Category Archives: StreetGreens

Who says edibles aren’t beautiful?

Borage in bloom

 

I decided it was high time to post photos of my progress in my own back yard. This is my first year doing raised bed gardens, and just two months into the growing season, I’m continuously eyeballing my yard, deterining where I’ll build more next year. 

I’ve had some interesting discoveries. 

First, I think the vegetable gardens are gorgeous. I balked at planting vegetables in my back yard when we first bought our house, because I didn’t think they would be pretty. It’s incredibly ironic in retrospect. My back yard has never looked as good as it does now. 

We have a very small yard, typical of a Chicago Bungalow. My husband built two raised beds, one along our house, and one along our garage. There’s no doubt that the vegetables there are growing more quickly than those in the yard. They’re thriving. The only down side so far is the illustrious dog vomit slime mold (yes, that’s its real name) that the mulch around one of the beds created. But really, the beds shouldn’t be blamed for the mulch, should they? 

In the ground, I still love perennials.  I’m working on ways to weave in both edibles, like the borage in the top photo above, with monarda, coneflower, artichokes,  terragon (I have a monster-sized plant), chives and thyme. Next year, I’ll toss leeks and garlic in , too. I’m learning that when I add a few strategic zinnia, the whole bed lights up. I don’t have it perfected yet, but it is starting to look good. I can’ t wait until next year, when the monarda is tall, the iris I transplanted bloom again, and I have one full year of experimenting in that bed under my belt. I know it’s going to be gorgeous. 

The concrete patio we inherited from the previous owners still demands that I have lots of terra cotta pots to camoflauge the concrete. I used some of the large, two-foot-tall pots to plant full-sized carrots. That’s been a great success, and I really wish I’d planted more. I also have mint, rosemary, thyme and lemon verbena in pots. My logic is that they make the seating area smell great when we’re sitting out at night, and that’s absolutely proven true. I’ve also discovered that I love munching on the chocolate mint any time I’m within arm’s reach of the plant! Having spent hours considering where to add more pots, it finally occurred to me that I can plant a new raised bed on top of the patio itself. That’s the beauty of raised beds: you can put them on top of just about everything. They cover a multitude of landscaping sins–like gratuitous amounts of concrete! 

With this success comes an unquenched desire for more. I still want to find a way to make the conduit trellis more aesthetically pleasing. Of course it looks great once covered in beans, cucumbers and tomatillos, but when it’s exposed? It’s just ugly. 

Raised bed along my house

I’m also searching for more ways to plant vertically. I’m scoping out some iron terra cotta plant holders, so that I can have potted herbs hanging outside my back door. I’d also like to add window boxes for more herbs and lettuces. My logic is that it will keep them away from any potential rabbits, and they’d be easy to grab from the windows outside my kitchen. 

Gardening is an addiction. Once you’re in, you can never get enough. 

  

My oh-so-pruned tomatoes. They're flamingo-esque.

 

My sweet millions... so close!

 

Chocolate mint, spearmint, coleus

 

Carrots undercover

 

It’s not a garden. It’s a revolution.

Big picture, little plant

 

I was sitting at The Peterson Garden Project one day with my friend, Xan. We were tired, understandably. It was June 6th, a month ago. We were thick in the midst of dealing with logistic challenges to getting the garden going–compost for our beds was repeatedly delayed. The fence was repeatedly broken, then repaired, then broken, then repaired. We weren’t sure how long it would take to build the 140 raised beds that we needed to create gardens for our initial gardeners.     

So we sat, tired, under a beat-up tent that had been partially destroyed by the latest compost delivery. LaManda, the garden’s founder, had been teaching classes on planting earlier in the day. Because it was raining, she’d used a pan, some dirt, and miscellaneous seeds and seedlings to demonstrate basic planting techniques to a dozen or so new gardeners–we like to call them “grewbies”–underneath the dilapidated tent.  

So Xan and I sat, talking, about what we were doing with the garden, and in a flash, she said the words that encapsulated all our efforts, intentions, and wishes. She said, “It’s not a garden. It’s a revolution.” And in true Xan style, she followed that up with, “We’ve got to find a pen and write that down! That’s it, but my memory is crap. I’ll forget it. Where’s a pen?”     

I found a pen. She wrote it down. And we may as well have chiseled it in stone: The Peterson Garden Project IS a revolution. It’s a revolution in gardening, in community, in food and hopefully soon, in eating, too.     

140 boxes awaiting compost

 

Two months in, we are well on our way. We’ve broken ground, built the garden, built 140 raised beds. Then, we built 17 more because we had room and there was demand. We’ve held a fabulous Re-Dedication Party; I’ll write about that soon. It’s all been part of making a community garden, which is simple enough. But I do think we’re part of a much larger movement, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it.     

I’ve always been looking for a great revolution. Finally, I’ve found it. 

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Before the Planting Begins

    

The Peterson Garden Project has rapidly come to  life. The interesting thing is: we haven’t even planted yet. So what’s going on?        

I joined the project for a few reasons. I love fresh food, and want to learn to grow my own. Plus the benefits of growing food locally have a significant impact on a city’s sustainable development, and that’s important to me. I also love gardening—it’s swiftly becoming my favorite hobby.        

What I didn’t see coming was the incredible community impact of the garden.     
While helping to plan and promote the project, I’ve met an amazing group of people, all drawn to the community garden project for different reasons. From LaManda, the project’s founder, I’ve learned about Chicago’s Victory Garden legacy. But more importantly: I’ve seen the catalytic affect her inspiration and leadership have on a project. This isn’t just a garden for LaManda: it’s a life mission. And she’s looking for accomplices.        

From there, the cast of gardeners grows. From the young dancer who has a passion for baking pastries, to the ice-skating grant-writer looking to share her incredible knowledge of growing and cooking food, this garden is bringing people together.        

Entrepreneurs. Artists. People looking for a new career path—they’re all here. And: they’re mainly my neighbors. I had the pleasure of meeting John and Eileen, who have lived in my neighborhood—Arcadia Terrace, for the record—for 50 years. They’ve never grown vegetables before, but when they got the flyer for the Peterson Garden Project, they figured: why not?     
It’s never too late to learn to grow your own vegetables. And it’s not too late to plant them this year, either. Come on over and join in on the fun; volunteers are always welcome at The Peterson Garden Project.  

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The Peterson Garden Project

Alderman O'Connor surveys the site

I’m delighted to say that these images of The Peterson Garden Project are already outdated. I took these last Friday, at groundbreaking. They’re now a visual record of just how much our band of volunteers has accomplished in a very short time. 

The site, primed for transformation

My goal for Memorial Day this year? To plant heirloom seeds in a reborn Victory Garden. 

Neighbors gather, in anticipation of planting

We begin!

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Victory Garden Revival

In the 1940’s, Chicago was home to one of the most vibrant Victory Garden cultures in the country. With post-war families growing rapidly and food in short supply, Chicagoans took to community gardens to grow vegetables and put dinner on their tables.

Today, community gardening is once again gaining momentum, but for different reasons. Personally, I became interested in urban gardening for two reasons. First, because I like the flavor of fresh, organic vegetables. And second, because I am looking for ways to contribute to a more sustainable future for my city. Turns out, there are lots of people doing the very same thing… in my own neighborhood.

This weekend, I was introduced to the Peterson Garden Project. It’s a local effort led by one of my neighbors, a blogger who writes at The Yarden. She began doing research on Chicago Victory Gardens, and decided it was high time to revive the tradition. So: she found a site, talked to Alderman O’Connor, rallied her troops, and… voila! A reborn Victory Garden breaks ground this Friday, May 21 at 11 a.m.

My plan for my plot at the Peterson Community Garden

Naturally: I had to be a part of it. So here’s my plan for what will be my first foray into community gardening. Now that my own square foot garden is firmly in place in my own back yard, I’ll use the community garden space for a few things. First, to meet my neighbors. Second, to learn about gardening from people who know a heck of a lot more about it than I do. And finally, to grow some unusual veggies to share with my friends. If you’re hungry & willing to help me weed a little now and again, come on out to the garden and dig in!

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The Dirt

Box Number One, at the back of my house. Square foot garden #2, along my garage, on top of the sidewalk.

 

At long last, after many weeks of toil, construction, dirt-mixing and planting, here are my raised bed gardens. It’s official: I am an urban farmer. 

The second square foot garden, along my garage, on top of a sidewalk.

 

I’ve faced a few surprises. First, mixing a bunch of dirt is hard, in terms of the physical effort. Don’t let the books fool you. And then, the agonizing part: waiting for seeds to sprout. In my case, the subject of much staring, worrying, and even blaming wonton, seed-eating birds has been the situation with my peas. I planted eight. I have two sprouts. 

When do I give up and plant a few more? What’s the right timeframe? How do I fend off the marauding robins and squirrels who are the likely culprits of my struggling pea crop? I’ll be thinking about all of this for a few more days. 

Two peas sprouting in a square. Where are the other two?

 

The lettuce, on the other hand, is marching on. Don’t know what’s going on with the head lettuce, but the leaf lettuce is a great source of hope for me. 

Lettuce sprouting!

The Garden Plan II

This is the second of my two square foot gardens, which I'll build & plant this year.

 

The truth about my backyard is simple: it’s not glamorous. When we first moved into our place, we had a yard. It didn’t have any flowers, bushes, or plants. In fact, it didn’t even have grass. It did, however, have lots of crabgrass. Oh, and a fence that the previous owners’ Pit Bulls had gnawed through. There was that.     

In any event, in the four years that we’ve lived in our place, we’ve done lots of work… but you can’t necessarily tell. Unless, of course, you knew it when the previous owners were here.     

This is a long way of getting to my point: my yard still isn’t lovely. Or even actually pretty. But here’s what we do have: a yard. And full sun. And too much concrete. But square foot gardening is helping me in this regard: I can build a raised bed over my hideous sidewalk, next to my unnecessarily large garage. So there you have it. While I look forward to a day when I can talk about the aesthetics of my back yard, right now, I’m hoping I can get it to offer a crop, and maybe, just maybe, look okay-ish. That’s where I am now. 

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