Category Archives: Information from Past Shows

July 24, 2016 – LIVE from Christy Webber Farm & Garden!

Let me just start by saying that any day you have Christy Webber on your radio show, it’s a good day.

In the interest of full disclosure, Christy and I are not only friends, but she has been an advertiser and supporter of The Mike Nowak Show. She is not currently a sponsor but that’s pretty irrelevant (see first paragraph, above). A few years ago, she and I actually co-hosted a broadcast of the annual Chicago Pride Parade on Progresso Radio. I know why she was there, I’m not so sure why I was.

Christy Webber and CoMike, Christy, Annmaria and Jessica Zeiger in Millennium Park
a couple of years ago

She also happens to run a multi-million dollar business called Christy Webber Landscapes. What you need to know about that company is that it has been sucking up businesses the way an amobea absorbs its food. For instance, in the last seven years, they have acquired RR Landscape Supply and Kinsella Landscape and picked up Grand Street Gardens, which was re-branded as the Christy Webber Landscapes Farm & Garden Center.

And if you’re paying attention, that’s where we’re broadcasting from on this Sunday morning.  Peggy Malecki from Natural Awakenings Chicago will again be co-hosting the program, and we’re pretty psyched to be on site and we hope that some of you will drop by and perhaps buy a plant or two…even in the middle of summer!

Christy Webber joins us for the first hour. Among the projects that her company is working on, we  might discuss

  • UIC Applied Health Sciences Garden: Raised beds where UIC will be teaching their Dieticians and their Nutrition students how to grow vegetables and how those vegetables and herbs will impact the health of their students. Stump MikeThis was the sign the last time Mike appeared at
    Christy Webber Farm & Garden. Like shooting fish in a barrel.
  • Clarendon Hills Education Garden: City of Clarendon Hills and Westmont are in the design phase of an educational garden they will both share. It will include an apiary, a permaculture forest garden, hugelkultur beds, regular raised beds and a rainwater harvesting system.
  • 16th Street MLK District Garden: A community garden in North Lawndale located on 16h Street and Ridgeway. This garden is located on 3 city lots. Half of the garden is a production garden that has hugelkultur beds instead of traditional raised beds, the other half is planted as a permaculture forest garden, it uses espaliered fruit trees rows of raspberries, hazelnuts and other fruiting shrubs inside of boxes, instead of fences, and it is used as a place to hold peace circles and where the police/corporate/public/residents gather to promote community trust, and it has a youth urban ag program with After School Matters, and Gardeneers. It is also a training ground for TR4IM’s initiative which is a program that reduces trauma incidents in an 8-block area.

We might talk about all or none of the above. That’s the beauty of live radio.

But we will talk to Eugene Shockey Funkey (did he make up his own name?), who is Co-Founder and COO of Metropolitan Farms. Their mission is to grow fresh food in the city where it is eaten. Okay, gotcha.

They happen to do it aquaponically  with no synthetic pesticides/fertilizers, hormones or antibiotics. In the City of Chicago. Double gotcha.

Finally, we bring in Annamaria Leon, who has also been on my program in the past. She is a permaculturist who believes that her  methods are

a way to effectively impact food security in every neighborhood no matter where you live and how much land / space you have.  When done well, Annamaria Leonpermaculture systems have the potential to benefit every living organism to create perennial abundance. In the long term, workload will decrease and yields increase beyond what was initially expected.  At that point, it is no longer about survival. It becomes about living a life you love and being surrounded by beauty, grace, and ease.

Message received. I think you should tune in to Que4 Radio on Sunday at 9am CDT.


July 17, 2016 – The Science of Plants; the Magic of Cocktail Hours

Today I welcome two impressive and outspoken horticulturists to The Mike Nowak Show. In fact, I don’t know whether to welcome them with open arms or to head for the hills while I still have a chance. Well, I’m the one who invited them to be on the program, so I will stick around and try to keep my head above water.

Those two people are Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott from Washington State University and author C. L. Fornari, who is also known The Garden Lady.  Both are fond of busting gardening myths and of speaking their minds, which is where my insecurities kick in.

The Cocktail Hour Garden, or, a reason to drink outdoors

I introduce them in order of their appearance on the show this morning. I got to know C. L. Fornari last year, when I was wandering in the Intertubes wilderness. One of the very first interviews I did from my dining room table was with Fornari, who in 2014 had published an excellent book called Coffee for Roses: …and 70 Other Misleading Myths About Backyard Gardening.  Coffee for Roses is also the name of a blog that is penned by Fornari.

This year (and how she finds time to write all of this stuff is beyond me) she is out with a book called The Cocktail Hour Garden: Creating Landscapes for Relaxation and Entertaining. In this book, the Cocktail Hour is both metaphor and reality. As Fornari writes:

When staged outdoors in a natural environment, the cocktail hour is more Cocktail-Hour-Garden-Fr-Cover-smallthan a transition from the workday into the dinner hour. It is the time to mark a shift from human pursuits and general business to a period where we acknowledge and appreciate our connectedness to the world around us. For most people, their daily work is indoors and cut off from nature. The cocktail hour garden functions to gently shift our focus to the greater world where we live and the wonder of the plants that sustain all life.

One of Fornari’s goals is to get us as gardeners to appreciate the multiple facets of plants and their surroundings, including touch, fragrance, illumination, sound, motion, color, taste and the sense of well-being that they can engender.

She covers a lot of ground, so to speak: advice about choosing plants (of course), architecture, furniture selection, how to attract wildlife, the benefits of adding vegetables and herbs to your landscape, and how to prepare a few beverages and snacks to make the time in your piece of paradise even more enjoyable.

It’s a lovely book with lovely photos and it’s probably going to give you more than a couple of gardening or landscaping ideas that had never occurred to you before.

How Plants Work…and how some universities don’t

Linda Chalker-Scott has been on my program at each of my different venues–Gargantua Radio and Progresso Radio, and now on Que 4 Radio.

She has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA-certified arborist. She is Washington State University’s extension urban horticulturist (a source of controversy that I’ll get to in a moment) and an associate professor in the Department of Horticulture. She is the author of several books, including another myth-busting as well as award-winning work, The Informed Gardener.

She is also one of the founding members of The Garden Professors Blog, which has some of the most interesting and frustrating gardening conversations to be found on the Interwebs. If you go there, be prepared to bring your science!

Now she has written How Plants Work: The science behind the amazing things plants do. Who knew that anthocyanins could be so interesting! Not to mention mitochondria, chloroplasts, lignin, cutin, suberin, carotenoids, phytohormones, photorespiration…should I quit now?

My point is that if you have any interest in the science of how and why plants grow, this book is for you.  Considering the necessary dive into complex physiological processes that you might not have even thought of before, Dr. Chalker-Scott writes in a very accessible way, and her enthusiasm for her subject is infectious.

And when I say “accessible,” I mean she knows what the average gardener does out there. And she’s armed with facts:

I know a lot of you enjoy your power tools and handling a rototiller is almost as fun as riding a bucking bronco. But as far as life in the soil is concerned, this is the equivalent of an underground tsunami. Rototilling How Plants Workdestroys natural soil structure along with any plant roots and hapless animals in the path of destruction. Soils are more than just a medium for growing veggies: they are complex ecosystems containing beneficial bacteria, fungi, insects, nematodes, earthworms, and many other denizens. Well-structured soils, along with their natural living communities of organisms, benefit plant roots and enhance their establishment. Roots damaged by rototilling require energy and resources to repair, and when their protective outer tissues are torn they are exposed to diseases and pests.

You go girl!

But the purpose of the book isn’t to smack you over the head with a rolled up newspaper. It’s really to introduce you to a world of biology that will have you saying, “So that’s why that happens!” For instance, the science behind why tree leaves turn color in the fall is connected to why some leaves leaf out red and then turn to green. (Those darned anthocyanins again!)

And you probably have the mistaken impression that when plants experience cold weather, they die because their cells freeze and explode. And you would be wrong.

If more gardeners read more books like this, they would have fewer questions and healthier gardens. Get yourself a copy.

Which takes us to my earlier comment about Washington State University, where Linda Chalker-Scott “develops educational materials for home gardeners, certified arborists, restoration ecologists, pesticide applicators, and the nursery and landscape industry.”

In short (because I can’t possibly cover this whole mess in a few paragraphs) WSU is waging war against Dr. Chalker-Scott, seeking to dismiss her for “incompetence.”

I first found out about this issue in an article written by Susan Harris in Garden Rant. Harris described it as a “witch hunt,” writing, “Linda is doing and has done more to further the mission of Extension (providing accurate gardening information to the public) than any other Extension person in the U.S. – no contest! That’s in addition to work at the state and campus level that we don’t hear about.”

Jeff Gillman, who is the Director of the Botanical Gardens at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.and one of “The Garden Professors,” writes on their blog:

I have had the opportunity to read the investigative report…. And it’s damning.

I mean, you know, if you call 29 pages of rumors, accusations, and the author repeatedly pointing out that Linda isn’t doing a job that she wasn’t hired to do damning.

You can read the report too – it’s over on Facebook.  It’s a closed group so you need to get there through this link

Just ask to join.

So regarding this letter — I call BS (meaning Bad Stuff).

I have two major problems with it. First, the report is packed with unsubstantiated “facts” intended to create bias against Linda, and second, it’s an attack on you.

That’s right. This attack on Linda is a direct attack on you. At this point in time there is no University based extension professional doing a better job of transferring science-based information to the general public.


Linda’s appointment is 100% extension. That means that 100% of her time should be devoted to transferring research based information to you, the public. Well guess how she spends her time? She’s giving you what you, the taxpayer, are paying for. The investigators are saying she should do more experimental work – something she is not paid to do.

If you want to read the very latest, here is a  recent letter from WSU Vice Provost Erica Weintraub Austin and the  the response from Dr. Chalker-Scott.

All in all, it is a very ugly affair and does not reflect well on Washington State University. If you want to understand the on-going war in academia over science and funding, you should read this interview with Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards in Chronicle of Higher Education.

Edwards is the person who blew the lid off of the Flint, Michigan lead poisoning story. Here, he basically says that public science is broken. He describes his own battle to serve the public, which has cost him money, career and even friends. I’m not saying that this is exactly what’s going on with Linda Chalker-Scott, but it does not bode well for the future of learning in America.

July 10, 2016 – Traditional and Not-so-traditional Garden Walks

It’s been a couple of years since I covered the garden walk scene in and around Chicago. So it’s a pleasure to welcome back to the show fellow Illinois Master Gardener Laury Lewis. He has a laundry list of horticultural accomplishments, so I’ll just hit some of the highlights:

Sheffield 2Bill Aldrich, John Eskandari and Laury Lewis judging gardens at the Sheffield Garden Walk a few years ago. Mike was on the team, too, and took the photo.

  • Chairman of Sheffield Neighborhood Association Beautification program. The Sheffield neighborhood on Chicago’s north side is “The Garden District of Chicago”
  • Co-Chairman of the annual Sheffield Garden Walk, featuring over 90 gardens
  • Coordinator and teacher for the Blooming Branches program 1999-2004. This was a partnership between the University of Illinois Extension, the Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Botanic Garden, providing 64-84 classes at 14-16 libraries in Chicago
  • Gardener of the Year and 1st Place in 2000 and 1st Place in 2009 and 2010 in the Single Family Residential category of the  Mayor’s Landscape Awards
  • State of Illinois Outstanding Master Gardener in 2000
  • Created Foliage Fantasies in 1998, specializing in residential garden design and installation

And that’s just a taste of Laury’s chops . By the way, don’t get either of us started on why Rahm Emanuel decided to pull the plug on the Mayor’s Landscape Awards. Let’s just say–and this is my own opinion–it reflects where the environment in general and gardening in particular appear on this mayor’s list of priorities. That is to say, pretty near the bottom.

But I digress. Or not.

The point is to talk about the 48th Annual Sheffield Music Festival & Garden Walk, which happens in a couple of weeks,  July 23 & 24 at Sheffield and Webster in Chicago. If you judge things from the print size, you would guess that the “garden walk” part of the festival is becoming a footnote.

However, Laury notes that there are 95 gardens on the walk this year, the most in 7 years and that includes 34 new exhibitors. He writes:

I can’t explain the increase but there have been a lot of new people moving into Sheffield, younger families who seem to have a greater interest in the Sheffield 1outdoors and are physically able to garden. Among the new gardens there are several that I have tried to get into the walk in the past and finally succeeded this year. A feature attraction is the newly created butterfly garden in Trebes Park that is used as a teaching tool with the kids at Oscar Mayer School which is next to the park. Christy Webber is again the sponsor for the gardens. Brian Shea of Voltaire’s Gardener and myself will be doing specialty garden tours with an emphasis on plant selection, design and maintenance.

Of course, the main attraction of the festival, sponsored by the Sheffield Neighborhood Association (SNA), a non-profit community organization, is the music. But there’s a lot more going on, including guided Architectural Tours, food and drink, and activities for children at the Kids’ Corner.

Laury comes to the opulent Que4 Radio studios this morning not just to promote the festival, but to talk gardening and perhaps even answer a few questions. Feel free to call us at 312-985-7834 or send an inquiry to The Mike Nowak Show on Facebook or tweet us at @MikeNow.

Which takes us to a different kind of garden walk, but one that needs to get more attention.  Go Green Wilmette is, for the fourth year, hosting what they call the Alternative Yard Tour:

Join Go Green Wilmette on July 17th from 9am to noon to view creative, beautiful and practical ways that local residents have put their yards to work growing food, providing native habitat and managing storm water.

RuellaWild petunia (Ruellia) with Marshall Strawberries in Mike’s garden.

Saima Abbasi from Go Green Wilmette joins Peggy Malecki and me on The Mike Nowak Show this morning. As I mentioned before, I hope that you join us in the conversation, too!