Thursday, June 27, 2013

Behind the scenes at Garfield Park Conservatory - Spring 2013

This spring I had the opportunity to peek behind the scenes at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. The conservatory is over 100 years old - and the buildings behind it, on the Northside, are almost as old.  In the photo below you can see the conservatory (square shape with the (A) marked on it), the production greenhouses just north, and then just north again, in the blue box, are these working buildings.

Garfield Park Conservatory Grounds - Aerial View

The West Park System was the part of Chicago politic responsible for the conservatory.  This was before the formation of the Chicago Park District.  When the smaller conservatories in Douglas Park, Humboldt Park and Garfield Park were taken down a key element in the decision on where to place the larger "Jensen Conservatory" was the existence of the Power Plant building in Garfield Park.  The Power Plant is the eastern most building in this space.  It's got this great brickwork and high windows. Really pretty. It was constructed in 1896. That's some old architecture :)
In 1928, the West Park System built the "works" building adjacent to the Power Plant. Today it is used by the Chicago Park district for various trades.  The trade building was designed by Michaelsen and Rognstad, so it's affectionately called the M&R building.
Below are a few photos of a quick exploration of these old buildings.  The last two photos are from inside the M&R building looking back onto the Conservatory.  It was a really fun day and an interesting perspective that I'd never before experienced.  One portion of the works building houses the shop that makes signs for the Chicago Park District, that was pretty interesting. There is also a carpentry workroom - that smelled just amazing.

I kept thinking these would make great loft offices or apartment spaces. Or perhaps an awesome party venue?
I enjoy the rich history of Chicago and the Conservatory. Always something old to learn :)
Power Plant and M&R Building Garfield Park - 2013

Garfield Park Conservatory - Back Yard, 2013

View from M&R Bldg over back of Garfield Park Conservatory, 2013

View out of Woodshop window

Happy Exploring,

Teresa Marie

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Up-cycling DIY Coffee Table - pallets, fence posts and fruit crates parts

Anyway, today I was inspired by this DIY project.

A friend quickly put together the frame of a box from pieces of a fruit crate and pallet. I liked the added detail of putting little handles on the sides. Then cut up a square post to make the legs. Viola - I have a new coffee table.  I brought this home and had to put my little touches on it.

I grabbed the hand sander and went over all the surfaces and edges to make sure that there were not rough edges or potential for slivers.  I also checked to see if it was level - which it wasn't, but a little sanding fixed that right up.  I was about to apply a coat of stain, but was halted by my daughter who liked it just the way it is.

DIY Coffee Table from Pallet & Crates

Pallet and fence-post Up-cycles Coffee Table

Quite rustic - and lovely for the sun room. It matches the end tables which are fruit crates :)  but not so much the Victorian couch. Well eclectic is nice right?

It all works for me!  Give this project a try.

Teresa Marie

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Woodland Restoration - Adding in Mature Trees

One of my major projects is the restoration of a woodland adjacent to my house. I think I should start to call it a garden restoration, since as I've continued to clear away at the under-story of buckthorn, I'm finding more and more decorative plants. I've even found old wire supports for peonies which are sadly  all faded away.  I also found a new favorite wildflower - the privet. This year as I was clearing I came across 10 or so bushes in bloom. The fragrant is so wonderful! Can't wait until next year as these mature some more!

Anyway, the parcel I'm working with is approximately 294 ft long x 62 ft wide. It's the eastern portion of the woodlands that is closest to my house. That's right - it's 0.42 acres. Nearly a half acre that used to be someone's showcase garden, and is not trash.

Woodland restoration satellite view - google maps. 
In the photo to the left - this is the area between the two roughly horizontal roads and approximately three-quarters of the distance between the major road on the right-hand side, and the end of the photo on the left hand side.  I call this my "guerrilla garden."

The photo is wintertime clearly - so it's hard to see just how dense the trees are.  In the next photo below, the perspective is from the intersection in the lower right hand side looking back against this parcel. There is a little rock garden I carved out, a big overgrown rose bush, and a big burning bush (almost 12 feet tall!). Almost every thing else is buckthorn and poison ivy.

Before restoration, east side of woodland - looking west.
Happy days - removing buckthorn by the truck-full
I've started clearing from the south and east sides of the woodland (garden.) Mostly because this is the side that I see all the time!  For the past 10 years I've been planting the little saplings givin away for free on Arbor Day in this space. I think about half have thrived.

Nobody else in this neighborhood had the vision that I did for the restoration. This includes the owner of the land whose house is way off to the left hand side of the first photo (which is why they don't care about it at all.) Every time I was out there hacking away at the "trees" - someone would stop and complain, or I'd just get dirty looks. I generally have the buckthorn piled up in the street for pick-up so I have also gotten actual notes in my mailbox about what a mess I'm making in the neighborhood.  This sentiment was particularly acute when I had completely cleared the eastern side - the after clearing photo below. More open, light streaming through, room for, the property owner was now so pleased she is begging me to keep going!

After clearing Buckthorn - wide open spaces

Digging a big hole for tree
It was pretty interesting watching them plant these trees.  They are to be planted in  a low area. I was worried about the quality of the soil. There were a few surprises. For example, we found lots of pavement chucks and stones. Looks like someones dumping ground for road work. :(  On the positive side, the soil is rich so we didn't need amendments.  The trees were planted to sit about 8-10 inches above ground level. This is because the water pools here with heavy rains and we wanted there to be some portion above water. Then soil was ramped away from the trunk to match the existing ground level. Then we applied mulch over that. Later I'll also apply a layer of wood chips.

In addition to these evergreen trees, I planted two serviceberry and one crab apple that I purchased at the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance plant sale a few years ago.  In addition I had a few native plants from local sale - a button bush and two chokeberry. I also picked up a few items from close out a Lowes (distressed for $1 - $5 each ! Yeah)  These were three golden privet, and two mountain fire pieris. Lastly, I picked up some daylilies and hosta for free of craigslist and scattered these in front of the trees.  I had some leftover stone from a porch demo that I used to create a little pathway.  In fall I'll distribute the existing flowers from the left had side along the front as well.

June 2013 - Woodland Restoration with new trees

Taking the long view - I really hope the next owner is passionate about this garden. In the past few days as I've been out there working neighbors driving by have actually yelled "great job" as they fly by!  In a few years I'll start redistributing some of the saplings into the open spaces created by continued removal of buckthorn, dying elm and ash.  I envision my kids coming here years from now and showing their own children the "little trees" then cared for as a child - which should be reaching for the stars.

Dreaming big!

Teresa Marie

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Woodland Restoration - aka Killing Buckthorn

What is a woodland and why am I trying to restore it? Great questions, I'm glad you asked :)

A woodland is a natural area where, unlike a forest, trees form an open canopy, with a ground layer made up of shrubs, grasses and flowers plants.  (In a forest the canopy is all closed off and it's pretty undisturbed on the interior)  Anyway, a woodland can have plant composition and appearance which are very different from it's surroundings (for instance, the woodland space I'm working to restore is between houses with grassy lawns). Woodlands are very susceptible to invasion by exotic species because it has a high amount of edge environment - waging wars on lots of fronts.

The first steps are deciding if the woodlands need restoration or simply better management. Woodlands management means means taking care of what’s already planted and encouraging continual growth and improvement. I think of "management" as a weak form of restoration, improving the site but largely keeping most of what's there intact.  Restoration represents a much more intensive,hands-on effort. Restoration, as the name implies, restores a degraded natural woodland, to a desired plant structure and species composition.  These areas to  be restored have the building blocks required for the woodland, but perhaps not the right mix, quantity, or quality. Plus there may be building blocks that need to be removed from the foundation and thrown away - for example, invasive species. Restoration is coddling the baby woodlands back to health by removing exotic species control, seeding and planting new items.

So - how did I decide? I took an inventory of the site. I mentally mapped it out and walked almost every inch of the land. I had a small patch to deal with so this was feasible and easy to do. What I was looking for / and what I discovered was:

Starting point - buckthorn hedge (trashy!)
  • Invasive species - too many buckthorn, honeysuckle, mustard ginger, poison ivy, poison oak to count. (check this site for how to identify buckthorn, they are trees that hold their leaves longest in the fall.)
  • Great woodland plants (keepers) - Good oak, maple trees. A nice Pagoda Dogwood too. I found two straggly apple trees (probably crab apple)
  • Decorative garden shrubs / flowering plants: This area I was told used to be a brilliant garden about 50 years ago. Sure enough in between the buckthorn I discovered a beds of vinca, iris, daffodils, tulip (mind you none of these last three were blooming), lilac, viburnum, grape hyacinth,  - lots to work with. Plus wildflowers - trillium, white trout Lilly, solomon seal, maybe morel mushrooms? and more.
  • Topology - Without the buckthorn - half of this will be shady, the part by the street with be part-sunlight. The north side is a flood-plain, the south side is generally dry. 
  • Diversity of the canopy - not so great, lots of dying ash and elm. Evergreens, while large, are also stressed.  

Poison ivy vine - two inches thick!
Under-story of buckthorn crowding out mature trees

You can see a bit of the challenge in the photos above. Very thick with buckthorn - and check out that poison ivy! The vine went all the way to the top of the elm tree and even though the tree was dead, the ivy gave the appearance of it being alive it was so leafy! Buckthorn is a real challenge in Illinois and as I'm close to the Forest Preserve I think there will always be a management issue. But for now, what all this meant - I needed to get on the restoration path. I don't think that I appreciated at the time the amount of work that I was signing up for! This was a decision that I made almost 5 years ago. I'm still working on it!

I would estimate that I have spent nearly a 10 solid weeks working on this project just clearing out the invasive species. Some invasive plants just keep coming back. Here's an update on my battle with Garlic Mustard. Sometimes a few helpers but mostly a solo gig. I work it in spring (before the poison ivy comes out) and in the fall when the buckthorn is the only thing that's green. It's slow but steady progress. Plus considering that this isn't my land, I need time for the neighbors to get used to the changes. Finally this year many are appreciative - however, there are plenty that are mad that I've taken out the "hedge" and privacy. I think they will be happy as the years pass - but they don't share the vision that I have for this space.

Wild grass with delicate flowers that appeared
Native wildflower returns to woodlands

This year the lilac bloomed, significantly, for the first time; the iris as well. 

I created a little flower garden on the south side - which is pretty much a cottage garden. I've been putting in all sorts of odds and ends, free items from CL, and seed bombs over time. It's a bit messy, but this way I can see what takes and I'm not spending my resources on it. 

On the street side - stay tuned. I'm going to be doing some major planting this month and look forward to sharing the (hopefully dramatic) results.

Anyone got ideas on plantings please do share with me. Or if you want a lesson in killing buckthorn - just shout, I would welcome a few hours of help :)

Teresa Marie