With the announcement of Montrose Green–a community garden in collaboration with the Peterson Garden Project–and the Parkway Corners Initiative, Northcenter is fast becoming the little green neighborhood on the prairie.
“Our overall mission is to reduce climate change; one part is plant sources,” says Elizabeth Wenscott, a member of the Northcenter Neighborhood Association’s (NNA) environmental committee. “Parkways, corners, homes, gardens—all things that are green, including green roofs–we’re looking at as an asset, an opportunity for education, a way of reducing carbon, adding beauty and providing food for birds, bees, bats and butterflies.”
Montrose Green will be Northcenter’s first organic community garden. Located on a vacant lot at 1819 W. Montrose Ave., the garden is being funded by NNA and an anonymous donor. The land, which is the future home of a proposed mixed-used commercial and residential building, is on a temporary loan of sorts; NNA expects the site to be available for two growing seasons.
The sign-up for plots begins online April 2 through the Peterson Garden Project, which is hosting five community gardens in 2012. A total of 125 plots are planned: 20 will be designated “Grow2Give” beds, with the food donated to Common Pantry; 10 have been set aside for local restaurants; the remainder are available to individuals and families for $65 per plot, per season.
The Parkway Corners Initiative is also still accepting applicants. For this effort, NNA is teaming with the North Branch Restoration Project to convert 14 of Northcenter’s parkway corners from turf to native plants.
“It’s partly creating a new relationship with the corner,” says Wenscott, “and planting wiser plants. People are hurting for land or maybe they don’t have a sunny spot in their yard. The corner is an extension of their home.”
Native wildflowers and grasses are deeper-rooted than turf, according to Wenscott, meaning they pull water further underground. Given that corners tend to be adjacent to catch basins, this means less water will wind up flooding streets during heavy rains.
NNA trialed the project last year at a single corner. “It was gorgeous,” Wenscott says. “People absolutely adored it; the neighborhood threw a party.” Then, less than a month ago, a construction vehicle “just mowed it over.”
To avoid such mishaps in the future, NNA is coordinating with 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar’s office to determine when utility providers and other crews will be digging up corners. Consulting that schedule will allow the group to hold up planting until the work is completed.
“All of the parkways, they all have services underneath, whether it’s gas, water mains or electricity,” says Wenscott. “We’re going to have to go through those growing pains.” Now, once a new corner is safely planted, signage and fencing will serve to educate work crews. “Our hope is that service providers have a more gentle approach.”
In teaming with the North Branch Restoration Project, NNA will receive free plants from the private gardens of NBRP participants, “heavy hitters” in the world of native plant experts. “Their feeling was that a lot of the time, the people who come to volunteer [with them] are people who are plant lovers. They don’t reach the average Jane and Joe, and this will,” says Wenscott of NBRP’s decision to collaborate with NNA. “This is a great urban experiment for them.”
Because so many native plants, such as cone flowers, have a tendency to multiply profusely, in the coming years, future parkways will be populated with cuttings from existing corners, making the project self-sustaining.
In choosing which 14 corners to plant in 2012, NNA is strategically selecting applicants based on a combination of factors, including the group’s desire to spread the plantings throughout Northcenter. “We don’t want to just go up and down one street,” says Wenscott, though one model intersection will have all four corners planted to demonstrate what the parkways would look like with all corners turned over from turf.
Each corner needs a minimum of three stewards to guarantee maintenance of the plantings, rather than just the resident whose home sits on the corner lot. “It changes the corner to being about the whole neighborhood,” she says.
Though selected applicants will have their choice of plants provided by NBRP, NNA is asking that the plantings include a variety to ensure three seasons of blooming. Says Wenscott, “We want them to be beautiful as long as possible.”