June 29, 2011
I arrived home from work today to find that the deed had been done. The entire parkway in front of my house had been mowed to about 2 inches high. It also looks like they raked up all the plant material. It is a terrible sight. Click on the picture to see a before and after.
If that paragraph looks familiar, that is because I am telling the same story that I told almost exactly one year ago. Nothing has changed for the Village of Bartlett. I once again went and patiently explained the benefits of the native plants that filled the parkway in front of my house. I showed a picture of the lovely blooming flowers that adorned the space. I indicated that after last year's mowing, the parkway was infested with thistles and dandelions, which I graciously weeded on behalf of the Village. None of that mattered as ignorance prevailed once again and the parkway was cleared.
I hear stories from people that live in other Chicago suburbs where native plant gardens are not persecuted. They tell me that I should go and live there. I will not give up the hope that someday reason will take hold and those too foolish to understand why my garden is the better choice, will suddenly come to their senses. I am not trying to force anyone else to plant the same as I do. I just want to be left alone to do my part for the environment.June 22, 2011
In what has become an annual ritual, the Village of Bartlett has again decided that Native Suburbia is hazardous. This time I was notified via a Property Maintenance Violation Notice from the Health Department. I have generously been given 4 days to correct the violation of "weeds/tall grass" in the parkway or the Village will mow and bill.
As we learned last year when the Village mowed Bartlett has no interest in the benefits of native plants in the parkway. What we also learned that there is no municipal code compelling adjacent property owners to maintain the parkway. The land known as the parkway is the property of the Village and they may do with it whatever they wish. This was the position that Bartlett officials took when I pointed out that no codes were being violated. So having established ownership of the parkway, it seems to me that the Health Department has delivered the violation notice to the wrong address. I am not responsible for the property in question.
But of course I do not actually agree that there is any violation requiring action. I did generously volunteer my time to remove weeds such as dandelions and thistles from the parkway earlier this year. I wouldn't want the Village to be in violation of municipal code 4-3-2. It is a pretty weak definition of weeds, but they would have clearly been violating it without my assistance. There are no specific requirements in the code regarding ornamental plantings (forbs and gramoids). So currently the plants that I had previously established in the parkway before the neighbors started complaining are thriving and blooming and represent no violation of code. They are beautiful to look at and good for the environment. Unfortunately, I expect them to be mown to the ground all too soon. This will allow the weeds to once again return.
I am forced to address the complaint from the Village in order to remind them that they own the property in question. I will of course remind them of the beauty and benefits of native plants, but I know I will be wasting my breath.June 05, 2011
I recently learned that carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica) in Illinois look very similar to bumblebees (Bombus s.s.) I may have been misidentifying them for years. This year I was prompted to learn a little more when I was puzzled by the fact that "bumblebees" seemed very interested in my mailbox.
It turns out that what I was observing was the male carpenter bees patrolling the area while females were chewing holes in the mailbox in order to lay their eggs. Upon closer inspection I found a couple of perfectly round holes in the bottom of the mailbox. I also found one in the wooden post. I was a little disappointed that the bees had not found the dead trees that I had left for them in the backyard, but who am I to tell them where to raise their young? Benia and I decided that despite the damaging behavior, we would allow the bees to use our mailbox as they deemed necessary. The worst that will happen is we need to buy a new post some day. The mailbox is actually metal with a cedar "house" built around it.
We are just happy that Native Suburbia is a place where carpenter bees can find food, water, shelter and a place to raise young.May 27, 2011
It has been about 6 years since I started eliminating all of the traditional suburban landscaping from my yard. In that time, the native plants have spread into every corner. After a couple of establishing years, native plants tend to come up bigger, thicker and stronger every year. So I was puzzled by one area that had been covered in late figwort and purple giant hyssop in previous years, but was nearly barren this spring. Having recently purchased some new plants, I decided to fill in the bare spot with the hope that they would like it better than the previous inhabitants. It only took a couple of scoops with the shovel to discover what had killed my plants. About six inches deep there was a layer of the dreaded landscaping cloth that will not die. I have concluded that the native plants were able to get started with relatively short roots and appear established, but then when they stretched deeper to reach their true potential, the zombies ate their roots! I am so sad that I missed this spot during my previous zombie killing sprees. I continued digging and pulling this time and hopefully I got it all, but you never know with the undead.
I really wish people would not spread this stuff all over suburbia. The intent is to block weeds, but it either ends up looking like garbage sticking up from the dirt or it gets buried and the weeds just grow over it. It is ineffective and non-biodegradeable. As stewards of this planet we should choose our battles carefully. Sometimes it is better to work with Mother Nature rather than trying to smother her.February 27, 2011
Today we put the final touches on a project that we started months ago. We wanted to bring a touch of Native Suburbia into our dining room. After looking through hundreds of pictures that were taken in our yard, some of our favorites were chosen for printing and framing. Now they have been hung with care and our dining room is complete.
Seeing our own photographs on display is very satisfying. It is even nicer to know that all of those fantastic views are from our very own Native Suburbia and we can enjoy them the whole year round. How many people are inspired to take pictures of their lawns and display them indoors? Just another reason to grow native.December 23, 2010
This year was probably the first where we were really able to generally sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labor. The entire yard is covered in native plants and most of the plants are very well established. This greatly reduced the amount of weeding that needed to be done. I pull a few dandelions early in the season and there is the occasional thistle that grows in the path, but that is about it. It has been years since we did any watering, and fertilizer was never required. After 6 years, the promises that were made about native plant landscaping have finally been fulfilled in Native Suburbia.
Of course, 2010 was the year that the Village of Bartlett decided to mow the native plants in the parkway. This opened up the ground right in the middle of the growing season and allowed the weeds to get established. It is very disappointing to watch, but since the neighbors and the Village have decided that they do not like my choice of landscaping, I must allow them to grow their weeds.December 17, 2010
Over the years we have been learning to identify the plants that grow in Native Suburbia. The internet has been an invaluable tool in our education, but it can sometimes be rather challenging to find a picture that looks just like the plant seen in our yard. Maybe the lighting is different, only a flower is shown, or it is a different time of the year.
Over the years we have taken many pictures of specific plants in Native Suburbia. These specimen pictures were used to help us identify them. They are now available for visitors to this site. An attempt was made to provide multiple pictures of each species. Different parts of the plants at various times of the year are shown. Some plants are better represented than others, but the plan is to continue filling in the collection over time.
There are many informative sites that give fantastic descriptions of the plants, such as www.illinoiswildflowers.info, so I decided to concentrate on providing a variety of high quality pictures identified by genus/species and common name. Each of the specimen pictures is available in high resolution; just continue to click on the picture to step through thumbnail, scaled, full browser and full resolution versions. If you know what you are looking for by name, the search feature will find it anywhere on the Native Suburbia site.
The specimens are divided into Illinois native and non-native groups. They are further subdivided by the first letter of the genus that they belong to.December 01, 2010
by Benia Zouras
Mammals, butterflies, birds, and bees
My native plants feed more than these!
They play and hide among them all
Grasses, forbs, both large and small
Seasons change, blooms turn to seeds
Even then, plants serve their needs
And when they are all but bare
They still have beauty left to spare
Through cold winters, they decorate
And remind us while we wait
For the warm weather to return
Of fresh new sprouts for us to learn
Who knew plants from Illinois
Could provide such year-round joy?
Another month has gone by, but the Village of Bartlett did not mow the parkway. I am almost a little disappointed because I want them to take responsibility for the decision they have made. They decided to reinforce that old saying "the squeaky wheel gets the grease". So my neighbors convinced Bartlett to mow the parkway and now I guess it is their chore to maintain it.
If my defeated attitude is a surprise to you, I will explain. A few weeks ago I met with the mayor/president of Bartlett, Mike Kelly. He came to my home and took a brief tour of my yard. It was raining on that particular day in September and not the best time to show off the merits of Native Suburbia, but I greatly appreciated that he took the time to visit. During our conversation, I explained our dedication to native plants and the efforts we take to maintain our landscaping. I pointed out that the only significant weeds were in the parkway where they have been mowing. I also mentioned my confusion over the Bartlett's refusal to discuss the matter further before mowing considering the compromise that was reached last year. Mr. Kelly listened to my concerns, but in the end he felt that there were more appropriate personnel from the Village that I should work with. He suggested that I get in touch with Paula Schumacher, whom I had worked with previously. He did say that what I did with the rest of the yard, besides the parkway, was up to me. He shared some concerns that people might be afraid of what could be hiding in my landscaping, but I think his up close tour showed him that those fears are unfounded. He also indicated that he would not support the growing of anything "tall" in the parkway for safety reasons.
An interesting side note is that my neighbor, the squeaky wheel herself, came out and stood close to the property line to listen to my conversation with the mayor. She must have been so proud of herself for getting my plants mowed. As the mayor was leaving, she ran down her driveway to intercept him, but he was running late for another appointment and suggested that she call him on Monday. I would have liked to hear their conversation.
A few days later I called Paula Schumacher. She was a completely different person than the one that I had spoken to last October. She indicated that the compromise we had reached did not placate the neighbors and therefore the Village was left with no choice but to mow the parkway. In her opinion, we had reached the end of any need to discuss the issue. The squeaky wheel had been greased and they would continue to do so. She made it clear that the parkway belonged to the Village and they had the right to mow it. It did not matter to her that other homeowners plant flowers on the parkway without Village harassment. It did not matter to her that the native plants provided water management benefits. It did not matter to her whether any municipal codes were being violated. All that mattered was 5 people complained and they outnumbered me.
I asked Paula who these 5 people were so that I could face my accusers, but she indicated that she could not reveal their names for their own protection. (Of course, I know who one of them is, but I am curious about the others.) So they are protected from me, but the Village attacks me on their behalf. Since the Village has taken the role of middle man in this case, I asked what had been done to present my concerns to the complainers. If the Village will fight on their behalf, then is it not reasonable to expect that they would represent the interests of all residents? Of course that is not the case and Paula became frustrated when I suggested it. She was done talking about this situation and there is nothing more that I can do at this time.
So for now I play the waiting game. Perhaps someday my ignorant neighbors will learn to appreciate a different aesthetic. I know that next year I will be faced with the same disappointment as the plants in the parkway grow beautifully in the summer sun until the wheel squeaks again.September 16, 2010
Despite the anonymity provided by the Village's complaint process, I am quite certain that I know at least one of my neighbors is responsible for the attacks on my parkway garden. Mary Ann Janisch of 833 Francine Drive has made it clear through words and actions that she does not appreciate my landscaping choices.
So today, let's take a little peek at what happens in Mrs. Janisch's yard. Please refer to the picture for today's entry. It was taken today. You will see a sprinkler running. It is overcast and obviously likely to rain. This is a waste of water that I observe too often in my neighborhood, but I had never bothered anyone about it because I hoped that I could lead by example. I don't water and my plants are all tall and healthy.
But the wasting of water by Mary Ann is only the beginning. By using a sprinkler to water at 833 Francine Drive on September 16th, she is violating Bartlett municipal code.
7-5A-6: WATER CONSERVATION REGULATIONS:
It will be unlawful to sprinkle lawns in the Village except in accordance with the following schedule:
A. Residents of houses with odd numbered street addresses shall be permitted to sprinkle only on odd numbered days of the month.
B. Residents of houses with even numbered street addresses shall be permitted to sprinkle only on even numbered days of the month.
The neighborhood must understand the importance of water conservation and complain in droves about such flagrant disregard for the rules. This situation surely warrants action by the Village.
Of course, none of that is going to happen. While the neighbors don't understand the benefits of native plants in the parkway, they do think they understand the need for sprinklers. So the waste goes on and nobody but me cares.
August 21, 2010
Today I attended "Coffee With The Mayor" in an attempt to share the Native Suburbia philosophy with the president of the Village of Bartlett, Michael Kelly. There were several other people in attendance and a variety of topics were discussed, so I did not try to dominate the conversation by insisting that we talk about the recent parkway battle. The topic of storm water management did come up and it was interesting to hear the thoughts and concerns of other residents. Of course I brought up the idea of including native plants as part of a responsible rain water management strategy. We did not go into a lot of detail, but hopefully a few more people will consider the possibilities.
More importantly, Mr. Kelly can now put a face to my name. He has invited me to email him with a copy of the letter that I sent in July, which may not have gotten his attention earlier. I have resent the letter and more and I look forward to a continuing dialog. I also enjoyed the idea of a Saturday morning open meeting with Mr. Kelly and I plan to attend in the future so that I can be more aware of what is happening in the Village of Bartlett.August 19, 2010
It has been about 1 month since the Village of Bartlett chose to destroy the parkway garden that I had tended to for the past 4 years. Since then, the hardy native plants had made considerable progress in growing back. There were several patches of Hairy Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis) that had actually managed to grow up and bloom. There were a couple of daisy fleabanes (Erigeron strigosus) as well. At this point I was even happy to see that Awnless Barnyard Grass (Echinochloa muricata wiegandii) was valiantly trying to fill the void left by the mowers. I was happy to see that nature was recovering from the ignorance of my neighbors and local government.
Unfortunately, I was foolish enough to think that the Village was done with me for the season. Today they visited the parkway with their mowers of destruction again. Goodbye little plants, goodbye flowers... Now the parkway is once again a barren patch of ground littered with the stumps of my beloved native plants. How many times will they be able to survive this treatment? Benia was so sad and angry to see that the flowers had been mowed again. It is hard to watch this happen all over again.
One interesting observation I have made is that this is the second time that the Village has made the effort to mow the parkway in front of my house. They have not attempted to bill me for this "service". I guess they realized that I am not legally obligated to maintain their property. So for everyone out there that no longer wishes to mow the parkway, you can just stop doing it. Eventually the Village of Bartlett will come and mow it without applying any reason or engaging in any dialog with you. If they threaten you with a fine, just ask them to provide you with a reference to the municipal code that indicates that residents are responsible for maintenance of the parkway. They will not be able to do so.July 18, 2010
As seen in my previous post, the Village of Bartlett has mowed the parkway garden. It looks absolutely terrible in my opinion. They supposedly took this action in response to several resident complaints. I do not know who complained as they will not share that information with me. I often wonder if residents of my neighborhood ever visit this website. Last year I posted a large sign in my yard specifically asking for feedback and I received 6 comments. I have never had anyone personally come to me and discuss their concerns. The closest to that was when I initiated a conversation with my neighbor Mary Anne and she told me that her deceased husband had wanted to "deck" me. I wasn't clear whether that was about the tree that he hated or the plants that cover my yard.
So now that the complainers (or is it only one?) have gotten the Village to destroy my parkway garden, I wonder if they are happy with the result. I once again posted a sign in an attempt to get some feedback from those who would attack me anonymously. On one side it says, "REALLY??" and on the other it says "BETTER?" along with the address of this website. I kept it simple because I wanted to make it big enough to catch the attention of passersby.
So if you have ever seen my garden, either before or after the parkway was mowed, I welcome your feedback. Tell me what you think. Tell me what you would tell the Village. Communication is the key to understanding. I have put a lot of information on this website to facilitate that communication. Now it is your turn.
(Click on "Permalink" at the bottom right of this entry to leave a comment)July 15, 2010
I arrived home from work today to find that the deed had been done. The entire parkway in front of my house had been mowed to about 2 inches high. It also looks like they raked up all the plant material. It is a terrible sight. Click on the picture to see a before and after. (Sensitive viewers beware.)
I do not like to admit it, but I was wrong. Based on my previous interactions with the Village of Bartlett, I believed that it was represented by intelligent and reasonable people who face the difficult challenge of balancing a wide variety of resident concerns. My recent interactions with Jim Plonczynski, Director of Community Development for the Village of Bartlett have shown that he is not concerned with any such balancing. When I contacted Mr. Plonczynski, he was completely unwilling to participate in any dialog to clarify his position about why my parkway garden was a hazard or a violation of municipal code. It is very disappointing to see that the Village is willing to treat residents, such as myself, in such a rude and inconsiderate manner, while claiming to be acting on the complaints of other residents. Mr. Plonczynski’s unwillingness to interact with Bartlett residents in a constructive manner reflects negatively on the village.
Throughout the course of a day, I attempted several times via email to schedule a discussion with Mr. Plonczynski, either by phone or in person. The following is a consolidation of the one line responses I received from him.
The native plants in question represent a significant amount of time and money. Moving them is not feasible due to their extensive root systems. They are environmentally friendly and provide storm water management benefits. It is a shame that the Village of Bartlett chose to destroy them for no good reason other than fulfilling the wishes of one resident while ignoring the dreams of another.
Once I realized that Mr. Plonczynski was not going to be reasonable, I also reached out to various other officials of the Village of Bartlett, including the President, Michael Kelly. I sent emails, used the online contact form and sent letters via regular mail. I received no responses from any of them.
Once again it is surprising that Bartlett chooses to interact with its residents in this manner. It is disappointing that anonymous complaints will drive village officials to get creative with the interpretation of the municipal code. Just because something is unusual does not make it bad. It would seem that in a world where "green" is becoming the way of the future, those officials might be compelled to understand and inform the complainers about the benefits of native plants.
I want to live in a village that understands that environmental practices are to be encouraged, not persecuted. I will continue to work towards that end.July 12, 2010
It hasn't quite even been one year since I last heard from Bartlett officials. As seen in the attached letter, they are once again asserting that I have violated the municipal code and that the plants in the parkway pose some sort of hazard. Of course their actions are backed by anonymous complaints. They are once again insisting that I mow the plants or they will do it and charge me.
After reading section 7-6-1 of the Bartlett municipal code, it is not clear how it applies to the vegetation planted in the parkway. I am not a utility and plants are not utility facilities. On the positive side, I am protecting against environmental damage and decreasing storm water runoff. As the resident closest to the vegetation I can confidently say that it does not pose any hazard to vehicular or pedestrian traffic. I drive and walk through the area on a daily basis without incident.
I also reviewed section 7-2-1 of the Bartlett municipal code. Since I neither planted nor removed any trees or shrubs, it does not seem to apply. I leave the maintenance of the tree in the parkway to the Bartlett arborist team. In fact, just last October they trimmed it back to address visibility issues. This occurred after officials, Paula Schumacher and Keith Johnson from the Village of Bartlett, visited my home to inspect the parkway.
Once again it is surprising that Bartlett chooses to interact with its residents in this manner. It is disappointing that anonymous complaints will drive village officials to get creative with the interpretation of the municipal code. Just because something is unusual does not make it bad. It would seem that in a world where "green" is becoming the way of the future, those officials might be compelled to understand and inform the complainers about the benefits of native plants.
I have sent email to Jim Plonczynski requesting further discussion of this issue. Last year I found that while the village resorts to form letters and threats initially, they can be worked with when they are engaged in a more personal manner. I hope that is the case with Mr. Plonczynski.June 04, 2010
This morning, I bore witness to a tough-love life lesson.
Our chokecherry bush has been welcoming hungry birds for a few weeks now, as the berries continue to ripen. This morning, I watched a mother robin feast on the berries, while her juvenile waited from a nearby tree. The mother teased the baby when it flew to the tree, above the baby, to scare away a couple of grackles, unbeknownst to the youngster below with a one-track mind for tasty berries. The mother went back and ate some more berries, ignoring the baby. Baby moved closer to the edge of the branch to chirp and hint to Mama that it was hungry, while Mama continued to eat. Finally, the young robin flew over to the bush and hinted closer, chirping and flapping its wings a bit. The mother robin flew away. Frustrated and impatient, the baby finally took the initiative to try to pluck some berries itself.
Mama robin taught the youngster to fend for itself. She won't always be there to serve the baby. And plucking berries isn't as hard as it seems after all. The youngster is on its way to becoming self-sufficient.April 21, 2010
Yesterday, shortly after arriving home from work, our doorbell rang. I usually don't rush to answer the door unless I'm expecting someone or a package, but for some reason, I was feeling spunky and curious, so I answered. A man was standing just off the front porch, perhaps about to give up and leave because it took me so long to get down the stairs to the door. I asked him "Can I help you?" He seemed shy about what he wanted to say and finally told me that he was driving by and noticed our unique landscaping and our signs explaining it. Seeing that our garage door was open, he took a chance and rang the bell to let us know that he really likes what we've done with our yard.
Of course I was surprised and absolutely thrilled with this voluntary feedback from a complete stranger, especially after the way the last yard discussion went. I thanked him and we introduced each other. His name was Steve. He is in the tree business and mentioned that he had been involved with native landscaping years ago, but the lack of interest could not sustain him, so he'd given that up. I urged him to consider getting back into native gardening again, as there may likely be more interest now than a few years earlier, when going "green" wasn't quite yet as popular and understood by the general public. It may not be mainstream yet, but I am seeing an increasing trend and hope it continues.
I offered to show Steve around our yard a bit. I welcomed him along the flagstone path, to see the backyard. He was largely unfamiliar with most of the plants, and apparently surprised by our hospitality. I pointed out several interesting species and described their characteristics, growing preferences, and other interesting points in the yard. He described several favorite natives he'd remembered and asked a few questions. He seemed especially delighted to learn about our rain garden and it's ability to attract birds, in clear view of our large window, where we frequently watch. It really is a great feature of our landscape.
Before he left, I gave Steve a pre-printed card with our web site's URL on it, so he could peruse our years' worth of photos and various articles, at his leisure. We also invited him to come back later in the season. Our garden changes constantly and even a few weeks makes a real difference in the height of the plants and the colors of the various forbs that go into bloom. He enthusiastically accepted the invitation.
I love making new friends who appreciate our efforts and see the beauty in native landscaping. I hope to hear from more admirers in the future!
-BeniaApril 14, 2010
I was out touring our yard and cleaning up the branches from our rain garden this morning, because I couldn't resist. Anyway, when I was done with the branches, I came back to the corner and looked around a bit. To my surprise, I noticed our elderly neighbor came out her side door and walked toward me. I said "hi" and thought she might have something to say to me, but all she wanted to do is fill her bird bath, which happens to be right on the other side of our fence, next to her birdhouse (which is frequently occupied by non-native sparrows). So, I jumped in and introduced myself to her and try to make nice with her a bit. That's how I learned her name was not Mary, as I thought, but MaryAnn - she corrected me. She knew my name was "Bonnie", since that's how I introduced myself to her husband when we first moved in. I also made an effort to shake her reluctant hand and smile. It was a genuine smile, as I was pleased for the opportunity to finally speak directly with her after five years of living next door to her. She remains indoors about 99% of the time.
After the niceties, I bravely asked her what she thinks of our yard. I didn't want to assume she loathed it as much as her late husband, especially since I had her right there at my disposal. She jumped in with a "no" and a slightly soured face. "It looks like a buncha weeds - to me," she said. She further explained that it's nice for "out in the country", waving her hand toward the west and looking out as she said this, but not here, right next to her "nice grass", meaning her own sterile landscape, which, unfortunately, is the norm in my neighborhood. I bit my tongue, validated her opinion, and explained a bit about our Native Suburbia project and our goals. Not surprisingly, she didn't care about natives or biodiversity or anything about our project's goals, because in her mind, this type of landscape simply does not belong in suburbia. Old as she is, I'm not surprised that she couldn't be swayed on this point.
I maintained my polite and understanding demeanor with her, to keep the dialog open. As a last ditch effort, I pulled out the big guns and asked her if she's noticed more hummingbirds and butterflies in the neighborhood. Her face loosed up slightly. I could tell she was surprised and intrigued. No, she has not seen hummingbirds. Her daughter, who does live in the country, gets hummingbirds and she's seen them there, but not here. I informed her that we have several species of plants that attract them, and that we get lots of them each summer. I told her to keep an eye out this summer for hummingbirds, as they love our hyssops and columbines. I also asked her to notice the many butterflies that visit. (I didn't even go into the milkweed/monarch symbiosis, as I thought that was too much for today. Plus, I think hearing "weed" would throw her off. What an unfortunate common name the milkweeds have for native plant awareness. But I digress.)
As our brief conversation ended, I stepped away and tried to stay cordial, adding that I didn't want there to be any hard feelings between us. She could not confirm that this was the case, but at least she hesitated a bit so she wasn't completely rude about it. Besides, I'm hoping the relationship will soften while she ponders the conversation later, on her own. I'm also hoping that every time she sees a butterfly or hummingbird, she'll think of our yard and how we made this possible for her.
I take this conversation as a win. I didn't want to shut her down completely, because I knew that I could appeal to her, as a woman, by mentioning the undeniably beautiful points of interest in having a yard like ours - hummingbirds and butterflies - and hoped to rely on her avoidance of social awkwardness and requisite friendliness. She's obviously been influenced by her late husband Ray, who, as you may recall, had nothing but harsh words for us and hatred for our River Birch tree. And I assume that our tree is not dropping its branches in a strange pile 20 feet away from it in our rain garden all by itself; she or her relatives are most definitely behind this stupid behavior. However, I am glad that she listened to what I had to say without cursing me out and being uncivilizedMarch 27, 2010
It is that time of the year again. All of the poison purveyors are flooding my mailbox and door with their advertisments. I found the one in the picture to be particularly amusing.
Of course I realize that these are bulk mailings, but if you have ever seen my yard, then it is clear that TruGreen certainly does not know my Bartlett "lawn".
My annual mowing, is the only thing that I will be doing this spring to get an early start on making Native Suburbia greener and healthier. I cannot burn in my densely populated neighborhood, so I mow once a year in the spring to chop everything up. This opens it up nicely for the coming growing season.
Oh, I also hate those silly flip-flop shoes!
January 21, 2010
Not much is happening in Native Suburbia at this time of the year, so I decided to finally go through all the pictures that we took over the past year. While there were a lot of little things that were new this year, the overall feel was very similar to last year's pictures. I decided to concentrate on pictures of animals and new specimens for this set. Enjoy your tour of Native Suburbia. I love to get feedback, so let me know what you think. Has our project encouraged you to plant any natives in your yard?October 15, 2009
In my continuing effort to recognize the people that took the effort to comment on Native Suburbia, this is a response to feedback we received from
Long-term resident of the Gingerbrook subdivision:
I see that there still may be hope for Bartlett when another resident recognizes that our yards do not have to look like
professional ball fields. I find the ball field look to be very boring. The yard might as well be painted green for all the visual interest that the typical lawn provides.
Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So the comment that my yard
could use a little more color is not unexpected. We have all been programmed to believe that beautiful gardens consist of dense patches of brilliant colors. I include myself in that category. I was programmed, but now I have re-educated myself to appreciate a wider variety of landscaping textures and colors. Let's not forget that green is a color and so is brown. There are many shades of each and they can be just as interesting as the yellows, oranges, reds and blues if you allow yourself to consider them. A tiny white aster may not be the most dazzling bloom ever seen, but when they all pop in late summer it provides a nice show at a time when most of my neighbors have already chopped and vacuumed any flowers they may have grown during the summer. I do not even chop down my garden in the Fall. I leave the dried remnants in place to provide a home for overwintering insects and visual interest for me through the long winter months. The brown and black stalks contrast in many interesting ways with the snow. They provide reminders of the miracle of nature that created all of those plants in a few short months of summer and a reminder that it will all happen again during the next summer.
The lack of whacking, mowing, edging and blowing in Native Suburbia certainly does lend itself to a more serene outdoor experience. Unfortunately, I am surrounded by so many people that continue to do it, that I rarely get to enjoy any peace and quiet. As soon as one person finishes their mowing, the next one starts up and when that one is complete, the cycle continues. I forlornly refer to these as the "sounds of Summer". But sometimes, if I am lucky, I can sit out in the back yard and listen to the birds and the insects for up to an hour. On these occasions, I imagine a world in which my neighbors are doing the same and we can all forget about the lawn mowers and enjoy the true sounds of Summer.October 08, 2009
I wanted to take the time to respond to feedback we received from
A neighbor to the East:
I think that your native garden is OK. I pass it several times per day, in my car, on my bike and on foot. I like your variety of plants. Even as an avid gardener, I often note plants that are new to me. Your landscape is benefitting nature. You should not be quick to yield to convention and the complaints of others. If the Village and your neighbor(s) persist in complaining then perhaps you should counter with a request that they work to mitigate the nearly 200 lbs. of herbicides and pesticides that each of our neighbors put on their patch of lawn annually in an attempt to attain an envious patch of acceptable turf - you know the stuff that children and pets can't walk on for a period post application.It is nice to hear that others in the neighborhood understand that Native Suburbia is beneficial to wildlife and the environment. No gas fumed lawnmower, no chemicals, and no bags of clippings to be trucked off. The air and the water can be a little bit cleaner and the soil is actually being enriched as we work with the natural decomposition cycles.
I would hope that the Village and your neighbor(s) have greater worries that the height of your wild flowers. Keep your native garden!
I am glad to know that the variety of plants can be enjoyed by people who take the time to appreciate more than hostas, daylilies, and lawn grass in suburbia. The significant increase in the number of birds, butterflies, and bees is a clear signal to me that I am doing the right thing. I wonder how many of my neighbors see hummingbirds. For the first time in years, I saw them several times a week this year. I do not put out those terrible sugar water feeders (Hummingbird McDonald's) either. They come for the natural food that I provide in the form of flowers such as columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and purple giant hyssop (Agastache scrophulariifolia).
I hope more people will take the time to understand and perhaps someday mine will not be the only yard on the block with a fantastic variety of native plants. Imagine a world where the yard filled with a dazzling array of birds, butterflies, and plants is the envy of the neighborhood. Imagine a world where a sterile patch of lawn, punctuated with a few out of place hostas, and surrounded by red mulch is looked upon as lazy. The work of someone that did not care enough to treat our shared resources with respect. I have already imagined this... can you?October 03, 2009
After a couple of phone calls I set up a meeting with two officials from the Village of Bartlett. (Paula from the Health department and Keith, the village arborist.) It was agreed that they would come out to my house and survey the situation and determine if a compromise could be reached.
I met with Paula and Keith on Friday in the drizzle and they looked at the parkway. The linden tree, on the parkway in front of my house, was immediately identified as a more likely visual obstruction than the plants. The neighbor's parkway tree was also called out. It was indicated that they would be scheduled for pruning very soon. I'm not a big fan of the lollipop tree look, but it is a compromise that I can live with.
In the spirit of doing "something" to the parkway plants I also agreed to mow a small strip along the street. The majority of my plants will be unaffected, but it will provide some sacrifice to appease the angry mobs.
Overall, the meeting was productive and I think that we came to a compromise that we can all live with. I don't know if the original complainers are going to be happy, but I just hope that they accept the action taken by the Village.September 25, 2009
Benia and I started Native Suburbia five years ago. It has been a wonderful hobby that has provided us with a yard full of flowers, birds, and butterflies. It has freed us from the pollution of lawn mowers and weeding chemicals. We actually enjoy spending time in our yard rather than seeing it as a constant chore.
Shortly after we started the project, I put up this website to share pictures and stories of our experiences. The blog format also allowed visitors of the website to leave comments. Despite the fact that the URL is posted on a sign next to the sidewalk, there has been almost no feedback so far.
Recently it has been brought to my attention that one or more persons has called in complaints to the Village of Bartlett about the plants growing in the parkway in front of my house. I was a little surprised that no one had ever posted a comment or stopped by to talk to me if they felt so strongly.
So today I have posted a larger sign in front of my house asking for YOUR feedback. Tell us what you like. Tell us what you don't like. You may leave your name or comment anonymously as you wish. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.
(Click on "Permalink" at the bottom right of this entry to leave a comment)
-Don & BeniaSeptember 23, 2009
I went to the village today and talked to Ed from the letter. He basically refused to have any kind of constructive dialog with me. He wanted me to believe that all options were exhausted and it was out of his hands. I asked if I could speak to someone who could further consider a compromise. He said that he would pass my comments along to his boss.
The boss, Paula, called me in the afternoon and we discussed the issue on the phone. The high points being:
1. There have been complaints from neighbors about visibility as they come out of their driveways. This was puzzling to me since the neighbor's driveways are a significant distance from my plants. No specific addresses were provided but the only ones that could possibly have a claim would be on either side of me. No neighbor has ever spoken about it to me personally. I still believe that the complaints may be from someone angling to find a way to get rid of landscaping that they don't agree with.
2. We discussed the possibility of a compromise. At first she said a "reasonable" height. When I asked for something a little more quantifiable, she said that she would have to consult with the public works department. I did mention the difficulty in maintaining plants consistently at any height above 3". I am not going to be out there with a hedge trimmer and a ruler. She understood my concern.
3. Once a recommendation for height and style is established, I requested a home visit in which a village representative could convey it to me while looking at the site. She agreed that this was a reasonable request. I still don't know how I would implement their recommendations assuming they are acceptable to me, but I thought that keeping the dialog open would be a good idea.
4. No action will be taken against the plants on the parkway until we have exhausted our efforts to compromise.
5. The flagstones are being targeted as part of an ordinance designed to keep people from putting rocks in the parkway that would be dangerous to cars that accidentally go off the road. They don’t want people slamming into boulders. She indicated that she would look into the possibility that the flagstones could be acceptable.
I still don't have much confidence that this will end the way I would like, but at least it will all grow back next year even if it is chopped down now. Then I can just wait to be cited again.September 22, 2009
After 5 years of carefully nurturing the native plants in my little patch of suburbia, it has finally come to the attention of the Village of Bartlett. As seen in the letter, it appears that there has been a complaint. The village's reaction to that complaint is to order me to "cut the grasses to eliminate the hazard". This ignores the many compliments that I have received from passers-by as well as the simple truth that my plants pose no hazard at all.
The threat only addresses the landscaping I have done in the parkway (right of way). Oddly, it specifically mentions prairie grasses. Does that mean the forbs are not a hazard? I have no clue what issue they could have with the flag stones that I placed as a path, but apparently those are hazardous as well.
It was in the middle of 2007 that I went to the Village of Bartlett to discuss my plans for putting native plants in the parkway. I spoke with someone in the public works department. That discussion resulted in disbelief that anyone would not want a lawn in front of their house and a warning from the village arborist that native plants were a lot of work. Not being afraid of work and having already seen the beauty of the native plants in the rest of my yard, I proceeded with the extension of my environmentally friendly and beautiful landscaping.
Now, two years later, it is deemed a hazard and I have been given 3 days to mow or pay the penalty for having someone else mow it. It is not surprising to me that my unique landscaping is misunderstood, but it is surprising that Bartlett chooses to interact with its residents in such a manner. Especially when they pay lip service to being more "green". I guess now that we have compact fluorescents in the town hall, everything is OK.
Does anyone have any advice on how to deal with this? I know that I took a chance when I planted something on the parkway, but I just couldn't bear to maintain a lawn that I disagreed with so much. How can I make them see that they do not have to fear what they have not taken the time to appreciate?July 27, 2009
Today, I noticed that a pair of cardinals in our chokecherry bush was hanging around for what seemed to me to be a very long time for a pair, or even single adult bird.
I left them alone for about thirty minutes and came back to the yard to relax and observe. I heard the short chirps and whistles between the pair and noticed them hopping around in our ash tree, still together. They jumped from branch to branch, making their tiny noises to each other... single chirp, then double chirp, single chirp, then double chirp...
After a few minutes, they both took the short flight back toward the chokecherry, then immediately to our red maple (which is slightly closer than the ash tree) - followed by a scrappy, young chick, flapping its little wings very, very hard. I was amazed and impressed to see such an immature looking cardinal able to fly so well!
I peeked into the tree to get a closer look. The little chick was gray and fuzzy except for some firmer wing feathers. There were no visible crest nor tail feathers yet, and its shape was not very streamlined. It also only called out to its parents if they were very near.
Over the several minutes that I watched, the parents repeatedly left the chick to slowly circle the perimeter of the backyard via short flights and hops through tree branches. The male followed the female and they continued to communicate with each other in short chirps, staying close to each other while moving clockwise around the yard with their chick's tree in the middle. Mom & Pop were never more than about a hundred feet away from Baby. They seemed to be tempting it to try to practice flying some more, the way human parents might coax a toddler to take steps toward them.
I am constantly amazed at the abundance of life attracted to and provided for by our little native oasis, especially when there are a few minutes to pay attention. Which animals are bringing up baby in your yard?
~ BeniaJuly 05, 2009
I awake to a beautiful day and go outside to see what there is to see in Native Suburbia. Glancing around the front yard, I realize that something is missing... my sign post! As I have mentioned before, it is used to display several signs that indicate why my yard looks a little different than those of my neighbors. I have seen many people stop and read it as they are walking down the sidewalk.
Upon closer inspection, I notice that the sign is not actually missing, but is lying on the ground among the plants. It appears that some determined idiot worked the post back and forth enough to break the metal. I had originally used a large branch as my post. After that got dug up and broken off a couple of times, I was forced to supplement with a small metal fence post that I screwed to the original branch. What must I do to protect my little sign from these vandals? I hate to go the concrete route, but I just might...July 03, 2009
We have had a lot of rain over the past few weeks. It really fueled some amazing growth in Native Suburbia. We are surrounded by lush green vegetation and a plethora of wildlife. Most of that wildlife nibbles on grass or scoops up berries, but one visitor that showed up by the thousands is sucking all my blood! There are so many mosquitos outside that I cannot be out there for more than a minute without being surrounded by them. I wonder what they are eating when I am not out there. The poor bunnies must be covered in mosquito bites. I don't know how many bats it would take to eat all of those mosquitos, but I wish a few would stop by my yard to put a dent in their population.June 13, 2009
I have fallen way behind in posting pictures of Native Suburbia. It is so much easier to take them then it is to sort through them and caption them. But enough excuses... at long last I have processed the pictures that we took last summer. So check out the Summer 2008 pictures! The backyard was particularly vibrant with an abundance of flowers and wildlife. Every year is more impressive than the last.June 05, 2009
Today Benia muses about a little time she enjoyed in the back yard...
I saw a male cardinal land on the big nannyberry by the deck, while I was sitting at the table. It was pretty close, but he went in there and kept getting deeper into it. Finally, I heard little chirps and noticed a grayish bird hiding in the branches. The papa fed the baby and they chirped and chirped to each other.
I noticed two young robins high up in the chokecherry. One of them was fiddling around with some of the berries. Then an adult robin flew in and chased the active baby away. Later, I saw a baby robin on the snag and a mama robin came and fed it.
Meanwhile, the house wrens have been defending their territory against a sparrow couple that got aggressive with them. I believe the female wren sings more quietly and raises her tail quite a bit. I thought she was looking for a good time, but I'm not sure. The couple still seem to be working on nesting up the box. They go in and come out and chirp and sing and look around, etc.
A couple of cardinals came and enjoyed the rain garden. The female was down there a long time; the male followed her to it, hovered over for a few seconds, then left. An adult robin took a bath in the bird bath, too, at the same time.
That's about it. It's nice to see so much enjoyment of our native suburbia.May 24, 2009
Yesterday I was relaxing on the deck after doing a few chores around the house, when a fluttering caught my eye. It was the first official monarch butterfly sighting of the season in Native Suburbia! It looks like we have become a monarch rest stop.
I watched as she went round and round the yard stopping at every common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) that she could find. It was interesting to watch because she actually found some little milkweeds that I did not even know were hiding among the other plants. I did not have my camera with me at the time, but sometimes it is nice to just enjoy the sights in Native Suburbia without trying to get that perfect shot.
Later inspection of the milkweed plants confirmed that the monarch was laying eggs on each of them. I am including a picture of one of them. It makes me feel good that we are growing a plant that is so obviously appreciated by wildlife.April 19, 2009
I was working my way through some junk mail today and came across an envelope from Spring-Green "Your neighborhood lawncare professionals". I usually just toss this junk in the recycling bin, but this time I decided to open it up and see what they were offering. It was such a compelling offer that I thought I would share it with you.
According to the letter, the Zouras family can get the Preferred Program 2009 for only $278.97. That represents a discount from the regular cost of $417.15 for a savings of $138.18. This amazing offer would bring Spring-Green to my home 8 times to take care of my landscaping needs. According to them that includes their "preferred fertilization and weed control program plus total lawn insect control for your lawn".
As tempting as that might sound to some, I am certainly not interested in the application of any fertilizers because my native plants do not require them in order to thrive. So I get to save the money and I do not pollute the environment with excess fertilizers.
The weed control program is a little confusing to me, because they never define "weed". I would never consider spraying herbicides on my yard, but I wonder what they would say if I asked them to get rid of the weeds that keep coming into my yard from the neighbors. Of course the most prevalent one is lawn grass. Do you think that Spring-Green has a method for killing that?
I am even more horrified by the "insect control" service. I can only imagine what poisons they would be spreading to kill the oh so terrible INSECTS that might nibble on the plants, provide food for birds, or chew up decomposing organic matter. When will people realize that insects are an important part of the ecosystem? I hope that humans never figure out a way to kill all of the insects that they are trying to eliminate, because it would be catastrophic. Every animal, right down to the smallest ant, has a place in this world and the world cannot operate if all of the stations are not "animaled". I will continue to provide poison free native plants in my yard to attract the insects and give them a habitat to survive in.
So I will not be paying anything to have Spring-Green spread fertilizers and poisons in my yard. My plants and insects will thrive with no help from me other than being left unmolested. I hope you will do the same.April 18, 2009
Benia and I made another appearance at the Natural Garden in St. Charles to tell others about Native Suburbia. We love to share our experiences with other people that are interested in native plant landscaping. Our presentation was well received and the attendees were very engaged and interested.
I learned a valuable lesson about preparing for a speaking engagement. There was almost a disaster as I first arrived and unpacked my stuff, I realized that I had forgotten the cable to connect my laptop to the projector! I had double checked everything except that. Luckily I was able to use a USB drive to copy my pictures to a laptop that The Natural Garden had. I lost the captions that were part of my presentation, but I improvise mostly anyway, so everything worked out. I will be triple checking EVERYTHING for future engagements. I hope they have me back again some day.December 06, 2008
Today we were looking out into the backyard as we often do and one of the stray black cats that visits happened to be out there. He was particularly obvious due to the recent snowfall that we have had here. The yard is very white and he is very black.
The presence of the cat in itself is not very noteworthy. He was having a hard time walking through the relatively deep snow though, so we watched him to see where he would go. He walked up to a clump of Canada wild rye stalks that were heavy with seed heads. After sniffing them for a second he proceeded to start eating them! At first I couldn't believe it, I had never seen a cat eating seeds before. It was confirmed though when he finished with one and then moved on to the next. He continued through the yard and stopped at another bunch for more snacks.
I don't know if this was desperation because it was hard to hunt in the snow, but I was surprised by this behavior so I thought I would share.August 10, 2008
If you have been wondering what Native Suburbia looked like this Spring, then your wait is over. I went through my huge collection of pictures and narrowed them down a little for your viewing pleasure.
I called this the Mega Tour because I found it a little harder to exclude pictures this time and so this set contains over 80 pictures! There is more of a concentration on pictures of individual plants at different stages. I am currently considering how the Native Suburbia site will evolve as the project grows more mature. There will probably be fewer tour picture sets and more specimens.August 03, 2008
It is common for people to approach native plant landscaping from the "butterfly garden" point of view. In Native Suburbia, that was not our primary focus, but it has turned out to be a pleasant side effect.
There has been an abundance of blooms in our yard this summer and this has attracted numerous species of butterflies, bees and wasps. Every day we see busy insects working nearly every flower in the yard. Our most recent arrival is the Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) pictured at left. They seem to really like the purple coneflowers, which worked out well for me. With so much focus on the flower, I was able to get up close and take the picture.
The insects' concentration on the flowers should also reassure anyone who fears bees and wasps. They are far more interested in collecting pollen and nectar than stinging anyone. In fact they can be just as visually interesting as butterflies if you take the time to look. Benia and I often observe them up close and have never been stung. Now if only those pesky mosquitos would learn to love nectar instead of my blood, then all would be peaceful in Native Suburbia!June 16, 2008
The plants between the flagstones of our garden path are now short. That is because I mow them regularly. We finally decided to go with the cordless electric mower. We purchased a Homelite 20" Cordless Electric Mower from the Home Despot. It is not my favorite place to do business, but I was nervous about the purchase of this relatively new technology and I wanted to be able to return it more easily if something goes wrong.
So far there have been no problems. I brought it home and plugged it in to get it charging. The next day I took it for a spin around the path. As expected, it started right up. Despite what all the marketing materials say about electric mowers, this thing is not whisper quiet! It sounds like a very loud fan. It is certainly quieter than a gas mower, but still difficult to talk over. The best thing is that there is no yanking on a pull cord and there are no exhaust fumes.
But back to the cutting... I set the height at about 3.25" so that I can clear my rather bumpy stone path. I also like the way it lets the plants grow in between the stones, albeit in a dwarfed stature. I pushed it around the path and found that it takes two passes to cut the full width. Apparently the path is wider than the 20" cutting width of the mower. I think that the electric mower feels heavier than my old gas mower, but it is on wheels, so I don't have too much trouble pushing it. The exercise is good for me anyway.
The whole job of trimming all of the path winding through Native Suburbia takes less than 10 minutes. I do it about once a week and after 3 or 4 times I am still on the first charge. Of course my "mileage" is probably much better than that reported in the typical online reviews because I am not cutting a thick lawn. The path trimming job is a whole different chore. It remains to be seen how this electric mower will stand up to the spring mulching job.
May 26, 2008
I am continuing to work my way through the photo backlog. The latest set of pictures is from Autumn 2007 and it is now available for your viewing pleasure.
In some ways these pictures are starting to look very similar to previous years in Native Suburbia. I am constantly thrilled by the little things that I see in the yard, but I have been debating whether these photographic tours are still useful. My goal is to show how the project progresses from season to season and year to year. It really puts the timeline into perspective when you realize that it took several years for our yard to reach this point. There are still bare patches that have not yet decided what they want to be when they grow up.
I welcome feedback from you. If you are enjoying the pictures as they are, then let me know. If there is some aspect of the project that is missing, and you think it would be interesting, then definitely let me know.May 20, 2008
I have a lawn mower. A powerful, stinky, loud, gas burning lawnmower. It was purchased many years ago when I bought my first house and I needed it to cut the lawn I had suddenly obtained back in 2000. You might be wondering what does this has to do with a path in Native Suburbia, where there is no lawn.
Now that Benia and I have created Native Suburbia in our yard, the lawn mower is only used once a year. Due to the close proximity of other houses, we have been hesitant to burn our native plants. In fact, I doubt such activity would ever be approved by the village of Bartlett. So in the Spring I have been using the lawn mower to mulch everything. This year, just as I was finishing the yard, I broke the pull string used to start the lawn mower. This made me consider alternatives to fixing it. Using it once a year may not seem too bad compared to the many times I drive my car, but the gas lawn mower is a powerful symbol of the the lawn lifestyle that I have rejected.
Things are getting a little more complex as I have determined that the mower may provide a solution to another problem we are having. Anyone that has seen the pictures of Native Suburbia knows that there is a flagstone path through the entire yard. The gaps between the stones are begging to be filled in. As the plants in our yard continue to multiply and thrive, we get many volunteers to occupy those gaps. Unfortunately, these volunteers would like to grow to be several feet tall, which is not conducive to path walking. In the past, we have been hand pulling anything tall that grows between the stones. This is a time consuming and back breaking chore. It also leaves bare dirt in between the stones except for the wood sorrel that pops up in some places. So getting back to the mower, I am back to considering a mechanized solution to keeping the path in a walkable condition.
I considered a cordless electric string trimmer. Of course the primary benefit would be a powered tool without the gas engine. It's portability would allow me to trim the path without dragging a cord all over my tall prairie plants. On the downside, it would leave tiny bits of nylon cord all over the yard. I may not be able to see them, but I would know that I was putting them there. I wondered if there was a more permanent solution to the trimming string. I wonder what would happen if I used a thin diameter, braided steel cable in place of the nylon string. If both ends were bound tightly it seems like it would last forever against mere plant material. It might be a little more dangerous, but even the nylon string could cause injury. So I would just be a little more careful and stay away from fences with this new mecha-trimmer.
I also considered a cordless electric lawn mower. This would be more powerful than the string trimmer, but also a lot heavier. It has metal blades that will last a very long time. It may still be able to serve the function of mulching my yard in the Spring in addition to maintaining the path during the summer. I just do not know if it will have enough power. I did a ton of review reading online and people either love these things or hate them. It is difficult to know how their experiences would relate to my needs. I also imagine that it would be faster and easier to clear a path by making a single pass over the path with this mower. The stones only make the path about 18" -24" wide anyway. I imagine the string trimmer would require a bunch of waving about to accomplish the job.
So I am still not sure what to do, but I have "weeded" the path once this year already and I would like to avoid a second time now that my back is healed up.