Billy Goodnick and Cats at Work

May 19, 2013

Billy Goodnick: Fact or fiction?

When I meet a garden writer/designer/musician who titles an appendix to his book “Murder Your Lawn,” I know I’m going to like him. So it is a pleasure to welcome Billy Goodnick to my show and to introduce him to the teeming hordes who tune in Sunday mornings at 9:00 a.m. Central Time. It also doesn’t hurt that he has a page on his website called “Crimes Against Horticulture,” complete with incriminating photographs.

But back to the book. Billy is the author of “Yards: Turn Any Outdoor Space into the Garden of Your Dreams.” While he is an award-winning landscape architect, there’s no need to be intimidated by that. Clocking in a 142 pages, the book is not all that long, and it’s chock full of practical information about how to design a garden from scratch…and get it right!

Even better, Billy puts you at ease with his irreverent way with words. Here are a few choice “Billy-isms” from the book:

  • “Just like a teenager, a good yard needs to do more than just sit there looking cool. For all the time and money you’ll put into designing, installing and caring for a yard, it had better give something back.”
  • “Raise your hand if you have way too much storage space and not nearly enough crap. Didn’t think so. Enjoyable outdoor living calls for places to conveniently store bench cushions, lawn games, gnome-washing gear, and other stuff.”
  • “As a kid, the only thing I knew about gardens was that my mom would break out in a rash if she touched ivy. As fate would have it , an endless green mat of this devil’s spawn surrounded our suburban Los Angeles front yard. On the plus side, removing this scourge gave my big brother, David, and me a chance to brandish picks and machetes. I’m happy to report that, between us, we still have an adequate number of digits to get through life.”
  • “If someone visiting your yard asks, “Did you do that on purpose?” your yard needs help.”
  • “A contractor friend of mine calls wood decks “dry rot in slow motion.” He’s pretty spot-on. Traditional wood decks, regardless of how much waterproofing you apply each year, will eventually succumb to nature’s forces (or termites).”

The reason the book works, however, is not because Billy lies awake nights coming up with pithy phrases (though I suspect he does). It’s because he walks you through the logical steps in preparing a garden space–and he does it in a thoroughly entertaining way that doesn’t contain a lick of condescension (who wants to be constantly reminded of how wonderfull the writer is? Not me.) Here’s how he breaks down the process:

  • Design – You gotta have a plan
  • Aesthetics – Get your senses involved
  • Hardscape – If it isn’t green, it’s hardscape
  • Picking Plants – How hard could it be?

That, and a few appendices and Voila! You’ve learned some valuable lessons about landscaping. I’m sure I’ve missed a few things here in my roundup, which is why it’s good that Billy is on the show today to keep me in line. Let him try.

Cats at Work (no, this is not one of those Internet videos)

A number of years ago, Kathleen and I were asked by a friend of ours if she could hold a bridal shower in our backyard. Because I’m the gardener (well, who else would it be?), I was flattered, of course, as we set up the yard and groomed our plants to make the background as shower-friendly as we could.

However, Kathleen and I had purchased our home in the southern part of the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago and, at that time, it wasn’t exactly the nicest neighborhood in the world. And I’m not talking about gangs. I’m talking about the rat population.

So it was with horror that Kathleen and I watched the lovely shower guests, all decked out in their finest, eating petit fors and opening gifts with rats skittering in the background. Fortunately, none of the guests saw what we saw, and the party proceeded without incident.

Had the Cats at Work Project from the Tree House Humane Society been an option at that time, I think we might have considered it. According to Tree House,

Cats at Work Project is a “green” humane program that removes sterilized and vaccinated feral cats from life-threatening situations and relocates them to new territories where their presence will help control the rodent population. The cats are humanely managed by volunteer caretakers for the entirety of their lives with ongoing support from Tree House as mandated by Cook County’s “Managed Care of Feral Cats Ordinance”. Rodents are repelled by the cats’ presence and leave the cats’ new “territory”. Many cats will also hunt and catch rodents on occasion, but if they are fed regularly, they usually won’t eat them. Compared to the methods that are most commonly used to control rats, which are short-term solutions and therefore ineffective, and also dangerous to kids, pets and the environment, this method proves to be effective, humane, and environmentally friendly. It is a win-win situation for the cats and their human neighbors.

Since Tree House launched the Cats at Work (CAW) program, they have added over 100 sponsored feral cat colonies, and now sponsor 356 total colonies.

This is just part of local efforts to control feral cat populations. It’s been more than five years since Cook County passed the Managed Care of Feral Cats Act. At a recent hearing to review that decision, it was reported that some 12,000 cats have been spayed or neutered and vaccinated since 2007, preventing the birth of 336,000 cats and saving county municipalities thousands of dollars.

While programs like Cats at Work are helping to control feral cats, there is still plenty of controversy regarding their affect on bird mortality. A recent study by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that outdoors cats account for 1.4 to 3.7 billion bird deaths each year, with mammal fatalities ranging from 6.9 billion to 20.7 billion annually!

Jenny Schleuter is Director of Development at Tree House and founded the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program at Tree House in 2005. She is also an avid gardner and is involved in a community garden in West Humbolt Park. Liz Houtz recently took a position at Tree House as the new Community Cats Program Manager. They join me on the show this morning.

Tree Talk with The Care of Trees

This week I start a new feature on the program, courtesy of my loyal sponsor, The Care of Trees, A Davey Company. Once each month, an arborist from The Care of Trees will be on the show to discuss tree issues and how to deal with them.

This month, it’s my buddy Shawn Kingzette, who now works for TCOT’s parent company, the Davey Tree Expert Company. Shawn and I have both served as president for the Midwest Ecological Landscape Alliance, and he has been a regular guest on my show since I moved to WCPT in 2008.

Today we talk about two issue: Emerald Ash Borer and the effects of last year’s drought. They are actually related, as your ash tree is more likely to be attacked by EAB if it was stressed by last year’s drought. And don’t look at this year and say, “But we’ve had plenty of rain this year!” That’s not the way it works. Trees often take years to react to stress factors, which means that problems you see this year might have originated several years ago.

Call us with your tree questions at 773-763-9278.

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