The day the RoundTable published my essay “Seven Reasons the World Needs Us to Stop Growing Grass Lawns” (Sept. 7), I received an email from an Evanston resident named Howard Alt, saying he loved the article and inviting me to visit his garden.
“If you would want to stop over sometime today and see what I am doing that would be great.”
A week passed before I replied. No answer. Eleven days later, rummaging through papers on my desk, I found a two-page handout Mr. Alt had created, full of resources and sage how-to steps, about his Howard’s End Garden and “Orrington Avenue Native Habitat Initiative.”
I sent another message, asking if I might be able to share his gardening advice in the RoundTable. Howard’s wife, Jane Fulton Alt, wrote back.
“Yes to RoundTable… Maybe give me a call so I can explain?” Mr. Alt had passed away unexpectedly just five days after I had received his email. He was busy replacing his parkway grass with plants until the end.
Howard Alt’s landscaping legacy can be viewed at his Howard’s End Garden at the corner of Orrington Avenue and Haven Street. Ms. Alt said her husband had envisioned a neighborhood and community of interconnected habitat gardens replacing lawns and had created the handout to give others the resources to initiate what he had taken on so passionately.
Ms. Alt has asked Mr. Alt’s “Know Maintenance Garden” mentor Roy Diblik to complete their remaining landscape. A fine art photographer (janefultonalt.com), she has created a Howard’s End Evanston Facebook page to share her photos and memories of her husband and his garden and has set up a memorial Lurie Garden Howard L. Alt Native Garden Fund.
I missed my chance to meet this kindred spirit, but I am grateful that he left this gold mine of information to guide us all toward more life-sustaining home habitats:By Howard Alt
A couple of years ago I became interested in native plants, beneficial insects, birds, and pollinator garden habitats. My inspirations for this included the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park, the work of Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf (world renowned designer of the High Line in NYC as well as Lurie Garden); Roy Diblik at Northwind Nursery, who provided most of the plants at Lurie as well as my 75 to 100 plants for starting my garden (his book, “The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden,” was full of practical plans to get started); and what really provoked a sea change in my thinking about gardening was Doug Tallamy’s book, “Bringing Nature Home,” where he lays out the delicate system between native plants and insects, and gardening as doing one part of restoring our ecology by creating a patchwork quilt of native gardens where nature can work together, and joining other home gardens in the area.
After reading Mr. Tallamy’s book, I was committed to greatly reducing our lawn. I also read Margaret Renkl’s column in the New York Times: “To Nurture Nature Neglect Your Lawn” (April 15, 2019). Thus began the transformation of the backyard border, then the Haven street parkway, followed by taking the plunge and removing my lawn. I ordered 10 yards of leaf mulch from DK Organics (Buffalo Grove) to be dumped on the front lawn. After many trips to Trader Joe’s to collect their empty cardboard boxes, I topped the cardboard with three inches of leaf mulch, watered well and started planting natives.
My most recent project is transforming the front parkway into a “Bee Lawn.” The University of Minnesota has a BeeLab group offering a great PDF with “do it yourself” directions at beelab.umn.edu.
I planted the following native lawn plants: Ground Plum (Astragalus crassicaprus), Lanceleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), Lanceleaf self heal (Prunella vulgarus ssp lanceolata) and Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum).
I then allowed the plants to grow and learned that I should mow them 3.5 inches to 4 inches. Prairie Moon is a good native plant nursery to get seeds for the Bee Lawn, as well as native plants and seeds for the rest of your native garden.
So my new motto is, “Why have a garden when you can have a zoo!!” I have stopped using insecticides and herbicides except for spot attention to the invasive plant in Evanston with yellow buttercups (Lesser Celandine).
I bought a Scott’s push mower. I have put out bird feeders and bird baths. I am leaving “messy areas” of brush for birds, insects, spiders and bees to utilize. In doing this I was able to register with the National Wildlife Federation as an official Wildlife Habitat. This is easy to do by having the five items: food (provided by native plants), water (bird baths, etc.), cover (piles of brush, shrubs), places to raise young (brush piles, shrubs) and sustainable practices (maintain yard and garden in natural ways).
Resources: Gardens to visit:
Lurie Garden Millennium Park: Piet Oudouf’s Masterpiece. luriegarden.org
Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary (Clark Street and Lake Michigan)
Lorraine Morton Civic Center Bird Habitat (Ridge Avenue and Leonard Place)
Ladd Arboretum (north of the Evanston Ecology Center. 2024 McCormick Blvd.)
Eggleston Park Food Forest (McCormick Boulevard and Hartrey Avenue, across McCormick from the Evanston Ecology Center)
YouTube videos: I would recommend starting by watching one of Doug Tallamy’s YouTube interviews and lectures. By searching for Doug Tallamy several come up. He is a great speaker. Then read his book if you are blown away like I was. Also if you want to start your own native garden, get Roy Diblik’s “The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden.”
Books: “Bringing Nature Home” by Doug Tallamy. This is the bible for creating a natural native diverse habitat for insects, birds, bees and butterflies that includes the background data and science.
“The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden” by Roy Diblik of Northwind Nursery near Lake Geneva, Wis. Mr. Diblik helped build Lurie garden and has worked with the famous garden designer Piet Oudolf. Very practical topics are covered, including getting rid of grass, preparing soil, which plants work together, and garden maintenance.
“Planting in a Post-Wild World” by Claudia West and Thomas Rainer. My favorite book that spells out how to think of design with the different layers in a garden (overstory trees, understory trees, shrubs, perennials, ground cover). Pulls it all together.
“Planting: A New Perspective” by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury. Piet Oudolf is considered a brilliant designer who developed a sea change in his design principles. He developed the idea of plant communities living together. He was the designer for the Lurie Garden and for the High Line in New York City. The book offers a great exposition of his design style. Next time you are near the Art Institute of Chicago, walk over to the Lurie Garden just north of the modern wing.
“Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” by Jessica Walliser is a book I love. It identifies the beneficials and plants that attract then. One can let fennel, dill, parsley, cilantro, basil, etc., go to flower as they create their seeds, which attract the beneficial insects.
Native Plant Nurseries: Catalogues are available, and many nurseries offer flats of 40 to 50 one-inch plugs that are easy to plant.
Prairie Moon: Great resource in Minnesota for native plants and seeds. Explains best way to propagate their seeds.
Northwind Nursery in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: Roy Diblik’s place has a great plant selection and will offer garden design ideas. He is also a Carex specialist, sedges that can replace your lawn or be utilized in a garden composition.
Possibility Place Nursery: Appointments are required; located in Monee, Illinois. I highly recommend downloading their catalogue because it is full of educational material on natives, different types of gardens, etc.
Itzel, Pizzo, Agrecol: three nurseries offering native flats.
Organizations: National Wildlife Federation (can get certified) Natural Habitat Evanston e-newsletter: Leslie Shad has been involved in local native habitat issues, and has helped support Evanston’s push to have more people get involved with native plants. Three groups in Evanston are involved in these issues: Citizens’ Greener Evanston, which is the umbrella for Edible Evanston and Natural Habitat Evanston, greenerevanston.org.
Social Media Inspiration: Lurie Garden (Instagram); Roy Diblik from Northwind Nursery; Zorrobird,Wildmarymary, wearetheearth.org; Jessicawalliser.
Podcasts: “Cultivating Place” with Jennifer Jewel, a Native Plant Podcast; “PolliNation, A Way to Garden” with Margaret Roach.