Native plants and green design

May 27, 2012

Putting native plants in the gardening consciousness

Several years ago, when I was still working at Gargantua Radio down the dial, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlotte Adelman and Bernard L. Schwartz. They had published a book called the Prairie Directory of North America, which, among other things, became winner of the 2003 Garden Clubs of Illinois’ Award.

It’s a pleasure to welcome them to my “new” show, and to introduce their new book, The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants, an Illustrated Guide. I’ll cut to the chase. This is a terrific book for a number of reasons. Chief among them is its premise: You tell us which nonnative plants you’re growing right now and we’ll tell you which natives will perform well under the same conditions and will reward you with beauty, fragrance, ease of cultivation–not to mention bringing birds, bees and butterflies to your garden. Sign me up.

If you’re an average gardener (like me), you’re going to be horrified to see that most of the plants in your yard are nonnatives. I’m talking about the usual suspects: roses, daffodils, butterfly bushes, astilbes, hollyhocks, foxgloves, snapdragons, anything with the word “European” in the name, chrysanthemum…pretty much anything that you’re going to find in the front row of your local garden center.

And that’s the brilliance of Adelman and Schwartz’s book. For ease of identification, all nonnatives are listed in red print, while the natives are listed in green–even in the index. Here’s what they have to say about gardeners’ reluctance to go native:

Many gardeners would like to grow locally native plants, but some face a dilemma.. They really like many characteristics of their beloved nonnative “old favorites.” The solution is to select native alternatives. This book describes native plants and flowers that look similar to or exactly like many popular nonnative plants and have the same cultivation requirements. These days, purchasing natibe plants has become convenient, due to the abundance of native plant sellers.

And, to be helpful, Adelman and Schwartz list a number of resources for tracking down native plants in their bibliography.

Of course, there’s the downside to nonnatives–especially the ones that adapt to local conditions and run rampant. However, a less noticed aspect of ignoring natives is that we could lose them:

As a result of mostly ignoring our native plants and flowers, observes the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, almost 29 percent are at risk of becoming extinct. More than two hundred species have already vanished! In the United States, the aster, cactus, pea, mustard, mint, mallow, bellflower, pink, snapdragon, and buckwheat families hold native species that are endangered.

Meanwhile, Adelman and Schwartz continue to spread the gospel of natives in the Chicago area. They are a driving force for a new prairie garden in Centennial Park in Wilmette, Illinois. Construction began in 2010 within the park’s detention area, and the garden is designed to attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

Happy 10th Anniversary, CCGT!

One of Chicago’s great treasures and a true legacy of the late, great Department of the Environment (a moment of silence, please) is the Chicago Center for Green Technology. It was the first rehabilitated municipal building in the nation to receive the LEED Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Mayor Richard M. Daley dedicated the building in 2002 and it has gone on to become a national model for sustainable design and technology. The Center serves as the most comprehensive green design educational resource in the Midwest, promoting and advancing sustainable homes, workplaces and communities. This is accomplished through educational programming, training, research, and real-world demonstration.

On Saturday, June 16, CCGT will celebrate its 10th Anniversary with a great event from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at its location at 445 N. Sacramento in Chicago. Among the features will be

– A Build Smart Expo featuring 40 product/service vendors;
– Mini-presentations by experts discussing green incentives;
– Games for everyone, including bag toss and a dunk tank;
– Food supplied by local organic vendors;
– A solar powered DJ system and sound stage;
– Prizes, such as weatherization kits, rain barrels, light bulbs and more;

Best of all, admission is free.

Steve Pincuspy from CCGT is in studio today to talk about the celebration, as well as upcoming classes at CCGT. He is joined by Rick Moskovitz of A-Plus Pest Control, Inc.and Plus Natural Enzymes, and who promises to bring his mandolin and sing the A-Plus Pest Control jingle. No, I’m not kidding.

Steve and Rick worked together when Steve was part of the Safer Pest Control Project, and they tackled problems like the resurgance of bed bugs in urban areas. They are together again for the very first time on my show.