Garden Night Tonite with Special Guest

Dear Garden Friends, 

Join us tonite for stewardship, fire and food and a special visit from Lauren Umek,   Project Manager in the Department of Cultural and Natural Resources  of the Chicago Park District. We will be able to have an informal chat about volunteer stewardship opportunities and strategies for protecting these areas and increasing biodiversity. This conversation will begin at about 7:00 by the fire circle. Bring a friend and join us.

Garden Stewards

Physotegia virginiana
Verbena stricta

Heat Waves Fades, mild day at the garden

Hello Garden Friends and Neighbors,

A scorcher today, but tomorrow promises to chill out a bit, to provide us a lovely setting for stewardship in the Garden. Please join us from 10:00 until ….1:00 to pitch in, to work, and learn, and enjoy the company of an amazing group of kids, parents and neighbors who are dedicated to caring for a precious bit of land in our community. 

There is work and wonder for all, from clean up, to weeding, fence and path tending, fire building, cooking and serving each other. And if you play an instrument, bring it, and gift us with song.

Below are some garden images from the past week: the acorns from the bur oaks are starting to drop (assisted by hungry squirrels, pawpaw are thickening, hazelnuts are weighing down the branches that carry them, the sunflowers and rudbeckia are in full flourish, Joe Pye Weed (3 species) are casting their gentle pink glow, and the swales are alight with cardinal flower, boneset, monkey flower and blazing star. 

We have work to do and joy to share.

Join us!

Pete (for garden stewards)

Hot Fun in the Garden

Hello garden Friends,
It’s hot. and almost midway through the calendar summer. Much of our garden is thriving thanks to care and watering, and has yielded berries, and squash and broccoli and garlic, and more. The native gardens are thriving and diverse and beautiful. Paw paw and hazelnut are in fruit. Children graze the parkway garden savoring the last sweet raspberries.  And, importantly, our garden community is growing and healthy.

So, let us meet this evening, and take it easy: stay in the shade, no heavy lifting and if you bring food to share, let’s bring cold dishes so we won’t have to make a fire and cook. 

Next Wednesday evening we will be visited by Lauren Umek, Head of the Natural Areas division of the Chicago Park District. She has valuable knowledge about the Horner Park and River Park bank restorations, and natural areas management in general. She will join us for an informal Q &A around the fire circle. 
Pete  (for garden stewards)
Below are some of Jeremy’s latest photos.

Rainy Wednesday

Today promises to be a rainy day, going into our stewardship time. But, maybe not. There is always a shelter from the rain, friends to talk to, new plants in bloom. So, come by after 5:00, stay for a while, or until dark.

Fotos below by J. Atherton, clockwise Button Bush, False Sunflower, Common milkweed, Cardinal flower

Garden Stewards

Chicago River Day ! Join Us!

Dear Waters School Families and Neighbors, You are invited to join Riverbank Neighbors, our sister organization, to work and learn at the RBN Natural Area, east Bank Chicago River, Montrose to south of Berteau. This is during the same time as our usual Waters’ Saturday Garden Day. Please consider shifting over to the river.  This is their message:

This Saturday is Chicago River Day, and we will join dozens of other sites around the city to give some loving care and attention to our river and bank. We start at 9:00 and end at 12:00 sharing food and drink at Berteau and the River. Join Us.

We will be woodchipping the paths;

Weeding; and

Going for a wildflower walk.

Please bring water for yourself.

Riverbank Stewards

Keeping an Eye on the Garden

We saw a Kestrel in the garden staring at the ground, probably an eye on one of our many rabbits. We tried to get a photo but kestrels are small and it was a ways off.

It made us wish that someone was around to keep an eye on the garden with the serious diligence of a kestrel. When we arrived for garden day Saturday, the garden was a mess, apparently visited by crazies the night before. Chairs were broken, the water was left over flowing, flooding the path, rain barrels tipped over etc, ect. It took us a good hour to clean up.

Then we got on with the good business of fence building and mending, sign making, cleaning the bioswale, protecting the blackberries, looking at the new flowers, fixing the wheel barrow, and straightening out the lumber in the shed. 

Our bonus is looking at what is coming up in the native gardens. You look and look and then…. you see it. The re-emergence of a rare plant after a year’s dormancy. An exquisite courageous beauty in the face of a dangerous world. Fantastic! Sublime. 

Come join us for work, community, food and music.

New split
New rail fencing to protect rare plants
Downy Hawthorne in bloom
Wheel replaced on barrow
Geranium maculatum

Fences Protect Precious Plants, so do caring people

Hello Friends and Neighbors,

Last Saturday a crew of artisanal gardeners restored the “White Tailed Deer Rain Garden” on the Maplewood parkway. The soil level was lowered, the bricks renewed and reset, new plants were added, and the hydrology of the system (the reason for its creation, to drain the flooded sidewalk) was reassessed and reconfigured. As we finished the work, the rain started on cue. After a bit, the water started to move and ….voila! The rain water entered the garden and the path was cleared.

White Tail Deer Rain Garden, Artists Sol, Keiki and kids
As Rain begins, the water flows into the rain garden. Photos by P. Brandes

Here is a summary of work done on Saturday:

Wooden stick fences were repaired. 

More compost and repairs to parkway berry areas. 

Greens harvested from cold frames. 

Repair and rebuilding of the “holding bed” (the one with cinder blocks near sink) for native transplanting. 

Tree signage.  

Clearing dead plants from native areas. 

Weeding creeping bellflower from native area.

Repair and rebuilding of White Tailed Deer Rain Garden on parkway. 

Lettuce and spinach in cold frame… after harvest. It was planted in October

For Garden night, May 3, 2023…. more of the above and doing a clean up of the southend of the bioswale which is coming awake with lush wetland plantings. Unfortunately it is also getting alot of trash and detritus thrown in. Please help keep an eye on this very rich and valuable area.

Zizia Aurea, Golden alexander, photo by J. Atherton

All are welcome to join the work and fun. 5:00 until dark.

Garden Stewards

Park Plantings: An offering of berries to make your day

Gooseberries in Bloom

Garden Stewardship Saturday April 29, 10:00 until 12:00.

We will continue our work upgrading the parkway plantings, adding compost and repairing fencing. These unique publicly accessible berry plantings are a great example of how to convert non-productive turf into delicious food. Many of the gooseberries, currants. raspberries and grapes were refugees rescued from the old Snake and Turtle Garden before it was destroyed as part of the big Annex construction project. It has taken a few years for the plants to really take hold, but by now, throughout the summer you will see an endless stream of kids and parents and neighbors pause by the berry bushes to partake. It is like a small gift being offered that may help make someone’s day a little sweeter.

Here’s a great song by Kool and the Gang from 1974 called the Fruitman  (…so eat naturally and you will see the difference).

We will also be working on restoring the White-Tailed Deer Rain Garden in the parkway on Maplewood. This flood relief artwork was created by Sol and Keiki, school parents of Leo, using old bricks to outline the shape of a deer. The soil inside was excavated to allow rain water that had been puddling on the sidewalk to drain into ground. It was planted in native sedges and irises. It is beautiful and functional. It just needs a little love.

All are welcomed to join us.

Virginia Bluebells, Mayapple, under the oak

Flowers, vandals, food and friends

Garden Night tonite, April 26, 5-dark

Work done on Saturday, April 22, 2023

About 20 people attended. Here’s what we did:

We repaired various fencing to protect planted areas.

We cleaned and re-ordered the Cedar and Ugly Shed.

We rescued the 5 American Hazelnut bushes that had found refuge at the SE corner of the Green Wing Addition (thanks to Felix for salvaging these plants from the New Addition construction havoc). The fencing that had protected these plants was removed and they were mostly smashed to the ground. They were transplanted to the river on Sunday (thanks Jeremy and Brendon).

We repaired another damaged storage door for the pizza oven.

We picked up trash.

We burned brush and cooked lots of quesadillas con salchichas.

We walked the grounds to take note of and appreciate the new plants and flowers. 

Trilium Grandiflorum
Geranium maculatum

New flowers and buds

Coming into bloom: shooting stars, bladdernut, wild ginger, wild hyacinth, downy hawthorn, wild geranium, and more. Come and see.

Vigilance: after hour mischief met with the power of Garden Guardians. We once again had some garden vandalism: the table we use for the log circle was destroyed and thrown over the fence into the native garden. We removed it and will build a new one. We have a great group of neighbors that we call the Gar Gars (Garden Guardians) who we will invite soon to share food and strategize how to intervene to prevent damage to the gardens.  Many watchful eyes and caring souls can work wonders.

Waters School Community Garden Stewards

Sunny and Hot, Snowy and Cold

Read on for news on our spring wildflowers and a visit from the Openlands Treekeepers, notes and reminders for community gardeners, and updates from last Saturday’s garden stewardship day.

Spring wildflowers and a visit from the Openland Treekeepers

Contributed by Pete Leki

It’s true: one day hot, one day cold. People love sunny and warm, but native spring ephemerals thrive in cool, even cold, and moist temperatures. Bloodroot, pictured above, will loose its petals in a single day if it is too sunny and hot. They cover the ground like snow. Every day new flowers are appearing: celandine poppies, Pennsylvania sedge, shooting stars in bud, bluebells, and trout lilies. Seek them out. But, please don’t cross fence lines or pick any flowers. These plants were once plentiful in our area. Today they only exist where they have been restored: planted, tended and protected. Please be one of the protectors.

A visit from the Openlands Treekeepers

Waters School Garden also hosts to some of the most valuable trees in the Chicago region. Our Bur oaks are mighty and mature survivors of two centuries of furious development, draining of the river, and the utter destruction of the ecosystems that covered the land. Today, our garden includes scores of other rare trees, shrubs and flowers that create habitat for insects and animals, including us, humans. In the picture above, we are sharing the story of the restoration of the ecosystem under the oaks with the Openlands Treekeepers group.

Welcome back, community gardeners!

Contributed by Arunas

The weather is finally nice enough to get out and do some gardening (it was on Saturday, at least). Here are some things to know about Waters Garden in 2023:

  • We’re [still] gardening!
  • Garden days are on Wednesdays (5:00 p.m. – Sunset) and Saturdays (10:00 a.m. – Noonish). We’ve had a few productive work days so far, but we’d love to see more of you. Join us if you want to get more involved and spend a nice day outside.
  • Please let me know if you had a plot last year but will not be gardening this year, otherwise I’ll assume you’re gardening. If your garden is still fallow in mid-May, there’s a chance it will be given away to someone else. That being said, now is a great time to plant some cold weather crops, like lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, broccoli, etc.
  • We likely will not be getting that great soil from NeighborSpace that we’ve gotten in years past, so if you need to energize your plot, Gesthemene Garden Center in Andersonville and the Farmer’s Market garden store on Elston sell organic soil by the bag. If you use Wastenot for your composting, I believe they provide their members soil, so check that out. We also have some compost in one of the bins, but you’d have to get that on a Wednesday or Saturday workday.
  • The water is on and we have access to all the taps, as well as a couple of new ones, and the water barrels are full. Please be sure to keep lids on the water barrels around the garden. If you see one with its lid off, please put it on. Despite what you may have read, squirrels are not good swimmers. If you see an empty water barrel and have a few minutes, fill it up (or even half fill it up).
  • Some of the plots look a little busted up this spring, but they look like they should be easy enough to repair, and we have plans to convert a couple of the large plots (from gardeners who aren’t returning this year) into smaller plots, so if you don’t love your garden plot, we may have some better options this year. We submitted an order for some wood and other materials with the principal, so hopefully that comes in soon, and we’ll announce a workday for fixing and building plots once we get the materials.
  • Waters needs waterers. In the summer the community gardeners help keep all the gardens on the school (west) side of the garden and many of the green areas watered. It usually takes about an hour and it’s a nice way to help keep the garden growing. If you have a free hour during the week and you like water, reach out and we’ll make you a Waters Waterer.

While the garden has seen significant changes over the last year and created many new challenges, it has also given us the opportunity to grow the garden in new and interesting ways. It has also reminded us how tenuous our existence is and how much the garden depends on our involvement. We have some ideas of how to get people more involved this year and also welcome any ideas you might have to keep the garden vibrant, but the best way to get involved is to plant your seeds and plants, keep your plot in order and watered, and show up for a garden day.

Happy gardening!

Swamp buttercup (Ranunculus septentrionalis)

Report from April 15, 2023 garden day

Contributed by Poppy

Warm Saturday already seems like a long time ago. There weren’t many of us but here’s what was worked on:

  • Placed compost (from our own compost bins) around the base of the raspberries in the nature play space and along the west side of the school. 
  • Put rope (reminder not to trample!) fencing up in the nature play space area (there is still so much more to go up and stick fencing to be repaired!)
  • Moved wandering wild geranium, Virginia waterleaf, and yellow violets to the a mound in the Journeys & Refuge Garden, just west of the linden tree where we had transplanted ferns (a few of which made it over the winter and are fiddleheading out of their straw coverage), tulips, and currants last year. We covered the new transplants with leaf mulch using up the last of those bags that had been taking up space in the shed.
  • Repaired brick-smashed-through-the door-damage to one of the storage cupboards of the pizza oven.
  • Eradicated some of the dreaded lesser celadine (invasive flower that is often mistaken for a buttercup).
  • Cleared A LOT of trash from the property.

And again: How can we find a way to make this a children’s school ground that they can explore and enjoy but not destroy? We don’t want the garden to look like these areas that we no longer tend to…