray a chemical on his Christmas trees to kill the gypsy moth. I told him about our honeybees and asked him to find out what chemical is used and what USDA says is its effect on honeybees. He has not called back (what a surprise).

1-P1040934-1 cornfields

The answer is that the “Gypsy Moth Slow the Spread” aerial spraying program uses two volatile organic chemicals that go under the names, “Flakes” and “Splat”. Really. They are pheromones that don’t kill the caterpillars (hence, not an insecticide) but mess with the sex lives of the males so bad that they can’t reproduce. That’s what any male of any species (especially homo sapiens) would call, “a fate worse than death”, n’est-ce pas? (Are honeybees part of the USDA’s “Flakes and Splat are the most ‘environmentally-friendly methods of controlling gypsy moths’ tests?]

gypsy-moth-on-oak-leaves

Insecticides (which gypsy moth pheromones are not, technically) are regulated by the 1947 Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, by which EPA regulates specific apps of 28 (only 28?) pesticides. The good news about this law is that manufacturers have to prove insecticides are safe to humans and the environment (esp threatened and endangered species and their habitats) before they can be sold. (Are honeybees part of the tests?)

Honeybee hives at our farm in Richmond, IL

Honeybee hives at our farm in Richmond, IL

On the other hand, there are 84,995 (that’s a fact not my speculation) other chemicals that aren’t regulated because the (outdated)1976 Toxic Substances Control Act says that EPA has to prove a chemical is unsafe rather than having the chemical company prove it is safe. There’s a new law proposed: the 2013 Chemical Safety Improvement Act (still highly contentious debate going on). I think that if the American Academy of Pediatrics thinks we need the new law, we gardeners should too. Call your Midwest Senators: Dick Durbin, Mark Kirk, Ron “we are victims of government” Johnson, Tammy Baldwin, Dan Coats, and Joe Donnelly. And ask them about the honeybees too.##

Jars-of-Honey