A Bizzzzy 2019 at Keeler Gardens

A rock slab stands upright, braced by other rocks and surrounded by foliage in the Keeler Gardens pollinator habitat. The slab is painted partially white, and text painted on it reads “Welcome to,” in black, and “Keeler Gardens” in green. There is also a painting of a blue and green hummingbird hovering next to a blue flower to the left of the words, which is the Keeler Gardens logo.
Welcome Sign

2018 was a busy year for Keeler Gardens! The highlight of this year was the opening of our Pollinator Habitat, a year-round refuge for pollinators featuring Illinois native plants. And speaking of pollinators, our bee hives were successful this first year. We definitely benefited from the help of our six Chicago Tech Academy interns in the spring and our seven summer interns. We hosted programs, like the Flower Arrangement Class and our Pollinator Celebration at Keeler Gardens, and we presented to the Highland Park Garden Guild and at the Chicago Botanic Garden Nature Play Event. Read on for details about each of these exciting programs and presentations. 

Chicago Tech Academy Interns

In February we were proud to welcome six interns from Chicago Tech Academy! Chicago Tech Academy is a great charter school, with a mission to educate, empower, and help students discover their passions, succeed in college, and thrive in a digital world. They particularly stress engaging in real-world learning and work with 100+ partners such as DDB, Vibes Media, Gogo Air, CNA Insurance, and now Keeler Gardens, to provide students with early exposure to work-based learning and internships. These six interns came from Chicago Tech to gain hands-on experience in botany, horticulture, technology, and art. Over the month of February, this crew completed art projects, supported our social media plan, photographed the site, organized digital files, and designed a garden. We thank all of the interns for their hard work in the winter as it set the stage for the rest of the year.

The Keeler Gardens Educational Pollinator Habitat

One of the biggest accomplishments this year was the creation of the Pollinator Habitat. In March Keeler Gardens won a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation to build a pollinator habitat. We can now offer an experience with Illinois native plants in a year-round refuge for pollinators, that would perform from early spring through late fall. 

On August 4 we opened our Pollinator Habitat with our Pollinator Celebration, which was a great success!

Summer Interns

Over the summer we were also fortunate to host seven interns! Four of them participated through privately funded internships, and the other three through the After School Matters summer internship program. After School Matters works with more than 23,000 companies to provide jobs for more than 15,000 teens across Chicago every year. This program is a great way for nonprofits and other businesses to help Chicago’s youth, and it was a great way for us to find teens that want to connect with nature. Throughout their internship, the interns worked on planting a plethora of plants in the new Pollinator Habitat. Thanks to these interns, the Pollinator Habitat successfully opened on August 4.

The Big Buzz, Honey!

We were very fortunate to partner with Sloanstead Honey. They installed and managed two hives on top of our shed. They harvested Keeler Gardens Honey at the end of the season and we plan to have honey every year!

Looking Forward

2018 has come and gone, but we are excited to continue building on the Pollinator Habitat and tackling more projects in 2019. This year we want to welcome more volunteers to Keeler Gardens. Our focus is to continue to build community through nature. Make sure to sign up for our email list or follow us on Facebook to be the first to hear about events such as Fridays by the Fire, a trip to The Epcot™ International Flower and Garden Festival, and sharing our story at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show.

Do you need a little more nature? Then head to Keeler Gardens and sit in a rocking chair, look for the community cats, or knock on the door for a cup of tea with Keeler Gardens Sloanstead Honey. We look forward to expanding our community this year!

Highland Park Garden Guild Presentation

Gina stands at the front of a group of laddies that make up the Highland Park Garden Guild. Everyone is riveted as they all look at her.
We were honored by an invitation from the Highland Park Garden Guild to speak for their group this past week. We were so thrilled to be able to get the word out about Keeler Gardens, connecting with nature, and our new Pollinator Habitat. The group was such a pleasure to work with. They were interested, had excellent questions, and they themselves were already so well educated on green spaces, soil science, and supporting pollinators. Our presentation focused on what Keeler Gardens is doing in the community. Following are links to previous posts and resources on connecting with nature.
Gina stands at the front of a group of laddies that make up the Highland Park Garden Guild. Everyone is riveted as they all look at her.
Gina Speaking to the Highland Park Garden Guild
  We spoke for quite a while about how we designed the pollinator habitat and the process for plant selection. We had some great references for them that we are including here in this post: high-value target plants for pollinators for dry, moist, and wet sites, along with our final design and plant list. We had a couple of previous posts about the making of the pollinator habitat you can find at the links above and here. And we are very excited to include this group in our upcoming tour, In the spring of 2019, at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. We want to thank the Highland Park Garden Guild for their sincere interest in our presentation, their hospitality, and for spreading the word about what we’re doing at Keeler Gardens. We look forward to working with them again in the future.
A group of ladies poses for a picture in a well appointed kitchen. On the island there is a bountiful display of food and beverage.
The Highland Park Garden Guild
Contact us if you would be interested in having Keeler Gardens be a guest speaker at your event.

Pollinator Habitat Almost Ready

A rock slab stands upright, braced by other rocks and surrounded by foliage in the Keeler Gardens pollinator habitat. The slab is painted partially white, and text painted on it reads “Welcome to,” in black, and “Keeler Gardens” in green. There is also a painting of a blue and green hummingbird hovering next to a blue flower to the left of the words, which is the Keeler Gardens logo.

The Keeler Gardens Pollinator Habitat Is Taking Shape

A picture of Keeler Gardens’ new pollinator habitat, taken from the curb. In the foreground is the habitat, planted with natives, studded with raised stepping stones, and edged on the street side with an apron made of reclaimed bricks. Keeler Gardens’ front garden is visible in the back left with lush vegetation and a small section of the pollinator habitat.
Pollinator Habitat

This summer we have been continuing our work on our new Pollinator Habitat, with the valued help of our seven interns and many volunteers, planting a multitude of Illinois native plants and working on a variety of hardscapes. We have all been laboring to get perennials and annuals installed in not only an aesthetically pleasing design, but also in a layout that will support the pollinators. Plants are grouped in large masses so pollinators have plenty to choose from. Annuals and perennials are planted both in the ground and in containers to offer pollen, nectar, and foliage at different heights, and native shrubs are scattered throughout the space to solidify structure.

The image focuses on a series of chipped, aged bricks that read “BARR” on the tops. They’re set in a clear pattern forming a walkway alongside the Keeler Gardens’ pollinator habitat.
Reclaimed Chicago Bricks

Also included in the plans are hardscapes such as flat stones for steppers and edging, and boulders anchoring corners. Stepping stones are staggered throughout the Habitat to allow visitors the opportunity to examine plants and pollinators up close. A narrow brick path lines the curb separating the Habitat from the street. This path is constructed of reclaimed antique paving bricks, drawing from Chicago history. Substantial boulders are painted by a local artist Paula Clayton with educational information.

 

A local artist, Paula Clayton, has been hired by Keeler Gardens to paint educational signs for our new pollinator habitat. Here, she’s crouching in the habitat, painting a sign near a tree that reads, “Shelter for Wildlife” with a graphic of a dragonfly in the upper right corner.
Paula Clayton painting

In addition to the formal Pollinator Habitat, Keeler Gardens supports pollinators throughout our entire space. We are part of the Monarch Waystation Program, a Certified Wildlife Habitat, and host two bee hives. Already we have seen pollinators visit – butterflies, moths, caterpillars, and many different bees. You may have seen a few pictures of caterpillars that our interns found and we posted on our Facebook page. We are looking forward to seeing them grow, and supporting them in the Habitat. We will also be including pollinator “hotels”, offering guests the opportunity to learn to build their own creations.

A black and yellow striped caterpillar is stretched out on a greyish plant in the center foreground. The black stripes are white and red spotted and have black bristles or spines protruding from them, while the yellow stripes are marked with tiny black pinstripes.
American Lady Caterpillar
In the foreground is a handmade insect hotel, which is a square, untreated, wooden frame that is filled with bundles of dry branches, dry twigs, and bits of wood. The insect hotel is designed to be hung, with a rope strap on the top, but it is resting on the ground in the Keeler Gardens’ pollinator habitat for this picture.
Insect Hotel

We are so grateful to all those that have supported us in this endeavor, The Mulch Center providing extraordinary top soil and leaf mulch, Midwest Groundcovers supplying us with a multitude of top quality native plants, Krügel Cobbles for all the stone and brick in the Habitat, and Lurvey Garden Center for continued supplies of all types.

Again we thank Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation for the funding to create the Pollinator Habitat. As part of their K-12 Schools Program we will be hosting our Pollinator Celebration on Saturday, August 4, 2018 from 3:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. It will be an afternoon filled with pollinators and the plants that support them, information on the Habitat and upcoming programs, and tours and interactive opportunities for all ages. Visit our Facebook Event Page for more information and regular updates.

A picture of Keeler Gardens’ new pollinator habitat, taken from the curb. In the foreground is the habitat, planted with natives and studded with raised stepping stones. Keeler Gardens’ front garden and front steps are visible in the back right.
Pollinator Habitat