My Evanston journey from industrial gardening and lawn care to organic

When I first began gardening after moving to Evanston from New York City, it was what I would call industrial-style gardening, based on the products I found in the supermarket.  I fertilized flower beds with Miracle Grow, used insecticidal sprays, and put Scott's nitrogen fertilizer with pre-emergent weed killer on the lawn.  The efficient neighborhood lawn-cutter, Pedro Vasquez, kept my grass short and raked away leaves. 

However, in time, I learned that the excessive nitrogen in plant fertilizers encourages too rapid growth, inviting insect attacks and encouraging thatch in the lawn. The lawn products also did not help my lawn stay moist, so I had to regularly water because my yard has droughty, limey, sandy, tan-grey soil.  I also read that pesticides pollute the groundwater and can hurt trees and the soil- and yard-animals that control pests.  There were research studies that suggested that children and pets also can be harmed by some chemicals used in the yard.  And all the care I was doing seemed a lot of work. 

Now I've converted to organic, low maintenance care.  To feed the soil, I use kitchen compost, leaf compost, and an occasional granular organic fertilizer.  The soil in my yard has changed in response.  It is black, greasy, moist, and crumbly, with many worms.  As I weed, the yearling robins follow me, unafraid, to snap up the worms and bugs that I dislodge.  For the lawn, some years I send away for corn gluten granules or buy them at Chalet, and Pedro spreads them on the grass at the time when the Forsythia blooms.  The granules both fertilize and mulch the grass, and I have the grass cut long, for this helps it to shade out weeds and survive droughts.  Because much of the ground in Evanston is sandy and not great for holding moisture, I don't have plugs cut in the lawn.  I rarely have to water, now, either.

Now, my summer flowering plants shrug off the few bugs that get away from the all the insectivores in the yard and don't mind occasional droughts. My trees have grown larger since I moved here, and they shade a lot of my yard.  However, as the Taylor's Guide to Shade Gardening (Frances Tenenbaum, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 1994) says, many popular garden flowers do well with some shade in our Midwestern summers.  For my scented garden I have the old roses, Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis), flowering tobacco (Nicotinana alata), Sweet Alyssum, flowering sage, Agastache, lilies, herbaceous Clematis (Clematis heracleiafolia), and honeysuckle.  For a bit more show, I also have perennial Hibiscus, sun flowers, Jerusalem Artichokes, black eyed susans, orange trumpet vine, and daylilies.


Posted on October 9, 2016 and filed under Local Notes.