The Keeler Gardens Pollinator Habitat Is Taking Shape
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.
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.
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.
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.
This summer, Keeler Gardens is proud to say we have seven new interns working and learning with us! Four of them are participating through privately funded internships, and three we host 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. Their program is a great way for nonprofits and other businesses to help Chicago’s youth, and it’s a great way for Keeler Gardens to find teens that want to connect with nature.
Our new interns are taking on their jobs like champs! Their first week at Keeler Gardens was excellent weather for working outside, if a little hot, so they mainly worked on planting bulbs and other plants in the new Pollinator Habitat.
They’ve made so much progress on the Habitat that it’s coming along ahead of schedule, and we’re very excited to see how far it’s come. The Pollinator Habitat will be officially open on Saturday, August 4, 2018 for our Pollinator Celebration Day, and you may have the opportunity to meet some of our interns. They’re all looking forward to meeting the community and growing with Keeler Gardens this summer!
We promised you regular updates about the pollinator habitat and we do have news. Let’s start with the apparent mess in the parkway. You may be wondering why it looks like a random dispersion of debris, rest assured there is a method to our madness.
Our parkway is presently mostly grass and to build the pollinator habitat in that space the grass needs to be removed. One way to prepare a bed is to till it, cutting up all growth and turning it back into the soil. We wanted to avoid this process because it is actually detrimental to the soil at a microbial level. We don’t want to disrupt the living aspect of the soil.
Another way to remove grass is to use a sod cutter. This would slice off a layer that would include the grass, most of the roots, quite a bit of soil, and possibly a significant amount of the organisms in the soil, which are critical to soil health and, in turn, plant health. That seemed somewhat wasteful and disruptive to the ecosystem so we wanted a better option.
What we are doing is similar to lasagna gardening. We are killing the grass by layering corrugated boxes over it. This does not have nearly as negative an impact on the microbial life in the soil, and the grass degrades back into the soil which is another plus. The cardboard will also degrade into the soil, faster once we get a top layer of organic material covering it.
Since this image was taken we have learned that People’s Gas will be doing some work in our area. We are uncertain how this will affect our plans, but we are fortunate the work is being done before we do any planting.
We will keep you updated as plans progress. Our next post will include an updated plant list so you can see all the wonderful flowers to expect this summer!
Have you heard the news? Keeler Gardens has won a grant to build a pollinator habitat! The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation has awarded us up to $10,000 toward the creation of a native pollinator habitat to provide environmental education opportunities for students, and all community members. We will offer visitors to the habitat an experience with Illinois native plants in a year-round refuge for pollinators, that will perform from early spring through late fall. Here is a before image of the space we will be preparing this spring for installation, hopefully, early this summer.
We are so excited and are moving forward rapidly. The first step is a design. We created this preliminary design and await approval. All plantings are label by number. “E” plants are already part of the space, and will be incorporated into the habitat design. New plantings are color coded by season, purple for early bloom, grey for mid-season bloom, and yellow for late blooms. Greens denote grasses (light) or shrubs (dark). Outlines indicate the height of full grown plants from thin (12” minimum height) to thick (4-6 ft maximum height).
Also included in the design are proposed structures like boulders, benches, water features, and trellises. Stone will be used for edging and as steppers, and will be added at installation to accommodate the design as it evolves.
Here are a few of the plants we hope to include, with their identifying number referenced on the design:
We will continue to report on progress with the project, community events in support of the effort, with updates throughout the spring and summer. Follow us here on our blog, on our Facebook Page, and sign up for our newsletter to stay in touch.
A garden offers us color and scent and a connection with the amazing wonders of nature. Sometimes we see nature at work — with a pollen covered bee or a butterfly landing on a sweet-smelling flower. These are not rare occurrences; it’s just the capturing of them that is rare. Imagine being able to see a hummingbird drinking nectar, or pollen shaken out of a flower. You are in luck…
I take no credit for this post. I give all the credit to my mother, who sent me an incredible video; the filmmaker, Louie Schwartzberg, for his inspirational words and vision; and to the natural world around us offering such wonder in will take your breath away.
Just watch the video. There is nothing I can say that can surpass the awe you will experience.