By: Dana Foley
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Living in the Midwest means summer is heavily rejoiced. This year, we hit negative 55 degrees in January with the wind chill, Chicago wind is no joke. Do you know what that means? It means that hot water thrown out the window freezes instantly. Because of this, I started planning our urban garden earlier than usual.
I was raised just north of Chicago by parents who loved their yard so much that my dad was known for stopping a game of catch to grab a few weeds that were in his eye-line. My mom had a garden which allowed for a few fresh vegetables all summer long. Alongside the family garden, I chose a few plantings of my own and cultivated that area in the summer. When I had my daughter, I started a vegetable garden outside my door and she loved spying the vegetables and eating snap peas off the vine. As I grew, our gardening evolved into what I call, The Farm.
The Farm consists of two, large raised beds filled with organic mulch and mushroom compost. My dad created the design for their yard and then we did the same ones here.
As if growing vegetables wasn’t exciting enough, the plight of the butterflies and the need for native plants especially in the state of Illinois where our state butterfly is nearing extinction, became my next challenge. In Illinois, the answer as to how to save the monarchs is with milkweed. This flowering grows like, wait for it, a weed and is happy almost everywhere. Check out more here.
Because The Farm, grows lots of Illinois natives already with an abundance of corn, pollinators can fuel their rise to greatness. We sat down and researched not only the plants needed but also where to purchase them. Rule of thumb is to buy native plants at local nurseries who also grow their own plants in their own greenhouses. Due to the Chicago winters, we need plants that have been sown in hearty environments to ensure they can survive here.
We set off to our favorite nursery that is equipped with its own greenhouses and master gardeners and explained our mission: Illinois native plants to encourage all the pollinators we can have. Pesches delivered. https://www.pesches.com
What did they deliver? They empowered us with knowledge to create the butterfly garden of our dreams as well as supporting out local neighbors. Our milkweed not only brought butterflies to the yard, but we had a family of cardinals settle in, have babies, and then leave to build their next dream home. One side of our yard became an emporium for Illinois finest and the feeder was being filled daily.
Along with planting the plants, we also distributed bugs. I allowed two praying mantis eggs to hatch in my house. Each egg yields 500 of these plant friendly insects. (Cue panic). We managed to keep them contained in our house and ceremoniously released them in early June. These eggs can also be purchased at most nurseries.
After a few days these lovely leggy residents faded into the background of our yard however they appear when we least expect them to say hi!
How can you help? Know where your plants come from. This message has been said over and over but, shop local. Find a nursery that grows their own natives. Most nurseries have master gardeners on staff during peak planting seasons. Creating your own pollinator friendly yard can be done and the joy it brings is insurmountable.