Take a (virtual) walk on the wild side

West Cook Wild Ones hosts online garden walk Sept. 12

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

In a typical August, West Cook Wild Ones has one of its busiest months, preparing for a garden walk and native plant sale that help further the nonprofit organization's mission of helping area gardeners make their yards welcoming to animals and insects and by creating healthy native plant and animal environments. 

This year has been anything but typical, and when it became clear that the impact of COVID-19 would be long-lasting, West Cook Wild Ones decided to take its garden walk to the internet. 

Their virtual walk takes place on Saturday, Sept. 12, and members have been hard at work to create an experience that brings local gardens into viewers' homes. 

West Cook Wild Ones board member and walk organizer Laura Hartwell Berlin says that the in-person walk usually covers 10 gardens in the Oak Park and River Forest area, and attendees could go to one or all of the gardens featured. 

"This spring, we became concerned that we couldn't do the walk in person in August, so we decided to focus on smaller numbers," Berlin said.

While there will be three gardens featured, the online event will go in depth into each gardener's unique space.

"We selected gardeners who have been gardening with native plants for a while," Berlin said. "All of the gardeners are on the board of West Cook Wild Ones. Adrian focuses on bees, Stephanie has a focus on butterflies and Candace has a lot of space to showcase a variety of plants."

Berlin adds that two of this year's gardens are in Oak Park and the third is in Berwyn, which makes a welcome expansion for the walk. The online format allows for a mixture of videos and photographs, with each gardener sharing scenes of their gardens from three seasons. 

West Cook Wild Ones board member Adrian Ayres Fisher is excited to share her garden during the virtual event. She says that each of the three featured gardeners will spend about 25 minutes sharing photos and videos of their gardens while also sharing how they take care of their spaces.

Fisher says she has been in her south Oak Park home since 1986 and has been gardening with native plants for over 30 years. She had always loved visiting local forest preserves and wondered why the plants there looked so different than what she saw in planned gardens. 

She read the book "Noah's Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards" by Sara Stein, which sparked her interest in native plants. She then found sellers Art and Linda Wildflowers at the Oak Park Farmers Market, who provided some of the early native plants for her garden.

Fisher points out that because our ecosystem is unique to where we live, plants that are native to the area are the best adapted to live there and attract the bugs, birds and bees that are a vital part of the ecosystem.  

"If you want birds around, they have to have something to eat and feed their young," Fisher said. "Most birds eat insects. Insects like to eat certain types of plants. What you're doing when you plant native plants is feeding into the whole ecosystem. Plus, it's beautiful."

Fisher has been taking photos in her Oak Park yard since early March and will present photos of her garden throughout the seasons. She says that showcasing her garden through the seasons is a particular pleasure, because she really enjoys seeing the changes that take place there every year.

"In the spring, there is Woodland Jacob's Ladder and Virginia bluebells," Fisher said. "In the summer, the prairie plants grow tall. In the fall, the purple cone flowers start to go brown and begin forming seed heads, which the gold finches love. My favorite part is the way everything works together."

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