Please enjoy this tour of a Re-Ecology LTD project!
Contact us if you would like more details about this project, or if you would like to transition your corporate site to a sustainable and beautiful landscape!
This video was made in December 2018.
My role on this project was design and oversight for a specialty landscape contractor (who was NOT the regular contractor maintaining the site). As we transitioned the site, the team, I worked for was responsible for all stewardship gardening in the “re-ecologized” areas.
The number of Monarch butterflies attracted to the new “re-ecology” plantings was stunning and magical!
Sometimes people asked why I started my own company…. many reasons
Mostly because I love designing, creating, and managing/stewarding the landscapes we impact, build on, and create.
I also found myself on design teams for great landscapes, and some that could have been great, but for the forces of how we manage and steward our landscapes over time. They don’t line up…. sadly, in many situations….
I thought we should manage our lands more like a farmer, a gardener, a parent. We should steward them, encouraging growth, life, abundance and flourishing. After all Beauty is a force of Nature, and Nature is, after all, Beauty.
Lately, I find myself doing more and more explorations of places, and recording thoughts and observations. Not sure where it is going, but it seems a great treat to spend time watching the spring SPRING this year, in the midst of unprecedented times.
You might enjoy this little walk from a few days ago
What a treat to have already installed a garden this season! These native plants will thrive, and as spring comes and the soil warms, their roots will go deep.
It is exciting that this back yard gets quite a bit of sun. The plantings were composed to create privacy for the hammock, a great home for a new Oak tree, support for #birdsbeesandbutterflies and such. Though the plants are protected from rabbits now by a mesh fence, we anticipate this garden will be tough enough to co-exist and feed the bunnies after the plants establish (but that will depend a little on the hawks).
Most of the plants were installed as “plugs” – very small handfuls of dirt and roots. This gives them the chance to establish quickly in their new home. During the first year or two the plants will put most of their energy into sending out roots. Some of these plants can have root systems that go 8 to 12 feet deep! By year two and three, the plantings will start to really express their structure. The matrix areas will share, intertwine, and co-create throughout the seasons. The larger, more “wow” plants, like the Silphiums and Liatris will make great eye-catchers while other tall and full prairie plants create some privacy.
The shade matrix area includes two to three species of sedges, maybe more. Interplanted in them are Phlox, some Allegheny Spurge I wanted to try having seen it coated in pollinators at a property in St. Charles last spring, and some other plants. There are three species of Penstemon interplanted in this garden. The locations were chosen based on the anticipated sunlight. Penstemon is a reliable, “well-behaved” genus, and the plants are lovely, flowering for quite a long time. Some species are quite early, and some start later but continue flowering for many weeks.
Panicum virgatum and a couple species of Joe Pye Weed will help providing privacy. Several Lindera benzoin, Northern Spice Bush, will provide swallowtail habitat, and smell delicious! Hand pruning will keep them from getting to large. There is a nice place to put the hammock stand next to the Oak, and watch the bird bath. Once the plants grow and flower, one could spend all afternoon watching the pollinators, and in the fall, watching the birds collect seeds.
There should be an array of pollinators on the Vernonia fasciculata, Ironweed. There is plenty of Asclepias, or milkweed, also. Helenium autumnale is a rubust and gorgeous performer. This plant will likely grow large fairly quickly, but after a few years decide to move to a different location. Remember, Nature can’t be tamed or controlled, just observed, guided and nudged.
Another favorite plant to provide quick size and many flowers in this type of soils is Solidago speciosa. Here is a picture of it in Wisconsin loaded with butterflies. It is one of my very favorite plants. In the Wisconsin Sand Barrens, it is small. I have also seen it in large colonies. Here is a great picture of a single plant.
There is an elderberry and a serviceberry that will provide delicious berries – as long as you beat the birds to them!
To help screen the view of the garages in the back of the lot, several plant types were intermixed to provide a naturalistic screen and a sense of depth. We wanted this to be effective reasonably quickly, but within budget. There are also overhead powerlines. Five Rhus typhina are carefully located back there, and in a few years will be quite noticeable, especially in the fall when they turn glorious red-orange. Over time, it will take some strategic pruning and guiding to keep these plants proper in size and shape for the job they are being asked to do, but this is part of the fun. I even imagine walking below their canopy or sitting on a chair in their shade in a few years, hidden from the outside world.
This is a good time to talk a little about how gardens are never stagnant or stationary. The garden is ruled by Nature, and She is always evolving. Stewardship Gardening is the term I use to describe the kind of insight, planning, and work that goes into keeping the determined (even evolving) aesthetic strong in a designed landscape, even as it evolves over time. This work also allows the ecological value of the landscape to be. This is a big discussion, and I think there might be a post here somewhere that talks about it a little….. …to be continued another time
All plants used in this landscape are indicated as being native to Illinois except the Allegheny Spurge which tends to be from farther east, and the Amelanchier, which is a cultivar, and the two Thuja cultivars. No other cultivars, and no exotic plants were used.
I assure you working with Piet is as wonderful as this video that so beautifully and eloquently explains and shows….. During these unprecedented times, the soul is telling us many things, if we are still enough to hear. To find solace, peace, and inspiration in Nature is my love, and a love I work to share. We all can have a wonderful garden. It can be a few square feet, a container, or as big as the land you have for it….!
I had fun sharing my experiences, observations, and strategies for “re-ecologizing” with Wild Ones, West Cook this past weekend…. Here are a few snippets from the presentation I gave. I discussed plant community-based design, and native-plant-community based design and installation and stewardship gardening, and touched on soil health and, of course, monarchs.
Come on a journey with me. I have a tale of butterflies, native plants community-based designed landscapes, and soil life. It is a story of beauty and abundance, design legibility and soils health. I will talk about how to shift the landscape maintenance paradigm to stewardship gardening, and how, on a location with a 30-plus year legacy of non-native plants and conventional maintenance practices, the changes I made in design and management brought this site more monarch butterflies than I could count.
Our everyday landscapes can be of life, of butterflies, of pollinators. It is not hard. It is not unnatural. It does require doing things differently, and freeing ourselves from conventional landscape contractor business metrix, and an expectation of artificiality that so many people seem to have. I will talk about how these life-supporting landscapes are not far away, not alien, because we are of Nature, and Nature has the answers for us.
I founded Re-Ecology LTD based on this shift to a different way of thinking and doing. At Re-Ecology LTD, we think in terms of growth and abundance, and balance and versatility. We “do” in ways that supports what nature would do without us, while we shepherd and guide to increase what we want.
We are fortunate. Our metropolitan area has wonderfully preserved open public lands, and a strong legacy of ecological restoration. But what about our everywhere landscapes? What about the spaces we walk by from the car park and the back door, the parking lot at work and the building entrance, the stormwater detention area? How do we bring healthy, abundant landscapes to our everyday spaces?
Bringing ecologically positive landscapes to our built places is not difficult. Creating designs based on native plant communties, and creating and maintaining the intended design vision over time, are two of the keys to success. Keeping the landscapes “stewardship gardened” in a way more akin to ecological stewardship allows these plants to thrive; keeping the landscape architect involved over time assures the intended design legibility is realized. Landscapes are living systems, and they are an investment, and they should provide increased ecological services over time.
When we shift our thinking to a life and abundance centered practice away from a subtractive conventional landscape paradigm, we allow not only the plants, but the life that they support, including ultimately our own lives, to thrive. We can have better environmental health, more thriving beauty, better performing green stormwater infrastructure, and butterflies for our children to admire with wonder.
I hope you can join me at West Cook WildOnes next week. -Alexia Paul, RLA, LEED AP Re-Ecology LTD
Urban trees are part of our infrastructure. They must co-exist with all the curbs, paving, utilities, and our movements. Various soils and media are available to help address issues like compaction of the growing media, and heaving of paved areas due to tree roots.
I have done projects in the past where we spec’d CU-Structural Soil ® or a similar method to allow great tree growth and thriving amidst lots of built infrastructure demanding structural stability, tight spaces, or other factors. It works.