Patterns, pigeons and prairies

July 22, 2012

Non-threatening green interior design

If you listen to Mighty House on Chicago’s Progressive Talk on Saturday mornings from 7 to 10am (and if you don’t, why the heck not?), you know that show host Ron Cowgill helps you green up your home indoors and out every week. But he’s usually talking about solar and wind energy or low flow plumbing or efficient insulation. I could be wrong, but I don’t hear him talk much about how to match the drapes to the sofa…and do it sustainably.

Enter Jase Frederick of Jase Frederick Design, who says that she likes to turn houses into homes by offering a holistic approach to sustainable interiors. Now, you need to understand that it’s not the “sustainable” part of that sentence that makes me uncomfortable…it’s the “interiors” part–as in “interior design.”

I guess that’s why there are people like Jase Frederick around, who can help design-challenged folks like me deal with both form and function. But it isn’t just her, of course. She’s backed up by a network of industry professionals including architects, builders, contractors, trades, vendors, manufacturers and artists.

That allows her to even offer consulting services to interior designers whose clients request green design, including

  • Up-to-date knowledge of sustainable and green materials, finishes and furnishings and lighting
  • Knowledge of and recommendations for how and when to use green elements most effectively
  • Roadmap for creating a Sustainable Lifestyle tailored specifically to your client and your client’s budget
  • Connections with professionals in the green building and energy trades
  • Advice on LEED for Home and LEED Accredited Professional points for LEED certification projects

She’ll even schedule a complimentary consultation, whether you want to discuss a project or just ask a question. Here’s the info: Jase Frederick Design: Sustainable Interiors & Consulting. Write her at or call 847-226-1945

The return of Joel Greenberg…but not the passenger pigeon

It’s a pleasure to have naturalist Joel Greenberg back in the studio this morning. Greenberg is a naturalist, writer, environmental consultant and author of A Natural History of the Chicago Region, coauthor of A Birder’s Guide to the Chicago Region, and editor of Of Prairie, Woods, and Water Two Centuries of Chicago Nature Writing. Oh, and he’s the chief cook and bottle washer of The Birdzilla Blog.

Oh, and did I mention that he’s just one of the people behind Project Passenger Pigeon, an ambitious effort to remind humanity that exactly one hundred years ago, we managed to wipe out one of the most abundant species in the world. Good work,, humans! Part of PPP is a film called Message from Martha: Species Extinction & Survival in the 21st Century. The film is keystone of an ambitious multi-media project that uses the passenger pigeon story to explore present day issues of species survival and extinction on land and in the sea. By the way, you can also like Project Passenger Pigeon on Facebook.

Can you see why I might be intimidated by this guy? It’s a good thing that, if he’s a genius, at least he’s a friendly genius. And, as a naturalist, he loves prairies. That’s why he spent Saturday morning at the Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham, Illinois. He was joined there by Raymond Vegter, who has graciously allowed us to post some of the images from his site, My Piece of Heaven

Today on the show, we talk pigeons, prairies and…whatever else comes up.

A stinky tour reminds us of why the governor is signing a bill

A few hours after this morning’s show, I will head to the boat launch area of the Beaubien Woods Forest Preserve to watch Governor Pat Quinn affix his signature to HB 3881, which was recently passed by the Illinois General Assembly. The bill effectively abolishes landfills in Cook County and is an important victory forthe Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) , not to mention the good folks in that part of the county.

For any of you who are interested, the ceremony will be at 2:00 p.m. at 134th (roughly) at the Little Calumet River Bank. Geez, I hope I can find it.

But it’s a reminder of how badly the southeast side of Chicago has been treated over the past hundred years or more. Which is why SETF is sponsoring the DOWN IN THE DUMPS BUS TOUR next Saturday. This unique narrated tour highlights the Southeast Side’s overabundance of treatment facilities – huge landfills, recycling centers, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District wastewater treatment plant and sludge drying fields, as well as several former notorious illegal dumps. As you can see, it ain’t your ordinary city tour. The details:

Saturday, July 28, 2012
10:00 am – 2:00 pm
$40.00 per person, includes lunch
For more details, call

And while we’re talking about the southeast side and Governor Quinn in the same breath, another bill is still sitting on his desk, and environmentalists hope he will veto it. I’m talking about SB 3766. which would authorize the Leucadia coal gasification plant at 115th Street & Burley Avenue. Please call the governor and tell him not to approve this slap in the face to an area that has already seen too much environmental degradation. His number in Chicago is 312-814-2121.


Celebrating summer, gardens and dump diversity

July 15, 2012

Taste of Chicago abdicates!
Sheffield Garden Walk now officially “Summer’s Best Festival”!

You heard it here first.

Let’s face it, Taste of Chicago ain’t what it used to be. But the Sheffield Garden Walk and Festival is going strong, celebrating its 44th year of gardens, music, tours, kids’ activities, food, drink and just plain fun It all takes place on Saturday and Sunday, July 21 & 22, at Webster and Sheffield (2200 N and 1000 W) in the City of Chicago. Donation is $7; $10 after 3pm.

And, of course, in honor of the event, former Chicago Gardener of the Year Laury Lewis stops by the WCPT state-of-the-art-and-hopelessly-unworkable studios to talk about the festival–but also to answer gardening questions with me.

Of course, besides the gardens, the highlight of the Sheffield Garden Walk and Festival is the music. Here’s a look at this year’s lineup:


8:00 pm Gomez
6:00 pm The Ike Reilly Assassination
4:00 pm The Nadas
2:30 pm The New Policies
1:15 pm The Congregation
12:15 pm Ellus Bellus

  SUNDAY, July 22

8:00 pm CowboyMouth
6:00 pm Michael McDermott
3:45 pm Mr. Blotto
2:30 pm Vintage Blue
1:15 pm Give Back
12:15 pm School of Rock

Former producer Heather Frey already has her backstage passes for Sunday evening so she can hang out with Cowboy Mouth. And, of course, Laury is bringing a CD to the studio for today’s show so that I can appear at least marginally hip by playing some of the music on the show.

But let’s get to the gardens. There are guided and unguided tours of more than 90 of some of the most beautifully kept yards in the city. The unguided tours go from noon to 5:30 pm on both days. You simply pay your fee, grab a guidebook (complete with maps and festival information), and head out. Or you can be part of the guided tours, which leave at 3:30 pm Saturday and Sunday from the information booth in front of St. Vincent DePaul Church. Those tours not only showcase select gardens but offer information about the sites as well. Due to their popularity, your are encouraged to sign up in advance for the guided tours.

One of the remarkable features of the Sheffield Garden Walk and Festival is the number of people who volunteer their time and energy to make it happen–more than 450 volunteers. Proceeds from the festival provide continued support for neighborhood schools, local institutions, and community projects. In addition, proceeds are allocated to SNA’s Award-Winning Beautification Program, a plan to maintain Sheffield as the Garden District of Chicago.

The Sheffield Neighborhood Association invites you to become a Patron of the Garden Walk and attend the Patrons’ Party on Friday, June 1, 2012 You can RSVP for the Patrons’ Party here.

And, today, the Dearborn Garden Walk celebrates is 54th year!

If you can’t get your fill of garden walks, you can head out at noon today and help celebrate the 54th year of the venerable Dearborn Garden Walk, sponsored by the North Dearborn Association.

This year’s theme is “Musical Gardens,” and guests will be able to tour 20 rear gardens,
enjoy classical musical performances at several locations and learn more about the history and architecture of Dearborn Street through guided walking tours.

The info:

Today, Sunday, July 15th, Noon – 5 pm
$35 (day of event)
Entry at The Latin Middle School (45 W. North Blvd)
All ticket sales are nonrefundable.

Ticket entry includes:

Admission to over 20 distinctive rear gardens
Narrated architectural walking tour of historic Dearborn Street
Live jazz and classical performances in select gardens
Garden vignettes

But wait…there’s one more garden event!

Next Sunday, July 22, you can wander through some pretty exclusive gardens in Lake Forest for five dollars a pop. It’s part of The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program, which is a series of private garden tours around the country that begins in spring and runs through fall.

These tours are self-guided and cost $5 per person per garden, which you can pay at the entrance of each garden. Children 12 and under are free. Discount tickets are also available through the website or by calling the toll-free order line: 888-842-2442. More information on The Garden Conservancy FAQ page.

The gardens that are being featured next week are

Camp Rosemary
This garden was designed by Rose Standish Nichols in the 1920s and is made up of wonderful garden rooms partitioned by pines, yews, and boxwood hedges.

The gardens of Fairlawn, including many of the existing trees and the grape arbor, date back to the 1860s. After a fire, a new manor house was built on the site in the 1920s, followed by a division of the estate after World War II.

Gate House Gardens
A sensitive renovation and interpretation of the gate house surround gardens of the A. Watson and Elsa Armour property built in 1917, now owned by Craig Bergmann and Paul Klug.

Suzanne’s Gardens
Situated beside Lake Forest Open Lands, the gardens provide a visual transition from native vegetation to more formal perennial beds. Indigenous plants abound, reflecting the influence of the adjacent woodlands, remnant prairie, and visiting deer.

The Garden at Elawa Farm

Overlooking the beautiful Middlefork Savanna on Lake Forest’s western border, the Garden at Elawa Farm is an integral part of the renovation of historic Elawa Farm. A “work in progress,” the garden is being re-established to reflect its days of glory according to the original 1918 plan commissioned by A. Watson Armour.

You can decide which gardens you want to visit and choose your own order.The tours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors may begin at either: Gate House Gardens, 1065 Acorn Trail, Lake Forest; or The Garden at Elawa Farm, 1401 Middlefork Drive, Lake Forest.

Speaking of tours…this one stinks

And I can’t even take credit for that headline because the Southeast Environmental Task Force, which is sponsoring the event, beat me to it. So did Chicago Tribune staff reporter Bonnie Miller Rubin in 2005.

This is the second of their OFF THE BEATEN PATH ECO-TOURS this year. Believe it or not, they’re eager to show you why the south side was known as the the home of Mt. Trashmore. They want to show you how the years of dumping household, hazardous, and contruction waste have negatively affected the surrounding communities.

It’s also a prime reason why more than a hundred protesters–many from the south side–showed up at the James R. Thompson Center last Tuesday to urge Governor Pat Quinn to veto SB 3766. which would authorize the Leucadia coal gasification plant at 115th Street & Burley Avenue. Please call the governor and tell him not to approve this slap in the face to an area that has already seen too much environmental degradation. His number in Chicago is 312-814-2121.

Meanwhile, if you decide to take this DOWN IN THE DUMPS BUS TOUR, you’ll see a lot more than you bargained for–dumps that have been repurposed and that produce energy as well as natural areas that border them and how they have become important wildlife habitats You’ll learn how Chicago deals with garbage, sewage and waste treatment in general. This unique narrated tour highlights the Southeast Side’s overabundance of treatment facilities – huge landfills, recycling centers, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District wastewater treatment plant and sludge drying fields, as well as several former notorious illegal dumps.

The details:

Saturday, July 28, 2012
10:00 am – 2:00 pm
$40.00 per person, includes lunch

The c oach bus departs from the Chicago Cultural Center at Randolph and Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. You are welcome to bring water or snacks. Lunch will be provided at a local establishment and is included in the price. You must pre-register for this tour by using the Paypal feature provided at:

For more details, call 773-646-0436

Surviving and exploiting the sun’s energy

July 8, 2012

A break in the heat but not in the drought

It’s nice to be able to sit on the back porch again without melting into a puddle. Not only did we see the first 100 degree day in seven years in Chicago–we saw three of them in a row. Does that mean that we’ll go another 21 years before we hit the century mark again? Um…do the words “climate change” ring a bell?

Of course, as meteorologist Rick DiMaio says, it’s important to gather the data and look at what it means after the event. On the other hand, 3,215 daily high temperature records were set in the U.S. in the month of June, leading some people to point out that the events we’ve been seeing in America are exactly the kinds of things that have been predicted by climate change models.

Regardless of whether or not our 2012 weather events have been caused by climate change or are just freakish weather, there’s no doubt that we are in the middle of a very dry period–not just in Illinois but in all of the lower 48 states. An analysis compiled by the National Drought Mitigation Center shows 27 of the 48 states (56%) in some stage of drought.

Which brings us to what all of this heat and lack of water are doing to your trees, shrubs and perennials. Plant Information Specialist Doris Taylor from the Morton Arboretum stops by today to tell us what she’s been seeing in the Plant Clinic and what advice she has for gardeners and homeowners.

Meanwhile, my buddy Dan Kosta from Vern Goers Greenhouse in Hinsdale offers some watering tips:

1. Water EARLY in the morning, before the sun is strong.

2. Evening watering is okay when it’s hot. The foliage will dry quickly on hot days and the plants can absorb the water all night without the stress of the sun.

3. If a plant is wilted, water it, no matter what time it is.

4. Always water thoroughly. Water should freely run out of the drainage holes. You need to give about the same amount of water as if the pot were empty and you were filling the pot with water.

5. Check that the soil is absorbing the water. Dig in a little to see that the soil is wet and not still dry. If the soil stays dry. water it generously with lukewarm water.

6. Do not worry about droplets of water on the leaves causing burning. It doesn’t happen. The droplet may form a sort of lens but the focal length ( the distance to where the light is focused to a pinpoint) is well beyond the leaf surface.

7. Do not fertilize when i’ts over about 85. Plants stop growing at that point and will not use the fertilizer. It can then build up in the soil and burn the root hairs which are the parts that absorb the water for the plant.

8. Do not spray insecticides or fungicides when it’s over 85.They will become phytotoxic and harm the plant. Curling or burning of the foliage is the usual symptom.

9. I’ts good to mist the foliage in the heat of the afternoon. It will cool the leaves and make them more active. Between 2 pm and 4 pm is good.

10. One inch of water per week is best for most plants (1/4 inch per week for lawns). Apply this all at one time. Check to see how long it takes your sprinkler to deliver one inch of water (approximately an empty tuna fish can ) and set it to run that long once a week. Several light waterings over the course of a week keep the roots near the surface, and the plants are less resistant to drought and stress.

Energizing our legislators to support solar power

Last week’s show featured a Who’s Who of environmental leaders in Illinois, includin Jack Darin of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, Max Muller from Environment Illinois, Jennifer Walling of The Illinois Environmental Council and Tom Shepherd from Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF). I was fortunate enough to have them in studio to discuss a slew of enviornmental bills–good, bad and ugly–that came out of the recently concluded legislative session in Springfield.

A couple of those bills had to do with the road that we as a state are going to travel–will we continue to pollute our air and water by extracting fossil fuels or will we finally make the move to renewable energy, like solar power? It seems like a no-brainer but, unfortunately, many of our legislators just don’t get it, perhaps because there is so much coal money floating around in Springfield. Well, folks, that’s why we have elections. If you don’t like who’s in there now, get rid of them.

That’s basically the idea behind the Clean Energy Illinois PAC (CEI), a newly formed political PAC, has been designed to fund election efforts for Illinois candidates that support local clean energy legislation. Once this objective is achieved, the CEI PAC will work on implementing legislation to ensure a robust future for renewable energy in Illinois, benefiting individuals and the community, at large while creating jobs and revenue in the state.

To that end, the Illinois Solar Energy Association (ISEA) is hosting a Solar Drinks event this Tuesday, July 10 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Emmett’s Ale House, 5200 Main Street in Downers Grove, Illinois. The event is free to ISEA members and $5.00 for others.

Featured speakers are Sarah Wochos & Barry Matchett. Among the issues to be covered:

  • The Solar & Wind Energy Rebate Program
  • Distributed generation REC procurement
  • Solar Installer Certification
  • The effect of municipal aggregation on the Illinois RPS

That first bullet point is in reference to one of the “ugly” things that came out of Springfield in May. A last minute addition to the Illinois budget saw $3.7 million swept from the Renewable Energy Resources Fund (managed by DCEO) to go to the Illinois Green Economy Network (IGEN).  This is a loss of 75% of DCEO’s renewable energy funding, which makes continuing the solar & wind energy rebate program unlikely.

Like I said, it’s all about elections. Lisa Albrecht, renewable energy specialist with Solar Service Inc., returns to the show this morning to talk about the future of solar power in Illinois. To contribute to the Clean Energy PAC, go to their website, or follow their group on Facebook.

Abby Goldberg visits the governor

As I mentioned earlier, there were good, bad and ugly environmental bills that came out of Springfield in their legislative session.

One of the “ugly” bills that we discussed was SB 3442, The Statewide Plastic Bag Recycling Bill. While the bill was written ostensibly to require plastic bag manufacturers to set up collection and recycling programs, pay fees and register with the state, it would also–with the exception of Chicago–prohibit Illinois communities from passing stronger laws, even if they wanted to tax or ban plastic bags altogether. If enacted, this would be the most restrictive law in the country banning municipal plastic bag reduction programs. While this bill purports to create a statewide recycling program for bags and film, would only increase plastic bag and film recycling by only one tenth of one percent [.1%].

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the bill being signed…it might not be. Abby Goldberg, a 12-year-old girl from Grayslake, Illinois started a petition on to get the governor to veto the bill and more than 155,000 people signed on. That encouraged Max Muller to invite her to bring her petitions to a news conference at James R. Thompson Center in Chicago on July 3. There, she stood alongside represenatives of various environmental groups (I was there as president of the Chicago Recycling Coalition), and even the Mayor of Champaign, Illinois, Don Gerard.

Remarkably, the event was covered by just about every media outlet in town (they were covering the environment so it must have been a slow news day). And then something even more remarkable happened. We all got word that Governor Pat Quinn would be coming out of his office to personally accept Abby’s petitions. Which he did. He even carried the sacks full of paper back into his office…by himself!

Does it mean that he will veto the bill or strip out the provisions that prohibit municipalities from enforcing plastic bag taxes or bans? We don’t know. But it was a good sign. You can still call The Gov and tell him to veto this bill. The number in Chicago is 312-814-2121.

Meanwhile, another one of the “ugly” bills that we discussed was SB 3766, The Leucadia Coal Gasification Bill. This bill, which is also sitting on Governor Quinn’s desk, would guarantee funding for the plant at on Chicago’s Southeast Side115th Street & Burley Avenue. As you can imagine, SETF is dead set against this bill and wants the governor to issue a veto because of pollution concerns for this already over-polluted area. Not only that, but the bill would force customers of Nicor Gas and Ameren to pay 95 percent of the cost to build and operate a $3 billion coal-to-gas plant and be stuck with that cost for 30 years. No wonder that even the Chicago Tribune wants the governor to issue a veto.

The SETF has planned a rally for Tuesday, July 10 at noon at the Thompson Center to get Governor Quinn to veto SB 3766. For south siders, there will be bus rides from two departure points: 1) The Zone (11731 S. Avenue O) and 2) Altgeld Gardens @ UpTop Store (13116 S. Ellis Ave.) Pick-up is at 10:00 a.m. and you will return by 1:00 p.m. To reserve a seat on the bus, call 773-819-5239. Of course, if you can’t attend, you can always call the Governor about this issue, too. The number again is 312-814-2121/