Chicago Urban Gardening The day to day experiences of a University of Illinois Extension Urban Horticulture Educator in Chicago, Illinois Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Museum of Science and Industry: Smart Home Garden-the Fab Lab Kids Sun, 05 Aug 2018 13:27:00 +0000 This marks our tenth year at the Museum of Science and Industry Smart Home Garden. From 2008-2012 the Smart Home and Garden exhibit provided a hands-on educational experience for 450,000 people. University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners provided tours of the sustainable, organic vegetable garden.

Master Gardeners helped to plan, plant and maintain the garden each year. Since 2013 the garden has been used as a hands-on educational training site for community gardeners, school gardeners and public school teachers in Chicago. Master Gardeners continue to maintain the garden. All the vegetables grown in the garden are donated to the "Share the Harvest" program started by Chicago Master Gardener Linda Wygant.

One of the things I love about the garden is how it changes from year to year. This summer we had the opportunity to partner with the Museum's Wagner Family Fab Lab Summer Camp. Campers were introduced to new fabrication techniques in 3D printing, laser cutting, vinyl cutting, computer-controlled milling, digital embroidery and more. Each afternoon, campers applied what they learned to make their ideas real.

I gave the camp director a list of all the fruits and vegetables grown in the garden. The youth made signs for some of the vegetables and fruits. Every Tuesday the campers spent 45 minutes in the garden getting hands-on gardening experiences. Some of the youth had never gardened before. This proved to be a good experience for the Fab Lab kids and our Master Gardeners.

35 Years with the University of Illinois Extension Wed, 21 Feb 2018 07:00:00 +0000 Today is my 35 year anniversary with the University of Illinois Extension in Chicago. During my 35 years with Extension I have had the opportunity to work with and meet some great people. People like Gerald and Lorean Earles who taught a young Extension Educator how to dumpster dive for materials for their Slumbusters community garden. 75 year old Faith Rich dressed in her blue hat and sensible shoes while walking me through Westside alleys in 1985 pointing out potential sites for community gardens. June Bethely, a science teacher at Joplin School who after participating in our indoor school gardening program started a highly successful gardening program at Joplin, plus a community garden along the Metra tracks in her Southside neighborhood. Mary Jane Gaulke, a teacher at a near Northside school who started one of the first rooftop gardens in the city in 1986 and Brother Denis who brought me to his proposed two city lot community garden site covered in rubble that became the Su Casa community garden that continues today.

I have also been blessed to work with some "good" people in Extension like Jane Scherer, Greg Stack and Molly Hofer as part of the NE Region Web Development team. 15 or so years ago we came together to start developing educational websites for Extension's Urban Programs Resource Network, not really knowing how to go about it and today that website averages millions of hits a month. Dr. James Oliver and Willene Buffett while under their leadership made Cook County Extension one of the most innovative Extension units in the country. My now retired secretary, Gladys Klimek whose work ethic for 20 years inspired me and who made every day at work fun and Eva Woods, Margaret Love and Edna Eiland former Urban Gardening program assistants who gave a young Extension Educator lessons in "Street Smarts"

I can't forget all the Master Gardeners who are the backbone of any programming we have done in Chicago. They are responsible for the success of our 19 year gardening program at the Cook County Jail, the Smart Home Garden at the Museum of Science and Industry, the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center Rooftop Garden, numerous school and community gardens and our programming at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show.

All I can say is I Love my Job!

Thank You: Cook County Horticulture Team Wed, 14 Feb 2018 09:39:00 +0000 During my many years in Extension, I have had the opportunity to work with many dedicated Extension staff. Last night our Cook County Horticulture team presented a first in a series of school and community garden workshops at our Westchester office. As the team developed this training, I was continually impressed by the enthusiasm and dedication my colleagues show for the work they do in Cook County. It is a pleasure working with them. Thank you, Dr. Sue Gasper, Nancy Kreith, Zach Grant, Gemini Bhalsod, Sarah Batka, Latosha Reggans and Margaret Burns Westmeyer.

Chicago Urban Gardening Blog Website of the Day: My Chicago Botanic Garden Fri, 19 Jan 2018 12:37:00 +0000 Today's Chicago Urban Gardening Blog Website of the Day: My Chicago Botanic Garden. The My Chicago Botanic Garden blog explores the many facets of the Garden through timely and relevant posts from their plant scientists, community gardeners, educators, horticulturists and occasional guests. The first-person accounts provide seasonal gardening tips, suggest ways families can interact with nature, report on Garden research and announce events at the Garden.

Chicago Urban Gardening Blog: Website of the Day: Cornell's Growing Guides for 58 Vegetables Wed, 17 Jan 2018 02:51:00 +0000 Today's Website of the Day is Cornell's Growing Guides for 58 Vegetables from Artichokes to Zucchini. Each vegetable profile contains a detailed description and growing instructions, site and soil requirements, recommended varieties, and solutions for managing pests and diseases. This website is a great resource for both the new and experienced gardener.

Chicago Urban Gardening Blog: Website of the Day: The Great Plant Escape Sat, 13 Jan 2018 19:25:00 +0000 When I started almost 35 years with the University of Illinois Extension there were no computers, no fax machines, no copiers, no cellphones and no internet. This has given me a perspective concerning technology that some of my younger colleagues may not have.

I have always been intrigued by technology. When I was 10 years old I used to listen to flagship radio stations on my tiny transistor radio under my pillow. Amazed that I could connect with distant voices on stations like WBZ in Boston, KMOX in St. Louis, WCCO in Minneapolis and KDKA in Pittsburgh.

As the internet gained more public use, I realized that it would be a great way to provide our research-based information to the public and to tell our story. That is why I jumped at the chance years ago to be a part of the U of I Extension NE Region Web Development team along with Jane Scherer, Greg Stack and Molly Hofer. So I think I have some idea of what makes a website relevant.

Three to four days a week I will post a website on this blog. I will focus on horticulture, but will also post on other educational topics.

Today's Website of the Day is The Great Plant Escape. This was the first website we developed as a web team and is still today our most popular website. Join Detective LePlant and his partners Bud and Sprout as they uncover the mysteries of plant life in this interactive website that focuses on 4th and 5th graders. Each of the lessons in this program is interdisciplinary, designed to introduce students to plant science and increase their understanding of how foods grow. Activities enhance student's math, science, language arts, social studies, music and art.

Get to Know your Christmas Tree Mon, 27 Nov 2017 08:09:00 +0000 Before you purchase a Christmas tree this year, take a little time to research tree characteristics like color, length of needles, aroma and needle retention.

The following Christmas Tree species or types are sold and grown in the United States.

Eastern Red CedarJunirperus viginiana – leaves are a dark, shiny, green color; sticky to the touch; good scent; can dry out quickly; may last just 2-3 weeks; the berries of Juniperus species are used to provide gin with its characteristic flavor. Cedar chests and lined closets prevent moth damage to wool clothing because the volatile cedar oil is a natural insecticide.

Leyland CypressCupress ocyparis leylandii – foliage is dark green to gray color; has upright branches with a feathery appearance; has a light scent; good for people with allergies to other Christmas tree types. One of the most sought after Christmas trees in the Southeastern United States.

Balsam FirAbies balsamea – ¾" to 1 ½" short, flat, long lasting needles that are rounded at the tip; nice, dark green color with silvery cast and fragrant. Named for the balsam or resin found in blisters on bark. Resin is used to make microscope slides and was sold like chewing gum; used to treat wounds in Civil War. Abies ancient name - rising or tall tree, name for the European fir. balsamea balsam-producing.
Close-up photo of tree:

Douglas-FirPseudotsuga menziesii – good fragrance; holds blue to dark green; 1" to 1 ½" needles; needles have one of the best aromas among Christmas trees when crushed. Named after David Douglas who studied the tree in the 1800's; good conical shape; can live for a thousand years. Douglas-fir is considered the second tallest tree in North America, after redwood and can grow over 300 ft. tall.

Fraser FirAbies fraseri – dark green, flattened needles; ½ to 1 inch long; good needle retention; nice scent; pyramid-shaped strong branches which turn upward. Named for a botanist, John Fraser, who explored the southern Appalachians in the late 1700's. Growing Fraser fir for

Noble FirAbies procera – one inch long, bluish-green needles with a silvery appearance; has short, stiff branches; great for heavier ornaments; keeps well; is used to make wreaths, door swags and garland.

Nordmann Fir - Abies nordmannia – dark green, flattened needles, shiny, silvery-blue below, ¾ to 11/2 inches long. Popular in the United Kingdom. Close-up photo of tree:

White Fir or Concolor FirAbies concolor – blue-green needles are 2 to 3 inches long; nice shape and good aroma, a citrus scent; good needle retention. In nature can live to 350 years. Some taxonomists separate white fir into two distinct species; A. lowiana of California and A. concolor of Oregon and the Rocky Mountains. Close-up photo of tree:

Austrian PinePinus nigra – dark green needles, 4 to 6 inches long; retains needles well; moderate fragrance.

Close-up photo of tree:

Scots or Scotch PinePinus sylvestris – most common Christmas tree; stiff branches; stiff, dark green needles one inch long; holds needles for four weeks; needles will stay on even when dry; has open appearance and more room for ornaments; keeps aroma throughout the season; introduced into United States by European settlers.
Close-up photo of tree:

Virginia PinePinus virginiana – dark green needles are 1 ½" – 3" long in twisted pairs; strong branches enabling it to hold heavy ornaments; strong aromatic pine scent; a popular southern Christmas tree. Virginia pine is an aggressive pioneer that produces pulpwood more rapidly than most pines on poor sites. It is also useful for mine land reclamation.

White PinePinus strobus – soft, blue-green needles, 2 to 5 inches long in bundles of five; retains needles throughout the holiday season; very full appearance; little or no fragrance; less allergic reactions as compared to more fragrant trees. Largest pine in United States; state tree of Michigan & Maine; slender branches will support fewer and smaller decorations as compared to Scotch pine. Its wood is used in cabinets, interior finish and carving. Native Americans used the inner bark as food. Early colonists used the inner bark to make cough medicine. White pine (also called ship-mast pine) had a pivotal role in the American Revolution, and provided lumber for colonial expansion westward.
Close-up photo of tree:

Blue SprucePicea pungens – dark green to powdery blue; very stiff needles, ¾" to 1 ½" long; good form; will drop needles in a warm room; symmetrical; but is best among species for needle retention; branches are stiff and will support many heavy decorations. State tree of Utah & Colorado. Can live in nature 600-800 years.

Norway SprucePicea abies – needles ½" – 1" long and shiny, dark green. Needle retention is poor without proper care; strong fragrance; nice conical shape. Very popular in Europe.
Close-up photo of tree:

White Spruce – Picea glauca – needles ½ to ¾ inch long; green to bluish-green, short, stiff needles; crushed needles have an unpleasant odor; good needle retention. State tree of South Dakota. White spruce is a conifer of northern forests, adapted to a wide range of environments from Alaska to Newfoundland.

For more information, visit the University of Illinois Extension website Christmas Trees & More at