Garden Day To-Do List

Well well well, Saturday looks like it will be a nice day for Fall gardening. I plan on being there by 9:00 but I have to leave by 11:00 for a Friends of the Park event. Here are some thoughts and observations:

Bravo to parkway plantings:
I went to the school yesterday, sunny and lovely, to check out a few things. And I noted that the parkway plantings along Campbell and Maplewood look well-tended and healthy. Bravo to those of you who put time in to make them more presentable and more productive. More signage?

More sapling pruning needed:
There are still more saplings that need pruning. We did A LOT last Saturday, burned up the smaller pieces, and stored the heftier pieces for future twig fencing. Again, bravo.

Dried, bagged oak leaves useful:
We have a lot of leaves laying around. The non-oak leaves tend to rot and disappear by the end of Spring. But oak leaves can serve another purpose. If we burn the natural areas in the Spring, and there is not enough grassy fuel, we can prepare for the burn by distributing oak leaves that have been bagged and stored in the shed overwinter. It used to be a fun task for students to rake and store oak leaves, and helpful.

“Everbearing” raspberries:
We have a lot of these raspberries (I think they have been “modified” by selective cultivation). Anyway, you may have seen raspberries fruiting in late summer and early fall. By now, all that is left is the late, spent carpels of the fruit. I always heard that you should cut these canes to the ground, and they will produce a good crop next Fall. So I hope to label all our “everbearing” rasps, so that we can handle them differently. Let’s have a look on Saturday!

Regular raspberry pruning:
Some of you have heard my instructions on raspberries pruning, which I more or less stand by. But here is a really nice video about pruning in a more commercial, less chaotic setting than we host. Check it out and let’s compare notes.

What a blessing of days,

Another Garden Day + Witch Hazel

Join us on Saturday, 10:00am until noon, for garden stewardship! We’ve been grateful for a string of unseasonably pleasant Saturday morning weather throughout the fall, and there is always more to do to get the garden settled for winter. But our luck will certainly run out sooner or later, so come on by tomorrow for what could be our last workday of the season!

Focus on… Witch Hazel

The final native plant to flower each year is the witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). We have two witch hazel trees at Waters, and they can bloom as late as Christmas. Their delicate flowers have four yellow petals and four yellow sepals. Once pollinated, the seed capsule takes a year to mature. During this maturation process the seed capsule turns into a mini seed canon. As it dries out, it begins to deform, which applies pressure to the seed inside it. Eventually this force is large enough to overcome the seed’s resistance, and the seed is fired out at speeds of up to 30 mph.

The witch hazel in the south swale is host to the witch-hazel cone gall aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis), an insect with a fascinating life cycle that includes seven distinct generations over the course of a year, three of which occur on the nearby river birch (Betula nigra) trees. One of the generations lives in a gall that forms on the leaves of the witch hazel. You can see these galls throughout the year protruding from the leaves.

The witch hazel in the south swale has been blooming for the last month or so. The witch hazel closer to the school main entrance is blooming now. Go check them out.

The “Focus On” series is written by Jeremy Atherton, the parent of a Waters 5th grader. He is a research scientist at Northwestern University Medical School. In addition to volunteering at Waters Garden, he is a steward at Riverbank Neighbors and a member of the 47th Ward Green Council.

Preparing for Winter

Join us on Saturday, 10:00am until noon, for garden stewardship! Temperatures are slated to be in the 50s with maybe even a peek of sun.

I try to be open to this moment of change, of ending, of hunkering down, aware of the clouds and sky and winds and birds… The cold took me by surprise. I was at the library, shivering from my bike ride. There was a box for donation of winter clothes. I admit, I took a look. I realize that these clothes were meant for the homeless, refugees and poor. To be cold is to be poor. It also made me think about the scores of boots and coats and gloves we have collected for Waters Ecology over the years. Today, they are sitting in the shed, unused and taking up space. Marsha and I were thinking that this Saturday we would go through, vet and clean the boots and clothes, and get them to those in need. And like the well-ordered and cleaned cedar shed, we can try to straighten up the “other” shed, tools, materials, cooking stuff. A good way to feather the nest to prepare for the winter.


Last Wednesday night stewardship of 2023

Join us tomorrow, Oct. 25, 5:00pm to dusk for the last Wednesday evening garden stewardship gathering of the season. We’ll continue to meet on Saturdays as the weather permits, but it is time to bid farewell to our Wednesday gatherings as the sunset time creeps too early for weeknights to be workable. Come enjoy the unseasonably mild temperatures while they last!

Stewardship Saturday, Kidical Mass Sunday, + Talking to Kids About Climate Change

Join us on Saturday, 10:00am until noon, for our usual garden stewardship gathering, and come by on Sunday for Kidical Mass followed by a celebration in the garden!

Sunday: Kidical Mass and Garden Celebration

Join Kidical Mass this Sunday, October 22, for a slow, easy-going, and fun group ride focused on kids of all ages and families that will tour the Lincoln Square neighborhood and end with a celebration in Waters Garden!

The bike ride will gather @ Waters Elementary 10:00am; depart @ 10:30am. Festive dress and decorations encouraged. All kids must bring a parent/guardian with a bike.

Cyclists will return to Waters @ 11:00ish for a Garden Celebration until about 1:00pm, including stories, snacks, and activities. The neighborhood garden jam will join the fun during this time as well. All musicians welcome, so bring your instruments!

Focus on… Talking to Children About Climate Change

Our children are going to live through one of the most challenging crises humans have ever faced. On a global scale, the summer of 2023 gave us the hottest months ever recorded, and fires ravaged huge areas of the planet, while other areas experienced extreme rainfall and epic floods. Climate scientists warn that within 10 years this will be our normal summer, and by the time they are grandparents, our children will look back at the summer of 2023 as a mild one.

How do we prepare our children for this crisis? I believe that one element of such preparation is ecology education. Waters Garden enables us to give our children a grounding in field ecology and an understanding of how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, so that maybe, when everything falls apart, they will have the knowledge that they need to help put it back together. It’s not everything that they will need, but it is something positive that we can do in the face of what can seem like a hopeless problem.

It is not hopeless. There is hope for the future. Amazing people are working to combat climate change, we all should join them in that fight, both in our day-to-day choices and through demanding that our elected representatives enact meaningful change. Even so, it can be difficult to discuss these issues with your children, which is why the 47th Ward Green Council would like to invite you to ‘How to Talk to Children About Climate Change’ on November 9 at 6 p.m. at the Sulzer library. RSVP here.

The “Focus On” series is written by Jeremy Atherton, the parent of a Waters 5th grader. He is a research scientist at Northwestern University Medical School. In addition to volunteering at Waters Garden, he is a steward at Riverbank Neighbors and a member of the 47th Ward Green Council.

Roll up the hoses, straighten the shed

The curtain is coming down on another year of gardening. But it’s not over yet. There are raspberries to transplant, hoses to coil and stow, sheds to declutter and fires to warm us, food and stories and news to share. Wednesday nights are short now, but some of us will be there, 5:00pm until dusk.


Garden Critters

The temperatures are falling, but tomorrow’s forecast still calls for some sunshine. Join us on Saturday, 10:00am until noon, for garden stewardship!

Focus on… Critters

It’s not just plants that live in Waters’ garden. Here’s a small selection of insects seen over the last few months.

The “Focus On” series is written by Jeremy Atherton, the parent of a Waters 5th grader. He is a research scientist at Northwestern University Medical School. In addition to volunteering at Waters Garden, he is a steward at Riverbank Neighbors and a member of the 47th Ward Green Council.

Climate Change & Mosquitos: The Biting Truth

Meredith was fascinated by this Illinois Environmental Council webinar about mosquito abatement, which covered how climate change is affecting our mosquito population and what sustainable solutions are available.

Watch the recording on YouTube here!

Giving the Grasses a Hand + Jerusalem Artichoke

Join us on Wednesday, 5:00pm until dusk, for garden stewardship! Read on for more garden news.

Giving the Grasses a Hand

We have been doing a lot of things in the garden these past weeks: planting raspberries, picking seeds, pruning, and fixing fencing. One of the natural areas ecological tasks has been to prune back, or pull, some of the more aggressive native forbs (non-woody plants). We prefer to let them flower first: they are dazzling in abundant color, nectar for insects and birds. But, when the flowers have finished, seeds form. And for these particular plants, we want to reduce the seed load. So the seed heads are bagged and given away to be sown in other restoration projects. The stems are chopped for compost.

In large restorations, this same method is used to give a competitive advantage to grasses and sedges over forbs, and it is called mowing, done with large tractors over acres sometimes. Grasses grow from a crown of leaves just at ground level. So, when grasses are mowed they simply keep growing. When forbs are mowed, they have to go through a whole hormonal process to create a new growing point on the cut stem. This takes days, maybe even weeks, during which time the grasses gain biomass, strength, and a bigger share of sunlight.

Prairies and savannas are grass dominant. And grasses carry the fires that keep these ecosystems open and diverse. So if we are managing to create and maintain prairies and savannas, we try to give a hand to the grasses. We keep track of species diversity and pay attention to weedy growth, both native and non-native.


Focus on… Jerusalem Artichoke

The curious thing about Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is that it’s not an artichoke and it has nothing to do with Jerusalem (other than that the name is a perfect fit). It is actually a sunflower in the genus Helianthus, the same genus as the sawtooth sunflower. A plausible explanation for the strange name is that it is a corruption of the Italian ‘girasole articiocco’ (sunflower artichoke); the edible tuber is supposed to have a taste similar to that of artichoke.

It is another member of the Asteraceae family, so its blooms are composites made up of many tiny disc and ray florets; as with all sunflowers, the ray florets are infertile and only the disc florets produce seeds. In the close-up photo, you can see the some of the ray florets with five tiny petals and the brown anthers forming tubes through which the style grows, pushing out the pollen as it extends (a couple of the florets on the right already have Y-shaped styles protruding). At the back of the bloom, the leafy bract of the involucre is similar to those of sawtooth sunflower, but on Jerusalem artichoke their phyllaries are wider, more triangular, and hairier. The whole plant is hairier, with stiff white hairs that give the stem and underside of the leaves a rough texture. While not really noted in the plant guides that I have read, I find the three main nerves in the leaves very distinctive, helping me pick out this plant from other similar flowers.

Jerusalem artichoke blooms late in the season, making it one of the last flowers we will see in the garden this year. It is a good late season nectar and pollen source for bees, including the common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) seen in the main photo, and a variety of birds are attracted to feed on the seeds. Have a look for Jerusalem artichoke in the south swale this fall, you can’t miss their 8-foot stems with yellow flowers.

The “Focus On” series is written by Jeremy Atherton, the parent of a Waters 5th grader. He is a research scientist at Northwestern University Medical School. In addition to volunteering at Waters Garden, he is a steward at Riverbank Neighbors and a member of the 47th Ward Green Council.

Join Us Saturday + Excellence in Gardening Award

Join us this Saturday for Garden Work Day, 10am to noon.*

*Please note, this may be a smaller work day than usual, with many families attending the Little Amal Stone Soup event in Margate Park. For those interested in joining, there is a bike bus meeting at the Waters main entrance off Campbell at 9:30am and departing at 9:45am to arrive in time for the 10:30am event.

Waters Garden Receives Chicago Excellence in Gardening Award!

This year, Waters Garden received a Chicago Excellence in Gardening Award! We were among 100 gardens around the city honored with such an award—including residential gardens, community gardens, school gardens, and urban farms. Poppy, Jeremy, and Megan attended the awards ceremony and accepted a lovely new all-weather sign recognizing the achievement. You might have noticed the new sign now standing under one of our bur oaks! This award is for all of us, every person who has given their attention, love, time, joy, and labor to our amazing garden.

It was an honor to be able to attend the award ceremony this year and be among so many incredible gardeners, most of whom were already familiar with Waters Garden. We connected with old friends, made new friends, and we look forward to future trips to visit their gardens together. (Read to the end for an invitation to Oriole Park Elementary’s 10 year garden anniversary on Saturday!)

During the ceremony, comments made by this year’s Garden Angel Award Winner Julie Samuels really stood out to me. Julie reminded us that gardeners in our city are establishing and tending the green spaces that we so desperately need and will continue to need as we face climate change. I think about this a lot. How our garden is among so many gardens transforming our city and world to a place more livable for all. What wonderful work to be a part of!

Congratulations on your award, Waters Gardeners! Thank you for loving the garden and for gardening!


Events Around Town This Weekend

Mark your calendars for the Sustainability Market, hosted by Reduce Waste Chicago and the North Center Neighbors Association. Northcenter Town Square will be filled with eco-minded vendors, artists, and organizations—as well as material collections by Reduce Waste Chicago, EcoShip, and Working Bikes!

Click here for more details.

Oriole Park Teaching Garden Is Turning 10!
Saturday, September 30 • 1:00–3:00pm
More info and register here.

Wed. Stewardship, Bur Oak, + Ravenswood Garden Event

Join us on Wednesday, 5:00pm until dusk, for garden stewardship! Read on for more garden news.

Focus on… Bur Oak

350 years ago, in September of 1673, a group of people from the Kaskaskia tribe led Louis Jolliet, Father Jacques Marquette, and their expedition to a place where they could carry their boats a short distance across the watershed from the Mississippi River system to the Chicago River and on to Lake Michigan. Around that time, a pivotal event in Chicago history occurred when a squirrel living beside the north branch of the Chicago River buried acorns it had collected for the winter. Four of those acorns did not get eaten but germinated, growing into four bur oak trees; part of the oak savannah that once spanned much of this area. They were already large trees a hundred years later when Jean Baptiste Point du Sable and his family established a farm at the mouth of the Chicago River, planting the seed of the settlement that came to be called Chicago. The trees stood undisturbed for another hundred or so years, but then the river was moved and the area cleared for housing. Somehow the trees survived and eventually the land on which they stood was absorbed into the grounds of a school. Years later, children at that school, inspired by these same four trees, removed the asphalt that surrounded them and sowed native plants, starting the garden that we know and love.

Today there are many bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa) in the garden; the four elder oaks and their descendents. They can be recognized by their distinctive round lobed leaves, with a deep cut in the middle that almost divides each leaf into two parts, and their large acorns where the cup wraps most of the way around the nut, looking somewhat like a big woolly hat. These are the largest acorns of any North American oak, giving rise to the scientific name macrocarpa, which means ‘large fruit’.

This year the oaks in Chicago are having a mast year; a year in which they produce many more acorns than they would in a normal year. There are two great mysteries to such events. First, why they happen. This may be down to weather and availability of resources, but it is also thought that by occasionally producing acorns in excess, it is possible to satiate the squirrels, ensuring that some acorns survive to germinate without spurring an increase in the size of the squirrel population. The second mystery is how all the trees in one area synchronize mast years; again local weather may be the determining factor, but there is still a lot to be discovered.

When I see children at the school playing under the old oaks, I sometimes try to imagine the Miami or Potawotami children who may have played under these same trees and fished in the river that ran by. I’d like to think that some of the younger bur oaks in the garden now might still be here in another 350 years. Perhaps people of that future time will look at those trees and imagine our children playing under them. Next time you are close to one of the large bur oaks, try closing your eyes and listening for the echoes of their past. These four grand old trees are our living connection to the history of our city.

The “Focus On” series is written by Jeremy Atherton, the parent of a Waters 5th grader. He is a research scientist at Northwestern University Medical School. In addition to volunteering at Waters Garden, he is a steward at Riverbank Neighbors and a member of the 47th Ward Green Council.

Event: How Does Your Garden Grow?

Saturday, October 7th, 10am to 11:30am
All Saints at 4550 N. Hermitage

This Ravenswood Neighbors Association (RNA) event sponsored by Chicago Community Gardeners Association (CCGA) will teach area gardeners eco-friendly fall & winter garden care, including the benefits of fall leaf mulch application and zero-trim of dead flower stems. Gardeners will also learn how they can contribute bagged leaves to RNA’s Mulch Madness (Nov. 4th) and later collect leaf mulch at a community compost site.

Special Guest Lorena Lopez from Museums in the Park-Chicago Park District will instruct gardeners on effective communication with neighbors about the ecological and community benefits native gardens provide.