Park District of Oak Park is already using native plants

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Sandy Lentz

I couldn't agree more with the basic premise of Adrian Ayres Fisher's Viewpoints piece [Oak Park needs more native plants for its parks, Viewpoints, April 13]. There is increasing recognition of the many values of adding native plants to our landscapes. Natives do provide food and shelter for insects and birds and — because they have lived here for many hundreds, even thousands of years — they are adapted to the climate, tolerating the Midwest's wide temperature and precipitation swings. Natives are tough, beautiful and do not require fussy care. Our park district does, indeed, recognize the values of native plants.

For several years there has been a large native-plant trial garden in Lindberg Park. It has been treated by a controlled burn this spring and last, as the park district develops management techniques to care for native plantings. There are some natives on the hill at Barrie Park; more will be added.

As part of the master plan for Field Park, a long swath of native plants was planted on the west side of the park from the south entrance all the way to the field house. This spring signage will be installed showing park visitors what plant features to look for, and describing the values of these plants. The park district's Greening Advisory Committee, a team of knowledgeable volunteers, helps the park district care for Field Park. Their tasks have included careful weeding of this bed and gathering and replanting seeds, helping this planting to thrive.

In addition, the Herbert Rubinstein Memorial Garden at the Oak Park Conservatory is nearing completion, another master plan project. Jointly funded by the park district, the Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory and the Rubinstein family, this garden, open to the public during conservatory hours and available for private functions when it is not, is being planted with more than 75 percent native plants, including shrubs and trees.

Finally, the temporary fences have gone up at Taylor Park, as work begins on the first phase of its master plan. This includes the large area at the bottom of the hill near the Division-Ridgeland intersection, naturally wet, which will become a wetland and rain garden, planted with carefully chosen natives adapted to these particular conditions.

Citizens can aid in adding the flowers and fruits that provide pollen and food for wildlife. Our gardens do not need to be completely replanted with only plants that have lived within a 25-mile radius for the last millennium: Gardeners can add a fragrant viburnum; chokeberry shrubs that have white flowers in spring, followed by dark berries loved by birds, and bright leaves in the fall. These may be beautifully integrated into existing gardens.

Our park district has been and will continue to integrate native plants into our parks. We gardeners can, and should, do so, too.

Sandy Lentz is an Oak Park resident, member of the Park District of Oak Park Greening Advisory Committee, president of the Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory and a master gardener with the University of Illinois Extension.

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Adrian Ayres Fisher  

Posted: April 23rd, 2011 9:49 AM

Hi Doug, I completely understand the need for safety. I just hope that we can balance our fear of a few criminals with our desire and need to benefit the majority of us law-abiding citizens and the ecosystem. There are low native shrubs that would work well. Strategic plantings would be good. No mass plantings doesn't have to mean no native shrubs.

Douglas Chien from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 3:43 PM

Adrian, I too hardily agreed with the basic premise of your piece. Thanks for writing. Shrubs - as an urban area and since times have changed, shrubs, esp. shrub masses, are generally frowned upon for security reasons. Mainly, they block sight lines. Imagine a squad car rolling by trying to see in. Plus they provide places to hide. Not to say they can't be planted, just the "right plant in the right place" adage now must include safety considerations.

Adrian Ayres fisher  

Posted: April 20th, 2011 5:31 PM

Thanks for this response. I'm glad to hear about the activities of the Greening Advisory Committee and that the Park District has added native plantings to the design program of some parks. Lindberg Park I know well. I hope that, in other locations besides the Conservatory, plans include native shrubs as well as forbs and grasses. But not all of our parks are so privileged. What about Maple Park and Euclid Square? And others such as Fox, now that I think of it. Are native shrubs planned?

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