Fighting vandalism, displaying flowers and bartering services

July 31, 2011

Nobody said gardening in the city would be easy…but it shouldn’t be this difficult

I received an email from Doug Wood of the Wicker Park Garden Club earlier this week…and I wasn’t the only one. It was a call to action:

Hello Commander Flores, Alderman Moreno & Staff, Art Richards & Park District Staff, Community Organizations, Friends of Wicker Park, Press,

Even though ALL OF YOU are trying hard to be vigilant – This has been quite the summer of chaos:
Plantings damaged and stolen (4 -25year old Caucasians), Graffiti on Wicker Sculpture, beer parties most every night (7-11 is really getting a lot of late night business), rail riders number growing exponentially-daily, and now these photos of even more vandalism.  
Your INPUT would be much appreciated.   Let us Work TOGETHER to solve this one?

The Red Graffiti on the Fountain Basin appeared Tuesday Morning, July 27.
The Black Graffiti on all the 3 sets of stairs to the fountain – 2 weeks ago-no obvious attempt made to remove.
The Beer Cans/Wine Bottles – The rose gardens grow them DAILY!
No photo – but – Graffiti is on the benches for over 3 weeks – graffiti in portable toilet.

CAN WE CLEAN THIS UP BEFORE THE WEEKEND?  Unattended Graffiti seems to Generate More!

Thanks, Doug Wood – WPAC – WPGarden – Neighbor

If you’re wondering what in the world happened, read this account of this latest in a series of acts of vandalism in Wicker Park. You will undoubtedly be disturbed by the response of the police and 311, at least as reported in the story. What’s even more disturbing, of course, is the vandalism itself. What kind of knucklehead finds pleasure in ripping plants out of containers or a garden bed? I speak from the experience of having gardened in Chicago for almost two decades.

I’m pleased to have Wicker Park resident and historian Elaine Coorens in studio with Wicker Park merchant David Ginope. David is working with Wicker Park & Bucktown (WPB), the Special Service Area for the Wicker Park and Bucktown neighborhoods, on the Orange Walls Mural Project, which is directed toward reducing graffiti. Joining us on the phone is 1st Ward Alderman Proco Joe Moreno. One of the questions I am likely to ask is why, oh why there are no security cameras in the park, given the history of vandalism there? Just askin’. Tune in.

“Our Beautiful Earth” at the Chicago Botanic Garden

I have to admit that I’m giving a little publicity to next week’s standard flower show, “Our Beautiful Earth” at the Chicago Botanic Garden, mainly because Adele Klein, who is publicity chairman for the District IX Garden Clubs of Illinois, asked me. Of course, she and I are both Illinois Master Gardeners and have both written a number of things for Chicagoland Gardening Magazine and, hey, if you can can’t give a writing buddy a little air time, what are you good for?

However, it isn’t Adele, but show chairman Meredith Schnelle, who stops by this morning. By the way, the show includes table top arrangements, floral designs, educational exhibits, photography, artistic crafts, youth exhibits, and of course, horticulture exhibits. Adele adds, “You do not need to be a member to exhibit horticulture. Bring your best specimens before 9 am Sat. August 6 to enter them. We want to see the best and the brightest.!” ‘Nuff said. For additional details visit

You might be interested to know that the Garden Clubs of Illinois has 9648 members in 206 clubs, an additional 18 affiliate plant societies, arboretums and the-like, and 27 Junior Clubs in Illinois. Founded in 1925, they are a charter member of National Garden Clubs, Inc., an international organization that is the largest volunteer gardening organization in the world

Sustainable Food Fundamentals: Harambee Barter Day

The last time Seamus Ford from Root Riot Urban Garden Network was on the show, I had just visited their Harambee and Madison Street locations, not just as show prep, but to get some ideas for the community garden in my own neighborhood, Green on McLean, which was going to be planted within the week.

Seamus is back today with a new idea for one of the Root Riot gardens. “Harambee Barter Day” has been organized around the idea of bringing people together to discover the unique resources possessed by the community around them.

But if you want to take part, you’ll have to move fast. It takes place THIS AFTERNOON, Sunday July 31st, from 4-7PM. Bring a pot luck dish along with an idea of what kind of product or service you are willing to trade with another person. Pretty simple, really. Here are some examples of things that you might barter:

Child Care
Music lessons
House cleaning
Drawing a picture
Self defense instruction
VCR programing
Canning and preserving
Drywall installation
Raising goats and/or chickens
Job search coaching
Bike repair
Furniture moving
Dog walking
Snow removal
Reading a book to children
Resume writing
Building a website
Exercise buddy

Get the idea? Perhaps you have something to offer and will get something you need in return.

Got Lead?

That’s the title of an article I wrote for the July/August issue of Chicagoland Gardening Magazine. And the answer, unfortunately, for too many of us who live in urban areas, is “yes.” This is the legacy of our use of leaded paints and gasolines until the end of the 1970s. And, thirty years later, we’re still finding obscenely high levels of the element in our soils.

When we started the Green on McLean community garden on my block this year, our solution to the lead problem was essentially to cap it. We put down cardboard, covered it with mulch, covered that with landscape fabric, then put down clean soil.

While what we did was organic, in a sense, what if there was a way to change the soi, to make it safe to grow vegetables in without covering it or digging it up and shipping it somewhere else? At least three people in the past couple of weeks have sent me this article from the New York Times (warning: they might make you log in to read the whole thing) about a technique that just might do the trick. It involves using Alaskan pollock bones, turning them into a kind of paste, and mixing it into the soil

Quoting from the article:

The principle is straightforward, said Victor R. Johnson, an engineer with Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc. “The fish bones are full of calcium phosphate,” he said. “As they degrade, the phosphates migrate into the soil.” The lead in the soil, deposited by car exhaust from the decades when gasoline contained lead or from lead-based paint residue, binds with the phosphate and transforms into pyromorphite, a crystalline mineral that will not harm anyone even if consumed.

This alchemy has been practiced in university and commercial laboratories for more than 15 years, and more recently has been employed at acid-mine sites and military bases.

The approach is being tried out in the residential neighborhood of South Prescott in Oakland, which this month became the first in the country where fishbone meal is being mixed into the soil for lead control under a project organized by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Hokey smokes, Bullwinkle! Give me some of that stuff and I’ll slam it into the ground in Chicago. The author, Felicity Barringer, received so much mail after the article was published that she wrote a follow up blog post the next day. It just shows you that people are desperate to do the right, safe thing as organically as possible. Is it possible that we might start spending our research money on organics rather than synthetic chemicals??


I hope I’m wrong.