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Spring Planting

Whether you live in a city apartment or a suburban home, the popularity of gardening is on the rise for many reasons, whether for aesthetic and spiritual fulfillment, sensory enjoyment, climate consciousness or to grow healthier food. Spring is around the corner and avid gardeners are busy planning for the coming planting season. 
Chicago is one of the most aware and progressive cities in the country, if not the world in terms of having a “green consciousness.” Leslie Kaufman wrote in 2011 in the New York Times, “A City Prepares for a Long-Term Forecast,” “Chicago...is way out in front of most [cities] in terms of adaptation. The effort began in 2006, under the mayor at the time, Richard M. Daley.... Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration [has] said he is committed to moving the goals of the plan forward albeit with an added emphasis on ‘projects that accelerate jobs and economic development....’”
The Mayor’s economic vision notwithstanding, there are legions of novices yearning to dig around in the dirt and the city is doing a lot to afford them and others who don’t have gardening space the opportunity. There are over 600 documented and active community gardens across 50 wards. (greennetchicago.org).
For those who have their own landscaping vision, there are a growing number of professionals out there who can provide expert advice and labor. “We are seeing homeowners wanting to create outdoor spaces,” says Erin Canterbury, Landscape Designer for Christy Webber Landscapes. “By building living spaces on their home or garage roofs, they are truly creating home additions that serve as entertainment getaways.”
When planning an outdoor space, some research into projected climate changes can be helpful. Weather extremes require careful consideration and options may be subject to droughts, severe on again-off again freezing, water shortages, etc. 
Long dry spells can wreak havoc with your garden. Christy Webber Landscapes website warns their readers “Don’t Dry Out. While most grasses and shrubs can deal with low precipitation, even the most hearty will succumb to browning and loss of leaves during extreme heat and drought.”
Using drought resistant plants and learning to protect plants and vegetables in weather extremes will preserve soil nutrients and roots. Gray water and irrigation systems allow the useful recycling of non-potable water. Not only do you reduce consumption of freshwater, it goes a long way in reducing water bills.
Gray water is defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as, “reusable wastewater from residential bathroom sinks, bathtub shower drains and clothes washing equipment drains. Gray water can be used onsite, typically for landscape irrigation. Use of non-toxic and low sodium soap and personal care products are required to protect vegetation when reusing gray water for irrigation.”
Do not use gray water on seedlings and apply it directly to the soil when using it on other plants. Also use it on mulch. Never store it for more than 24 hours as it can breed bacteria.
Barriers will become more important as weather grows more extreme. Companies such as Unilock and Lurvey create paved garden walls and retainers that can last for many decades. Materials such as marble, granite, slate, and sandstone require sealers that protect against water, mildew, mold and grease damage, as well as bird droppings. 
Barriers can take many different forms; for example, Dr. Gareth Evans, writes in his online article, “What the Changing Climate Means for Garden Design,” a list of barriers that can protect your personal paradise:

  • Wind-breaks/wind-proof fencing
  •  Waterproof garden walls 
  •  Raised beds, ponds and water features
  •  Path and driveway gullies to channel water safely away from the protected area
  •  Temporary or permanent shading to reduce evaporative water loss during drought

Weather has always been one of the challenges of the gardener. While these challenges may require some flexibility and knowledge, and at times, innovative thinking and planning, they are only opportunities to the many gardeners who love to garden and design their environment.

Published: February 22, 2014
Issue: Winter 2014 Issue