Two Bur Oaks and a Crawdad

A group of swamp white oaks Healthy soil is important, but for whom?  In the Garden  The young bur oak would not be kept down. Yet again it revealed itself among the standing dead stalks of a large patch of purple bee balm, a good three feet tall and leafing out. In spring, a bur oak’s leaves look like sharp-edged, glossy cutouts. They are not green, but shade delicately among soft corals, tans and pinks. The green comes a bit later, like a slow-motion wave gently pervading each leathery leaf. The question, as it had been for several years, was what to do with this young newcomer to the garden.  About ten feet away and across the walk from house to garage stands a second bur oak that I’d started from an acorn some twelve years ago. I’ve enjoyed watching it grow its first sets of true leaves, become large enough to attract birds and then mature enough to bear acorns. This winter I limbed it up three feet from the ground, mainly to give the sedges and wild geraniums growing underneath a

We Need More Native Plants in Our Parks

As I've taken walks in nearby parks this spring I've gotten so aggravated on behalf of the birds and pollinators that I've sent an opinion piece to a local paper. Trees and grass alone may be great for humans, but don't suffice for non-human members of the biotic community. Such public spaces are what I call "faux green." You can read the piece here at the Wednesday Journal.

Planting native trees, flowers, and (especially) shrubs in parks and other public spaces is one of the best ways any community can improve its green infrastructure and improve ecosystem health. Of course that also means no pesticides.

Many cities and towns have gotten this message and are actively planning green spaces that support birds and pollinators and other wildlife. A good source for urban wildlife habitat news and information is The Metropolitan Field Guide. I like the MFG's Facebook page, too--many good links.

How are the parks in your neighborhood? Are they completely anthropocentric, or do they support biodiversity?


Heather Holm said…
Hi Adrian,
Great article. I can't agree more. I find when municipalities contract out plantings to the lowest bidder you get the worst outcomes. Only exotic species are planted - some are considered invasive in the State and do not support any kind of wildlife or biodiversity.

I find the more urban you are, the less bio-diversity and more grass, the exception being the largest parks that were preserved here long ago. In suburban areas though, we have some very proactive municipalities creating native plantings, raingardens and even doing extensive restorations.

Anonymous said…
Well said, Adrian; I hope it has some impact on the policy-makers and park planners. -Jean
Hi Heather,

You make good comments about contracting out plantings.

Sometimes the designer will specify certain species and then by the time all the committees have had a go, the list looks very different.

It would be wonderful if municipalities would understand you don't have to put in giant, expensive plants--you can start things a little smaller for less expense.

That urban/suburban pattern you describe is very common--though not quite so distinct here in the Chicago area.

Hi Jean, I hope the park district does pay attention.
Anonymous said…
I de-sodded my entire lot in Oak Park and put in native plants, but it's been hard to make it look like it isn't just an untended yard. The Oak Park Conservatory nor the Garden Club seem to have much interest at present in natives. It would be great in the Park District would take the lead on this, but that could take some time. In the interim, is there any organization in Oak Park that can help wannabes like me with some support and advice?
Hi Anonymous,

That is an excellent question--and I'm not sure I have an answer. I'll have to go looking.

Wild Ones is a native plant landscaping society that has chapters in Illinois, though none in Oak Park. Their informative website is at

There's an idea: someone could start a local group.
Kirk Mantay said…
You are speaking my language. I feel a rant coming on.

Our parks are overrun with invasive species. Also keep in mind I live in an area (mid-atlantic) that was totally deforested by 1775, again by 1910, and paved over from 1945 to 1965. Quite a legacy of disturbance.

Another issue is that since there is no money to manage, improve, or police many parks, they are closed to the public (yet still called "county parks"). Which makes me want to punch a wall.
Irene Flebbe said…
Wild Ones will have an information table at Trailside Museum's (in River Forest)"Birds and Blooms Celebration" on May 7th, from 10:30 to 3:00. I am sure they will be delighted to answer questions and discuss gardening with you!
Hi Swamp Thing,

Do your parks have any conservation groups interested in them with names like "Friends of the Parks?" Is the Nature Conservancy active in your area? These kinds of volunteer groups can work wonders--I've seen it happen.
garden girl said…
We have similar issues with parks in the south 'burbs Adrian. Fortunately we do have vast areas of forest preserve, some of which include some pretty ambitious prairie restoration areas, and a number of wonderful places like Lake Katherine, Sand Ridge, Izaac Walton, some Nature Conservancy sites, and other restored and preserve areas, both public and private.

We gardeners can do our part in our own landscapes and in our communities. Kudos to you for speaking up. I hope you may have sparked something in your community with your OpEd.
Hi Garden Girl,
I've been to some of the forest preserves you mention and they are good areas.

The idea, which you definitely get, is that there shouldn't be a sharp divide--urban and suburban parks can be part of a biodiversity continuum.

There is some conversation going on.
Gloria said…
Adrian are you familiar with Washington Park on the south side of Chicago?
It is a city Park that is making a real effort to introduce nature to the city. I am impressed with the ambition.They have a blog and a facebook page documenting the effort.
Hi Gloria,

Thanks for bringing up Washington Park. They have a strong organization and are indeed doing an admirable job. I think each park needs a dedicated group of people to take responsibility and to care for it. Park districts alone can't do the job.