Flower Power

Vol. XVI No. 3 - FALL 2005

By: Sandee Remis

No, this isn’t going to be an article about the 1970s. It’s not about the Mod Squad or the later A-Team, although the people involved were a dedicated, motley crew who managed to make a seemingly impossible “good plan come together” against all odds.

This is about the “Green Team,” an alliance of Greencorps Chicago and friends of Edgewater/EHS, who recently performed horticultural wizardry on the land surrounding the EHS Museum. Their mission was to transform the space from a “ho-hum” to an “oh, wow!” garden. It wasn’t easy. It didn’t happen overnight. The story, in fact, started last January when, as Chair of the (very small) EHS Garden Committee, I innocently applied for a Greencorps grant from the City of Chicago. Little did I know to what that would lead… After all, as a condo dweller, I was an “inside” gardener with little “outside” knowledge when I assumed the chairmanship, sort of by default.

Greencorps Chicago, established in 1994, is a program of the City of Chicago Department of Environment in partnership with WRD Environmental. Their mission is to promote environmental stewardship and improve the quality of life by establishing natural spaces that are safe, healthy and sustainable through hands-on involvement with trainees and community partners. They offer gardening/landscaping assistance to organizations in varying degrees through multiple programs – limited “help” to comprehensive “HELP.” EHS was amazed and elated to be accepted as a participant in their 2005 Comprehensive Assistance Program – the big “HELP!” Which is exactly what I said to my best friend, Elisabeth Wilcox Szegho, when I enlisted her aid as a “primary” on the project.

Elisabeth and I attended a wonderful series of five workshops at Greencorps in February and March (Kathy Gemperle joined us for two of them) to plan the museum’s garden on all four sides of our building. We leaned about such things as horticulture, garden evaluation, site planning, maintenance and team building. Dozens of hours of homework included the laborious task of measuring every inch of our “plantable” property, and creating detailed “before” and “after” site maps to scale. Elisabeth drafted the site maps like a “pro,” despite nearly crossing her eyes in the process. Full installation of our planned perennial garden, based on a Victorian theme, was scheduled for Sept. 29, and Oct. 1, 6 and 7. But a lot of preparation work needed to be done.

During April and May, the site was cleaned of garbage, historic bricks neatly stacked in the gangway, terra cotta relocated, park bench refinished, excess mulch cleared, soil weeded and amended, trees and bushes pruned, annual planters and beds created, morning glories seeded, dozens of perennials transplanted, and new mulch spread – all in line with the new design. Greencorps donated ten flats of annuals, Kathy Gemperle, the Remers and Elisabeth Szegho added a cherry tree and perennials from their own gardens, and St. Ita contributed Easter lilies and daisies.

Thanks to Dick Carpenter (Greencorps), Marjorie Fritz Birch, Tom Dwyer, Carm Esposito, Kathy Gemperle, Marissa Michaels, Rich Morrow, Sandee Remis, Bob Remer, and Elisabeth Szegho for ho-ho-hoeing their way through all that muscle work. It was a labor of love that yielded a glorious array of flowers in spring and summer. The garden attracted many more bees, butterflies, compliments and visitors to the museum than in years past. The front beds were ablaze with color and the back garden was a beautiful peaceful place to repose or chat with friends, of which the community often took advantage.

Elisabeth and I spent the summer weeding and watering, researching plants and procuring new glazed ceramic planters, weeding and watering, refining the garden plan and plant order, weeding and watering. Drat the drought! Thanks to Kathy Gemperle, Win Gillis, Betty and Ara Mayian, Marissa Michaels and Tom Murphy for lending a hand from time to time. Thanks also to Bob and Katie Remer for donating a very attractive composter that will help fuel future flower power. Everything was in blooming order for the EHS Summertime Country Garden Party held on August 21.

I spent late August and most of September amassing the largest part of our volunteer “Green Team.” Finally it was Fall and time for full installation of our Victorian garden. Our worker headcount over the four-day project was 72, plus another 7 who returned on Oct. 28 to spread mulch and plant bulbs! To qualify for funding, EHS had to match or exceed the Greencorps work crew. EHS mustered 25 volunteers to more than match the 14 people supplied by Greencorps.

Thanks to EHS volunteers: Cameron Bundy and Mark Carriaga from St. Gregory High School, Elizabeth Clayton, Barbara Coleman, Susan Darnall, Carm Esposito, Donald Felsecker, Suzanne Flemens, Kathy Gemperle, Win and Veronica Gillis, Betsey Kane, Marissa Michaels, Paul Morath, Richard Morrow, Raymond Nihlean, Mary O’Brien, Betty Redmond, Bob and Katie Remer, Sandee Remis, Miranda Semb, Jo Sennet, Dr. Judith Rae Swanson, Elisabeth Szegho. And to Olga Bean, Veronica Gillis, Betsey Kane and Julie Wlach, who helped to recruit some of these volunteers.

Thanks to the Greencorps crew: Dick Carpenter (senior horticulturist), Patricia Lee (horticulturist), William Armstrong, Terius Biles, Melvin Bohles, Calvin Brown, Wendell Coburn, Dexter Estes, Ron Johnson, Terrell McCord, Erica Peterson, Alfonso O. Quendo, John Spika, Corey Washington.

Special thanks to those who labored two to five days, and all the Oct. 7 workers who braved the cold and rain. Besides transplanting almost everything we owned, hundreds upon hundreds of new perennials, bulbs and bushes were planted in the amended soil, the tool shed was moved over a foot to make way for a second shed, and an historic brick edging (painstakingly cleaned of tar by hand) added to the raised front beds. A berm was created on the north parkway, five trellises, an arbor and timbered corner were constructed, and a difficult walkway paved to match the existing patio.

Greencorps provided over $3000 worth of plants, soil/compost, materials for the arbor, trellises, timber corner and paved walk, new hose and reel. They also brought along all the equipment and tools necessary to accomplish this grand feat, with some additional help from Ray Nihlean. The City provided about seven cubic yards of mulch to protect the garden over the winter. EHS provided lunch and beverages for the toiling minions, and that cost was substantially offset by a generous monetary donation from Elisabeth Szegho.

The EHS garden is meant to be enjoyed by all community residents and visitors. It is fitting that our “Green Team” included amateur and professional gardeners, teenagers from St. Greg’s to seniors aged 83, EHS members as well as members of various Edgewater Block Clubs and organizations, friends, family, neighbors, and “strangers” from outside Edgewater who became friends by project end. They were friendly, enthusiastic and hard-working.

We’ve already received dozens of compliments from the community this summer on the “interim” floral plantings and garden redesign. Everyone is going to be dazzled next spring! The community will have a gorgeous place to meet and enjoy, and the museum will attract more visitors and, hopefully, members. We hope our collaborative efforts will educate and inspire people to preserve, improve, restore and protect other properties in the neighborhood as well as their historic legacy in general. Both gardens and historic legacies, after all, need hard work and attention to keep them healthy and growing.

With a green thumb up, we would like to congratulate everyone involved on a job well done and to commend Dick Carpenter, Greencorps senior horticulturist, for his remarkable affability, horticultural expertise, patience, consideration and skill in “organizing chaos.”

This was a monumental effort – a “Mission Impossible” – that could not have been accomplished without the City/Greencorps and the community pulling together. Besides the value of materials, consider the value of the man hours granted/donated by Greencorps and our volunteers times even minimum wage of $6.50/hr. There is no way on earth EHS could have paid for this on our own. It is the largest project we have mounted since the founding of EHS in 1988 and the subsequent acquisition/rehab of the museum. We truly appreciate what we have received.

But all growing things need to be maintained and nurtured. Despite the massive effort this year, next spring we still need to augment the herb garden with a few things we couldn’t procure this fall, weed and water, plant new annuals in the planters and garden, remediate what didn’t work out and, hopefully, install more of our terra cotta in the garden. Greencorps, as an added bonus, will provide a budget of $400 for plants plus labor to return next summer for one day of remedial help. Non-gardeners must realize that not everything “takes” or works the first time around. Mother Nature has a big say-so, whatever our best human efforts. We will still need volunteers to help with all this.

We are also still looking for donors to fund cement paving of the parking spaces and “Victorian” iron fencing of a portion of the back garden. We welcome dog-owners onto the premises, but ask that they and their pets respect our space. Urine kills plants and so does manure unless mixed with something else.

I was happy to put the garden to “bed” in November, in excited anticipation of what next spring and summer will magically reveal. I am happiest that my friend, Elisabeth, still seems to be my best friend despite what we went through. I can’t thank her enough.

So, after all, peace, love, and power to the flowers – the kind in the ground and those that are grounded in the memories EHS seeks to preserve – for present and future generations to enjoy.