With spring around the corner and plants pushing their way into the light, as the days lengthen and the air warms, it is a good time to plan what and where to plant. I can’t wait to see the result of many changes in my garden that took place last summer and fall.
These changes were prompted by the wish to create a more sustainable garden and one that attracted birds and pollinators. I was also interested in increasing the amount of plants that are edible and native to my area. As I pursued this effort, I learned about a program run by the University of Illinois extension that encourages and supports gardeners in just these endeavors. Through the (https://fpdcc.com/nature/conservationathome/)
[email protected] program, residents of Cook County are encouraged to adopt “Forest Preserves Friendly” practices while providing wildlife and native plant habitat in residential, school and workplace gardens.
When a friend suggested that I might qualify to be a part of this program, I was surprised and excited. I liked the idea that my garden could be objectively evaluated by people who know a lot about gardening was very appealing. I have a helper in my garden and we agreed to work hard to meet thee qualifications for the certificate. Much of the fall was devoted to removing invasive plants, mulching heavily with free mulch from a community bin, increasing the number of native plants, composting, improving the soil and conserving water.
I was asked to send photos of the garden. Looking at those photos now inspires me to start seedlings and to be prepared to plant edibles as soon as possible. One of the advantages of receiving certification is the opportunity to receive information about special online classes and local plant sales.
[email protected] began 25 years ago as a way to encourage and recognize environmentally sound landscape practices being used at homes, schools, and communities in northeastern Illinois. [email protected] was developed by The Conservation Foundation and has been brought to Cook County through a partnership between Forest Preserves of Cook County and University of Illinois Extension.
I was so pleased when the day finally arrived for Colleen Graudins and Stephanie Kenny to evaluate my garden. Had we done enough? YES! But the frosting on the cake was the individual advice we were given about plants I did not know were invasive. “Unfortunately, it has spread from landscaping plantings and has become invasive in native habitats. The native burning bush (Euonymus atropurpureus), commonly known as eastern wahoo, is unfortunately lesser known and nurseries and greenhouses often only carry the exotic varieties.” I appreciated the suggestions we were given for plants that would attract birds and pollinators, and the follow up report sent to me.
The moment that the [email protected] sign was posted in my yard, I felt rewarded and motivated to continue to improve the garden. I think it is a program to be commended.
Encouraging Environmentally Sound Landscape Practices
[email protected] Cook County recognizes and certifies properties that demonstrate environmentally sound landscape practices. Through the [email protected] certification program, residents of Cook County have the opportunity to shape their private and community landscapes in a conservation-minded way with guidance and criteria provided for them. Below you will find criteria for homes, schools, and community settings.
This program is brought to you by the partnership of Forest Preserves of Cook County and University of Illinois Extension.
Cook County Yard Certification Process
For a one-time fee of $50, certified home gardeners will receive a [email protected] sign to post in their yard, a subscription to our seasonal newsletter, and early notifications/discounts during native plants sales. *Fee waivers are available for those with financial needs.
Photos: Courtesy of the author