January 11, 2008

A PRAIRIE IN THE CITY




The garden above looks more like a park setting than an apartment building. How many apartment buildings have you seen in a big city with a garden like it ? I'd venture to guess none at all. This garden is in a large apartment complex at the end of my street and at one time was home to drug users, alcoholics and other direlicts. I contacted the slumlord and let him know that the residents would no longer tolerate the conditions of his building and would report him for violations to the city.

Much to my surprise and delight , he took me at my word and sold it to a reputable owner who proceeded to fix it up and got decent tenants. A friend of his, a Botanist who knew plants but not much about garden design or maintenance, installed the garden above. The owner told me that he wanted "no maintenance " ( translation : grass ) and thought that by planting masses of perennials he'd have no work. I just rolled my eyes.

There were very few evergreens or deciduous shrubs for structure so in the winter it was a bare, brownish gray landscape devoid of any plants or winter interest. In the summer the masses of spreading perennials were lovely but without care soon became a jungle of overcrowded plants vying for nutrients. It looked a lot like a wild prairie and I'm sure it was home to a lot of rodents, a big problem in the city.

Then came word that the building was being sold to a developer who was turning it into condos. The first thing to go was the garden. $75,000 worth of plants ! The developer spread the word that anyone could take whatever they wanted and of course the neighborhood descended upon the garden like vultures . At least most of the plants were saved and replanted in neighbors yards. The weeping purple beech ( middle photo ) a pricey tree worth at least $600-$700, unfortunately was too large to be dug and was destroyed.

The landscape now is a grand brick paved courtyard with two huge fountains, lawn and shrubs, more in keeping with the grandeur of the historic architecture . Not as wild and pretty as the prairie for sure, but much more practical.

Because the garden had so many different varieties of perennials, I used it on our walk to teach new gardeners . Of course as a designer I pointed out the flaws in planting without structure or aforethought. I'll miss the summer show but I'm glad I made the photos to remind me of it.

12 comments:

  1. It is beautiful indeed. It reminds me of the Ripley garden in Washington D.C. that I visited last August (I have photos of it on my blog).

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  2. Thanks, Phillip. I'll visit your blog to see the photos of the Ripley garden.

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  3. Wow! I love this one, Carolyn, and good for you for moving along a slumlord. It's a lovely garden, and a great inspiration for others designing gardens around large residential buildings like this.
    The only drawback to living in the Maritimes? We don't have any prairie!

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  4. Thanks, Jodi. A prairie garden is lovely, indeed. Sorry that you don't have any there.

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  5. Just thinking about destroying that weeping Beech makes me want to cry! It's too bad the new owner couldn't figure out a way to keep some of it. How refreshing it must have been to have all those plants there - mentally & physically. I'm sure the plants cut down on the heat in the summer. I remember living on the third floor of a brick courtyard building during the drought summer of 1988 & how hot it got in the afternoon as the bricks retained & radiated heat. We need to get the word to Chicago landlords about rain gardens & ways of cutting down the heat island effect. Daley's green roof program is a good start though.

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  6. Thanks, MMD. I tried to save the Beech but it was simply too large to be moved.
    Mayor Daley has done a great deal for greening up Chicago with his green roof program and I love the islands that are planted so beautifully in the city.

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  7. Hey, Jodi. Thanks for your comment.

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  8. It looks really pretty in your pictures, Carolyn, but I can see how it could get overgrown and wild, too. My grandma has a next-door neighbor at her condos that has a "butterfly garden" in her courtyard area (not enclosed however) and it really does get out of control.

    I hate hearing about the beech being lost. :-(

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  9. Hey, Kylee,
    It was very pretty but as I mentioned, after some time it became out of control and much like a weed patch.

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  10. I'm glad most of the plants were saved, although I loved the jungley prairie. Thank you for the pictures.

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  11. That is a great urban landscape and I'm glad that they gave away the plants.

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