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…

Spring with all its surprises

Several news items below: garden stewardship schedule, workday accomplishments, prescribed burn update, and spring wildflowers! Please scroll, read and respond.

1. Garden days: Wednesdays 5pm-dark, Saturdays 10am- noon

Dear Friends, regular stewardship days have recommenced. Please join us whenever you can, for as long as you can. All are welcome and invited to share the work, learn and teach, share food and music. Don’t delay!

2. April 8 workday accomplishments

Contributed by Phil B.

It was a very productive Saturday, April 8, at the garden!

Things we discussed…

– breaking some of the ongoing jobs into small groups which may add focus to work days (thanks Brendon!) or allow people to work on projects outside of regularly scheduled workdays.

– completing a report after each (Saturday?) garden workday to keep gardeners not in attendance and Ms. Rovito/Waters School apprised of what has been done and possibly flagging items of concern. 

– a timeline and need to shorten and tidy up some of the larger beds veggie beds that impede on the circulation. Especially where walking path enters bed area.

Things we did….

An inventory was made of the cedar fencing that still remains in the tool shed. There is a need to purchase a few more posts so that we can continue the split rail fencing along the outermost path at south/east native planted area (just south of the community plots). We set a goal to add about fifty more feet of cedar fence this season.

Mostly we all teamed up to repair and replace the temporary fencing that has been trampled over the winter. We made good progress. The understory bed along the large shed is now protected. Jeremy and Ewan did a great job putting up temporary fencing near the Serviceberry/Amelanchier to help protect the delicate and very low growing trout lily/ Erythronium americanum. Please take a look on your next trip to garden and let’s all help maintain these soft, protective borders. Please take a moment to pick up sticks, branches and bricks that have been scattered around. Store in cedar shed.

Trash was collected, the hoses got dragged out and the tool shed needs organizing. Poppy diligently uncovered the spiral herb garden and unwintered the roses! Melanie helped organize the composting brown(s) bins, keeping the trash isolated and separated—also, clearing a path for passing by. We made sure everything but the trash had a brick on it to keep folks from throwing garbage on perfectly good leaves. 

Things we’re concerned about…..

When the potato patch was dismantled, the concrete reinforcement steel (6×6’) grids were removed and  leaned up near the greenhouse. We attempted to make them as orderly and safe as possible by adding ribbon and bending in any projectiles. There may be a better place or solution or maybe we need to ask ourselves…does it makes sense to keep them? (Planting in that area is impossible without protection for the growing plants. The steel cages, staked and set teepee style did a great job protecting and trellising the plants. P.L.)

We’ll see you next time or on Wednesday.

3. Prescribed burn

Contributed by Meredith L.

On Monday April 3 at 8:00am, an email popped up from the school with notification that a prescribed burn of the Waters Garden would begin just an hour later at 9:00am! This came as a great surprise because the school and contractor had promised that garden stewards would be alerted in advance so that someone with specific knowledge of the garden’s native plants could be present to consult with the contracted burn crew. Despite the late notice, lack of coordination with garden stewards, and the fact that many volunteers were out of town for spring break, we were able to pull together a group of gardeners to arrive by 9:00am.

While this initial communication oversight was quite concerning, everything went great with the burn itself! The Davey Trees crew very much welcomed garden stewards’ input on which areas to burn and which areas to skip because precious spring ephemerals (like Virginia bluebells, trout lily, and Dutchman’s breeches) have already started to emerge. Fire would kill these beautiful early spring flowers, and it could take years for them to recover, if ever. The whole process only took an hour or so: the 3-person crew showed up around 9:15-9:30, gardeners were able to do a walkaround with them, they had fire on the ground at little before 10:00 and were finished up by about 10:30. The weather wasn’t the most cooperative, with barely any wind and drizzle starting midway through, so the burn ended up being a bit patchy. Excitingly, the crew was even able to burn the swale despite the construction–this was a high priority for us due to the buildup of grass fuel in that space! At the end, the contractor’s burn boss even asked about our background because it sounded like we had industry experience, so it seems like they found the volunteers’ contributions valuable. Cheers to a successful burn!

4. Spring wildflowers!


This a photo of Bloodroot, a native ephemeral wildflower. You can walk for blocks and miles around our neighborhood and not witness this plant that was once an integral part of the spring native plant community. It lives at Waters!!!! Its blossom time is short. Hot days cause it to drop its petals. But the plant continues to draw in sunlight and CO2 and to grow, its roots and bulbs. In years when the weather is cool, they will put out a spectacular show! We are blessed. Pleeeeeease protect them.

Check out this animation that shows the progress of bloodroot blooming as the season progresses. We are part of a worldwide movement monitoring the changes brought about by climate change. These bloodroot blossoms are helping us to learn and understand. Thanks to Jeremy A. for the photos and animation.

Spring Beauty

This is Spring Beauty. It is small and hidden. Can you find it? It is rare, outside of the forest preserves. It is a jewel. It has taken us 20+ years to re-introduce it to our neighborhood, our garden. Please look for it! Ask for a guided tour. Or come to our stewardship days, to get acquainted.

Community News Update


1. Principal Evaluation survey

2. Waters Garden stewardship days begin today, Wednesday March 29, 5:30 pm

3. Recent Waters Ecology education and activities

1. Click here to take the annual Principal Evaluation Survey for Families & Community by Friday, March 31st. The Waters School Local School Council will use your input to inform Principal Rutkowski’s formal performance evaluation. This CPS mandated process supports the principal in identifying professional growth priorities to improve his leadership of our school, ultimately benefiting experience and outcomes for students, staff, families and broader school community. Your survey results are anonymous.

2. Spring Garden Stewardship begins today, Wed, March 29, at 5:30 with the first garden night of the season. We will be pruning, and teaching how to prune fruiting shrubs, like gooseberry, currants, raspberries and grapes. Pruners provided. If anyone would like to start a fire in the fire circle and bring campfire food to cook and help with that work and cleanup, they are welcome to do so.

3. Recent Ecology education and activities Although the old ecology program is no more for Waters School since the current Principal and certain members of the LSC decided to re, the ecology community continues to be active and would like to share some news. Recently Mr. Leki’s been leading/co-leading activities at the Riverbank, Sauganash, the “Nature at the Lake”, and more. here’s a few reports back and a few photos…

On Sunday, March 5, more than 50 people, including some Waters families, showed up for a stewardship day at Sauganash Prairie Grove. We cut brush and burned it in big brush piles. We shared food and friendship.  Larry Hodak and Pete Leki, the longtime stewards of the rare protected ecosystem at Sauganash, were able to share some of the natural and social history of the site. One Waters student, who happened to discover a deer skeleton,  asked his dad: “When can we do this again?”  (info on that below photos)

Although Saugnash has been a Waters School Mighty Acorns site since 1993, Waters’ formal relationship with Mighty Acorns ended last fall.

Families from Waters also attended a prescription burn training on March 14, to gain a better understanding of the reason for and methods for conducting prescribed ecological fires. 

Mr. Leki was able to introduce students from another school to the Montrose Dune ecosystem and Lake Michigan last week. One group was lucky enough to come upon a roosting barred owl. The trip included a reading of the book, “The Fight Between Quiet and Noise” and a number of songs. (See fotos below).

Last weekend Riverbank Neighbors, including Waters School families, took part in the celebration of the Spring Equinox and the prescribed burning of sections of the riverbank.  Successful and beautiful burn. Ready for Spring.

On Friday, students from Lane Tech, including former Waters students, visited Sauganash / LaBagh to cut brush and burned it in a big brushpile . Other teams hauled logs to line pathways, while others constructed fencing to protect newly planted shrubs. 

There’s more news to share, but that’s enough for now. Please write back with encouraging notes! We appreciate hearing from you. These emails are put together by several community members including Pete Leki.

Ecological and Community Restoration remain essential to saving our Planet

Future Sauganash info:

We will post another work day within a couple weeks. In the meantime,  LaBagh / Sauganash stewards sent out this invitation:

Our next volunteer workdays are Sunday, April 2 and Saturday, April 15, from 10 am – 1 pm. Our exact meetup locations are TBD but we think we’ll be at Grove 3 on April 2 – look for the yellow “volunteer” signs in the parking lot.

Please let us know if you can join us by filling out this form, if you haven’t already: Your RSVP will help us plan and make the most out of our workday. Regrets are not necessary. Feel free to pass along this email along to others who might be interested in joining.

Saturday Morning Celebrate the End of Winter

Dear community, you are invited to 2 campfire celebrations of the end of Winter!

Saturday, March 18th 10-12 at the garden, there will be a warm campfire with hot chocolate and a few songs shared.  Water School families and neighbors are invited to join and learn about spring care that’s needed to keep the garden raspberries, currants, and other berries growing and plentiful…

…and Sunday, March 19, Riverbank Neighbors will celebrate the Spring Equinox with a campfire at the riverbank (at Berteau) from 4-sunset after a riverbank workday from noon till 2.

Check back for updates due to weather.

A Garden and A Community Needs Constant Care

Caring for the land, like caring for your home and neighborhood, is a never-ending, on-going task. We do it because we love these places. So it is with a farm… so it is with Waters Garden. In each season, and through the winter, the garden needs care-givers monitoring, fixing, guiding and caring. 

Soon spring will arrive, and our 25 year ritual of burning the native garden will, with good conditions and luck, take place, but, for the first time since the garden was re-created in 1993, the  burn is being contracted out to a private company with no links or history in the neighborhood. The dozens of people that have been trained, certified and had experience in this work have been set aside. Instead, money that was fund-raised for the school will be paid to a private corporation.  We hope that the company will honor the knowledge and experience of the Waters Garden Stewards and consult closely to conduct a safe and successful burn. Do no harm!

But other tasks loom large.

Last fall we managed to shortstop 10 bales of straw from being sent to the landfill, and instead dry-stored it for use as mulch. Fencing has been broken and knocked down. It needs to be reinstalled. The greenhouse was vandalized (and repaired). Wheel barrows were repaired. (Editor’s note: who do you think did this work?)

In late winter the fruiting shrubs need to be pruned: black and red currants, gooseberries, grapes and raspberries. This pruning requires knowledge and experience. Improper pruning can cause zero production of fruit. This is work that the gardeners have been trained for and a task we have performed for many, many years. This is part of our community culture, built by the existing longtime creators and stewards of Waters Garden. Pruning is a skill that must be taught and supervised. It’s easy to get it wrong. And when it goes well, a bountiful harvest of berries is available for Waters students, as has been for many many years.

Trellises need to be repaired. Raised beds need tending.  The cold frames will need to be monitored and tended to. Will they produce a spring crop of veggies? Do they need repair??

Hope is the promise of spring, when the “sap” begins to flow in tree and human alike. The endless promise of a good year.