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

Keeler Gardens Welcomes Summer 2018 Interns

Four high school interns from across Chicago pose for a picture, standing in the right foreground in a group on a sidewalk with a sign that reads “Welcome, Keeler Gardens.” In the background, mostly to the left, is the Keeler Gardens educational pollinator habitat, freshly planted, with a variety of Illinois native pollinator plants.
Five high school interns from across Chicago stand on the sidewalk in front of Keeler Gardens with Gina, the gardens’ lead horticulturalist, posing for a picture to commemorate their first day at work. On their left in the foreground and background is the educational pollinator habitat, with many of the native plants and bulbs in pots on the soil, not yet planted in the ground. Behind them to the left is part of Keeler Gardens’ front garden.
Interns with Gina

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.

Two interns, seen from slightly above, one bending down on the left side of the picture removing a shovelful of dirt, and one standing at the top right with only her legs visible holding a shovel, are digging a large hole to plant a rosebush next to an ornamental rock feature. The clay soil appears gray and chunky as the sun is beating down on the working interns. The soil appears gray and chunky, and the sun is beating down on the working interns.
Planting a rose bush in the 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!

Four high school interns from across Chicago pose for a picture, standing in the right foreground in a group on a sidewalk with a sign that reads “Welcome, Keeler Gardens.” In the background, mostly to the left, is the Keeler Gardens educational pollinator habitat, freshly planted, with a variety of Illinois native pollinator plants.
Interns and the Pollinator Habitat

What’s up with the Cardboard in the Keeler Gardens Pollinator Habitat?

The parkway, grassy area between the sidewalk and the street, is completely covered with corrugated cardboard. This is the first step of lasagna gardening for the future pollinator habitat at Keeler Gardens.

Pollinator Habitat Progresses

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.

The parkway, grassy area between the sidewalk and the street, is completely covered with corrugated cardboard. This is the first step of lasagna gardening for the future pollinator habitat at Keeler Gardens.
Cardboard laid out preparing for pollinator habitat

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!

Keeler Gardens Wins Pollinator Habitat Grant

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.

This "before" image of the site for the planned Keeler Gardens Pollinator Habitat shows the parkway at Keeler Gardens in the early 2018. THe parkway is mostly grass with two green ash trees and a few existing plantings.
Keeler Gardens Pollinator Habitat “Before”

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).

The design plan for the new Keeler Gardens Pollinator Habitat shows both existing and proposed plantings. Existing are label by number with “E” to denote they are already part of the space, grouped mostly at the top of the design (east side) and will be incorporated into the habitat design. New plantings are drawn as circles, 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). New plantings are scattered throughout the design to fill the space. Also included in the design are proposed structures like boulders, benches, water features, and trellises.
Keeler Gardens Pollinator Habitat Proposed Plan

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:

3 Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
5 Cream Wild False Indigo (Baptisia leucophaea (bracteata var. leucophaea) (NGN))
6 Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis (NGN))
7 White Wild Indigo (Baptisia leucantha (NGN))
8 Common Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis (NGN))
15 Kobold Gayfeather (Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’)
16 Rose (Swamp) Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata (NGN))
17 Common Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata (NGN))
18 Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum (NGN))
19 Anise Hyssop (Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’)
20 Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica (NGN))
21 Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
22 Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii)
23 Turtlehead (Chelone glabra (NGN))
24 Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
25 Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
26 Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
27 Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea (NGN))
28 Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis (NGN))
29 Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens (NGN))
30 Violet Bush Clover (Lespedeza violacea (NGN))
31 Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum (NGN))
32 Pasture Rose (Rosa carolina (NGN))
33 American Hazelnut (Corylus americana)
34 Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis (NGN))
35 Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)

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.

The Beauty of Pollination

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…

Follow this link  http://www.ted.com/talks/louie_schwartzberg_the_hidden_beauty_of_pollination.html  to hear Louie Schwartzberg speak for a few minutes on the wonder of nature, and to watch part of his film “Wings of Life: A Love Story That Feeds the Earth”. You can learn more about him at his website http://www.movingart.tv.

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.

Until next time,

GG