Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory

One of the best kept secrets in Chicago is the Garfield  Park Conservatory. I recently went there to interview for the Illinois Master Gardening program and wondered why I had stayed away for so long (I hadn't been there for at least four years!).

The Garfield Park Conservatory is owned and maintained by the Chicago Park District, including the entire plant collection.
Referred to as "landscape art under glass," the Garfield Park Conservatory occupies approximately 4.5 acres inside and out.
Once inside you are hit by a wall of humidity. The collection of tropical plants thrive in the warm, moist environment and plant "energy" is bouncing off the glass ceiling.

I had about 15 minutes to burn before my interview with the Master Gardeners, so I took a few shots to share with all of you.

Amethyst Star

Chocolate Tree

Shrimp Plant

Hopefully I will be spending more time at the conservatory IF I get into the Illinois Master Gardener's program. I would take the course work online and then volunteer 60 hours of my time after the training before officially becoming a Master Gardener. I enjoy gardening, especially organic vegetable gardening, and the training I would receive through the program would be invaluable. I'll keep you posted, I should hear back from the program in the next few weeks.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Gardening the Old Fashioned Way (Library of Congress Pictures)

Organic seeds, compost, no chemicals...this is how I aim to garden. In a lot of ways this is how Americans gardened until about the 1950s.

Poster for the U.S. Department of Agriculture promoting victory gardens, showing carrots, lettuce, corn, tomatoes, and potatoes growing. Screen print by Herbert Bayer. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

I recently found a treasure trove of old images the Denver Post posted online from Library of Congress that shows exactly what gardening and farming looked like decades ago. Click on each image to see the original size (it is totally worth it!).

Children gathering potatoes on a large farm. Vicinity of Caribou, Aroostook County, Maine, October 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Check out this modest backyard garden next to an even more modest dugout house in New Mexico....

Garden adjacent to the dugout home of Jack Whinery, homesteader. Pie Town, New Mexico, September 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Russell Lee. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
A lot of people grew all of their own produce and went to stores like the one below for specialty fruit and vegetables....

Grand Grocery Company. Lincoln, Nebraska, 1942. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by John Vachon. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
These cool pictures prompted me check out the Library of Congress online catalog and I ran across some beautiful images of women from Clinton, Iowa---the town nearest to my childhood home. These women worked at the Chicago and North Western Railroad roundhouse in Clinton April of 1943. They were photographed by Jack Delano as part of the Farm Security Administration Office of War Information Collection.

Women workers employed as wipers in the roundhouse having lunch in their rest room, C. & N.W. R.R., Clinton, Iowa. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Women wipers of the Chicago and North Western Railroad cleaning one of the giant "H" class locomotives, Clinton, Iowa. Mrs. Marcella Hart and Mrs. Viola Sievers. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

These following portraits of the women are a bit haunting yet beautiful. I love that the woman below is wearing bright red nail polish (click on the picture to see up close!).

Mrs. Marcella Hart, mother of three children, employed as a wiper at the roundhouse, Clinton, Iowa. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Mrs. Elibia Siematter, employed as a sweeper at the roundhouse, Clinton, Iowa. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Mrs. Dorothy Lucke, employed as a wiper at the roundhouse, Clinton, Iowa  Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Cloe Weaver, mother of four children, employed as a helper at the roundhouse, Clinton, Iowa. She is learning to operate the turntable. Her husband works for a structural steel company. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Mrs. Irene Bracker, mother of two children, employed at the roundhouse as a wiper, Clinton, Iowa. Her husband works for a structural steel company. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
These women probably worked all day, raised a house full of children and tended to giant gardens in the backyards of their Clinton homes. They are pretty inspiring to me. What do you see when you look at these pictures? Please share your comments!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Wanted: The Perfect Indoor Office Plant

It's a sunny autumn day on the North Shore near Chicago. These are my favorite days---a chill in the air but warm enough that you only need a sweater or sweatshirt. Here's a look out of my office window, which faces east, a few blocks from Lake Michigan. Not too many leaves left on the trees!

When the deep freeze sets in, I'm determined to have some green in my life, even if it's on my desk or office windowsill. One of my co-workers has a jungle of plants in her office that are beautifully maintained, but I'm just looking for one or two. Right now the only color in my office is bright yellow flower print from Ikea.

I'm thinking a Peace Lilly would be a nice addition to my desk...

What plants do you like to keep indoors?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Why Do You Garden?

July 2010: My monthly drive to garden in Iowa---windows down, radio up!
Let's take a trip down memory lane...

Growing up in rural Iowa in the 1980s, gardens were as common as cornfields, cows and clotheslines (I THINK those are still pretty common things in rural Iowa). As a kid, fresh tomatoes that you eat like apples were everyday treats in the summer. Little jars of homemade jam with handwritten labels lined the shelves of my parent's basement. Sweet corn for for supper (about 4 or 5 ears per person) was completely acceptable on a summer night. Homegrown food, fresh from the farm---this is how my family lived since settling in the Clinton County, Iowa area more than 100 years ago.

The gravel road to my grandparent's old farmstead
My generation is the first of at least four generations on my father's side who hasn't carried on the farming tradition. My grandpa farmed all of his life in eastern Iowa. 

First with horses...

Grandpa, Bulger's Hallow (Clinton, Iowa) early 1940s
Later with tractors....

Grandpa, rural Goose Lake, Iowa farm

While he passed away before having the chance to sit behind a GPS-operated state-of-the-art combine, like the one below, he did see his fair share of technological changes in the farming industry in his lifetime.

Soybean field in north central Iowa
While it doesn't make economic sense for me to be a part of our family farm, I keep my connection to my parent's land through gardening. My garden in their backyard is surrounded by hundreds of acres of corn and soybeans, both their crops and neighbors. 

I love getting my hands in the dirt in the spring, building up the soil, picking out seeds and planting them in the Earth. It makes me so happy to see little green seedlings turn into strong plants and produce food. I'm sure my desire to garden is in my DNA, passed down from the generations of farmers and farmer's daughters before me who made a living off of the land they loved.

Tradition. It's one of the reasons why I garden. Why do you garden? Share your comments below!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Back in the Blog

Sorry to abandon all my dear blog-world friends all summer and fall. After finishing a master's program and settling into a new job, I'm back and ready to blog at you every day! Above is a snapshot of a harvested cornfield near my parent's farm in Iowa. Even the farmers are done with their crops for the winter. My garden is done producing, too---but it had a great run this season.

I planted several varieties of lettuce and the stuff was beautiful!

The butter crisp/ butter crunch had to be my favorite. It was great on sandwiches and the ultimate base for a huge springtime salad.

I had so much green stuff that I used a laundry basket to get it in the house! Then I washed it all (there were a few slugs and bugs that made home in the leaves) and packaged it up for my co-workers and friends.

Back in sweet home Chicago, my tiny back deck produced some herbs and flowers for a few months and made for a relaxing little summertime backdrop. Keep reading after the jump for more!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Spring Gardening

Last month, on Mother's Day, I planted my garden on my parent's farm in eastern Iowa. This is the third year of the garden and I'm continuing to use the "lasagna gardening" technique of layering organic materials to create a compost to garden in.

Because I'm in graduate school this year, I didn't have time to make a trip to Decorah, Iowa to buy my seeds and seedlings at Seed Savers Exchange, so I went to Gethsemane, a local garden center in Chicago and asked for organic plants and seeds. This nice guy was a great help! 

So, what is in my garden this year? Zucchini, a lot of lettuce (including arugula), green onions, radishes, peppers, tomatoes, rosemary, basil and a strawberry plant! I use a soaker hose to water the garden, I leave it on the garden all season, that way my parents just have to turn a faucet on and off to water it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Gardening with an Earthbox

Last spring, while flipping through channels, I came across what looked like a gardening show, but ended up being the Home Shopping Network. They were selling Earthboxes. In some ways I'm still a bit of an amateur gardener, so I had never heard of an Earthbox, but apparently gardeners all over the world use them to grow healthy, organic (or conventional) crops in small spaces with ease.

Some of the reasons why the Eathbox makes gardening convenient is that you use potting mix, so you don't have weed seed in the box. Also, watering your plants is made easy with the reservoir that comes with the Earthbox. You add water every few days, as much as you want. As long as you keep the reservoir filled, the Earthbox's unique design will keep the plants perfectly watered.

So the pitch on HSN sold me, but by the time I picked up my phone to order one, they were sold out. I could have bought an Eathbox from the official website, but didn't get around to it. This year I'm going to buy one and try it out on my deck in Chicago. I think I will do some herbs, like in the Earthbox above. Have you tried an Earthbox? Did it work for you?