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Restoration Ecology: Bad Signs, Good Books, and Henry Cowles

I am not a biologist nor a botanist, merely an interested gardener, but our trip to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore did offer a few “head scratchers”. For example, why is it that so often I notice signs like this…

P1080969 do not mow

…which are then surrounded by non-native plants (in this case, coreopsis and agastache)? In our town, the “Restoration Area: Do Not Mow” signs posted on the publicly-owned Lake Michigan bluff are apparently markers for inviting rampant noxious weeds to invade the hillside.

I wonder if Henry Chandler Cowles (1869-1939)would laugh and shake his head in bewilderment that so often we still “miss the mark”. Do you know Mr. Cowles, the Chicago botanist who was a pioneer of “ecology” and discovered the phenomenon of “plant succession” in large part from his observations of the Indiana Dunes and its hinterland? It was Cowles, along with Thomas W. Allison (can someone provide biographical information on him to me?) and landscape architect Jens Jensen, who formed the Prairie Club of Chicago in 1908 and began to propose the preservation of the dunes via a “National Park for the Middle West”. That was before the National Park Service itself was established in 1916. The group’s promotional efforts were very successful, but regrettably, World War I intervened as a national priority.

There is a most interesting book, Henry Cowles: Pioneer Ecologist written in 2007 by Victor Cassidy. I learned a lot, particularly since Cassidy incorporated Cowles’ own writing about various local-to-Chicago ecologies. Right now, I am trying to learn about what grows within Lake Michigan’s ravines, which are an ecology which Gerould Wilhelm calls, “unique among the world’s ecologies”.

Speaking of good Chicago ecology books, here are some of the intriguing titles for sale at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore:

 Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History, edited by Helen Hornbeck Tanner

The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas, by Jerry Dennis

Talking Landscapes: Indiana Dunes Poems, by Paula McHugh

Great Lakes Shipwrecks & Survivals, by William Ratigan

Calumet Beginnings: Ancient Shorelines and Settlements at the South End of Lake Michigan, by Kenneth J. Schoon

Roadside Geology of Indiana, by Mark Camp and Graham Richardson

Nature Walks in Northern Indiana, by Alan McPherson

The Nature Conservancy’s Guide to the Indiana Preserves

60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Chicago, by Ted Villaire

Birds of the Indiana Dunes, by Kenneth Brock

A 1,000 Mile Walk on the Beach: One Woman’s Trek of the Perimeter of Lake Michigan, by Loreen Niewenhuis (I heard her lecture on her trek: very very interesting!)

Thanks to all these authors, beginning with Professor Henry Cowles, for writing down all this wonderful research for us. An amazing commitment of time and energy!##

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

 

How Many Inches of Rain Does It Take to Fill Lake Michigan?

This morning landscape architect Deidre Toner kindly forwarded information from The Morton Arboretum which said that 17.81″ of rain have fallen there in 2013. In April, the official count was 9.78″ of rain! I got pretty pumped thinking that must mean that Lake Michigan has completely recovered from being two feet below “normal”. But (duh), Queen Bee, think again and maybe have another cuppa coffee this morning. Seventeen inches translates to only two inches spread across Lake Michigan, according to the US Army Corps of Engineers. If you are a weather freak, here’s the link to the Corps’ charts on Lake Michigan water levels: http://www.lre.usace.army.mil/Missions/GreatLakesInformation/GreatLakesWaterLevels/WaterLevelForecast/WeeklyGreatLakesWaterLevels.aspx

Erosion on beach at Lake Road 4-19-2013 3-34-56 PM 4320x3240By the way, I’m posting this nasty photograph which shows how a significant slice of beach eroded in Lake Forest after the deluge of April 18, 2013. Water from municipal and private stormwater pipes ran so fast and furious down the narrow ravine leading to this section of beach that it cut this sharp gouge in the sand. There’s much to be done to solve these (highly solveable) erosion problems, but there is a dedicated team of people working on regional solutions. The Alliance for Lake Michigan has produced an excellent ravine webinar. You will not regret spending an hour listening–and if you are a ravine or bluff owner or if you are in the landscape contract and design trade, please sign up for their emails because the Alliance, together with Openlands and “Plants of Concern”, is working on creating brochures of plants appropriate for various ravine conditions, a “rapid response assessment program” for training gardeners in assessing ravine health, and educational ravine seminars at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Thank you, Alliance!##

 

The Charles Dawes Mansion: A Landscape Designed by O.C. Simonds for a Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize Recipient

In 1911, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Gates Dawes asked Ossian Cole [O.C.] Simonds to design a landscape for their new home at the corner of Greenwood Street and Sheridan Road in Evanston, Illinois. The couple, along with their twenty year old son, Rufus, moved into the mansion in 1909.

East Facade of the Dawes Mansion
The East Facade of the Dawes Mansion

Mr. Dawes was an important banker, president of the Central Trust Company of Illinois. He also spent time in this nation’s capitol when called by President William McKinley to become Comptroller of the Currency. Dawes did much to reform banking after the devastating Panic of 1893. He ran for Illinois Senator in 1902, but lost. Experts believe that Theodore Roosevelt, who became President following the assassination of President McKinley in 1901, pragmatically sided with Illinois’ “Old Guard” Republicans against “reformers” like Mr. Dawes, who disliked the machine politics of Cook County.

Dawes Mansion

Dawes Mansion, Evanston, IL (1915)

The Dawes’ residence (now the home of the Evanston History Center] sits high on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. It was designed in the French chateau style by architect Henry Edwards-Ficken of New York for Northwestern University’s treasurer and business manager, Robert Sheppard. Mr. Sheppard bought this beautifully-sited property in 1882, but the house was built in 1894-96, just after the World’s Columbian Exhibition of 1893. The Sheppards were unable to keep the house after a financial scandal (it appears that he took out a loan for Northwestern University but put only his name on the real documents) whereupon the Dawes’ bought it. Thus, it had little landscape. Mr. and Mrs. Dawes preferred a naturalistic style of design, although they asked for a terrace for entertaining. While the residence’s front door faces south, the east facade faces Sheridan Road and just beyond that, Lake Michigan. The views of the lake are lovely, particularly from the second floor bedrooms.

Simonds’ plan for the landscape created small views through the trees to Lake Michigan and asymmetrical masses of shrubs at the base of the house to reduce its immensity. The plan created an important sense of arrival in the south-facing front yard by planting elms along the front walk. The main perimeter of the two acre property was enclosed with a privet hedge and groves of spruce, ash, elms, sugar maples and evergreens that allowed pedestrians to glimpse the house but which assured the privacy of its occupants.

Simonds added a wild garden with oak, elm and snowberry on the north side, east of the stables. The east slope of the terrace features hawthorn, honeysuckle, barberry, roses, and Japanese lilac, and along the foundation are forsythia, roses and hydrangea. It appears that Simonds was trying to marry French formality and American informality.

Today the landscape has deteriorated but its “bones” are intact. Some years ago, a group of students, led by landscape architect Barbara Geiger, who is also Simonds’ biographer, created a historic survey and restoration plan. We hope that a sponsor (Evanston Garden Club are you reading this?) comes forward to restore this iconic landscape architect’s vision.##