Talks

Garden clubs all over the state have been passing the word around. Mike Nowak is funny. He’s also knowledgeable and packs more information into a handout than most people get into a full-length book. But sometimes, if you’ve just had a really good lunch, “funny” can be the most important thing.

All talks are roughly an hour long plus time for Q & A

Contact Mike for availability and fees.

NEW!
Everything You Know About Gardening Is Wrong: Myths, Misinformation and Well-Meant but Inaccurate Advice from Mom, the Intertubes and Beyond

Gardeners are generally trusting souls. Sometimes too trusting. For instance, a neighbor offers you a plant and says, “You’ll really like this.” When the plant covers your garage and holds your dog hostage, you wonder if it was such a good idea. Mike walks his audience through some common misconceptions about plants, gardening remedies and even insects and why you need to check your sources before you grab your shovel. If you don’t laugh at least once during his presentation, it’s because the surgeon accidentally removed your humor instead of your humerus. (You’d be surprised how often that happens.)

 

I’m Not Really a Garden Expert, I Just Play One on the Radio

This is Mike’s most popular talk, and he’s constantly tweaking and updating it. Except for the fact that he has a radio show, Mike Nowak is probably a lot like you and your gardening friends. That is to say, he stumbled onto gardening somewhere in mid-life and has never looked back (except to see what he tripped over). Since then, he’s interviewed dozens of horticultural experts–some famous, some not, some controversial, some cranky, some strange–who have taught him valuable lessons about gardening, environmental responsibility and life. Like it or not, in the course of an hour he’s going to pound some of those lessons into your head. Even though he does it with humor, you might want to wear a helmet.

Good Planets are Hard to Find
The earth as seen from Saturn (now you have the answer to one of Mike’s questions during his talk–don’t let it go to your head.)

As host of a radio gardening program, Mike has found himself playing a lot of roles in twenty years: interviewer, student, skeptic, advocate, teacher, novice, expert, priest and rabbi. In his talk, Mike attempts to make some sense of what he’s learned and to present some practical advice about the role of nature in urban/ suburban/exurban settings and how each person’s role is much more significant than they can imagine. He looks at gardens, lawns, native plants and sound horticultural practices and muses about where we have gotten it right, where we’ve gone off the rails, how some of us have been brainwashed (ever watch TV?) and why.

Thriving in Hard Soil

Mike’s betting that most of you have never lived five doors from a drug corner in Chicago (and we’re not talking about a CVS). Well, he did for a decade until he and his neighbors figured out that if you put a community garden on the drug corner, the drug dealers might get nervous in the presence of broccoli, kale, tomatoes, beans and all of the folks helping them grow. Mike presents an inspiring look at the possibilities and challenges of creating a community garden, using his experience working at the Green on McLean community garden in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. You’ll learn about soil contaminants, layered barriers, raising funds, and why kids are the key to making a community garden a success.

Guys on Grass (or Natural Lawn Care 101)

As a die-hard gardener, Mike’s philosophy about lawns can be summed up in this phrase: “When in doubt, rip it out”.  Yet, as a radio show host, he knows that people love their lawns, so his compromise is to preach the gospel of natural lawn care. In this talk, Mike looks at why the concept of the “perfect lawn” is so harmful, starting with that lock-step mentality and moving on to the use of synthetic fertilizers and pervasive pesticides.  He explains how some simple cultural practices can be just as effective as expensive chemicals to keep your lawn green and healthy.  He shows you why what’s in your soil is at least as important as what’s above it.  And he dares to ask the question, “Why are weeds so bad?” (Hint: they’re not.)


The 800 Pound Banana in the Room: Recycling Organics

Good gardeners have known forever that composting is the key to healthy soils. But until recently, the issue of what to do with organics–which account for approximately one third of our waste stream–has not entered the consciousness of non-gardeners. How do municipalities, large and small, begin to educate their citizens that recycling organic materials–specifically food waste–can not only reduce the size of our landfills but, if composted correctly, replenish the nutrients in our soils and become a source of renewable energy?

That Ain’t No Way to Treat a Tree

Mike Nowak is not really an arborist. He just plays one on the radio.  Actually, for the past twenty years on Chicago radio, Mike has functioned more as a clearing house/conduit/confidant/ voice of reason for the kinds of people you run into every day. That is to say, folks who are clueless not only about trees, but about most living plant material. Yes, that can be frustrating, but it can also make you laugh…when you’re not crying or beating your head against the side of a garage. Opting for comedy over tragedy, Mike looks at the funnier side of misinformation, misunderstanding and mis-communication when it comes to the average American’s knowledge of the magnificent plants we call trees.