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Life Arts    H3'ed 8/23/20

Suburban Oasis Sublime Refuge for Butterflies and Two-Legged Creatures

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My guest today is my neighbor, Lizette White. Welcome to OpEdNews, Lizette.

Joan Brunwasser: How have you been getting by during the pandemic?

Lizette White: Well, in addition to working from home, I've been doing a lot of cooking and making the most of my time at home cleaning, doing home repairs and gardening--a LOT of gardening.

JB: Yes, that's where I see you when I pass on my daily walks. Tell us a little about your gardening style. What are you going for?

LW: I like a broad mix of plants, and I try to choose what is especially attractive to bees or butterflies. Some of my style grew from not having a lot of money to spend on plants, so I accepted any offers from friends and fellow gardeners, and figured out how to incorporate whatever they shared into my yard. I tend to be soft-hearted, too, saving the "orphan" perennials left on the shelves at the end of the season and finding somewhere in the yard to give them a chance. A few of my bushes and a grape vine are actually my family heirlooms; they are cuttings taken from plants that were originally in my grandfather's yard in Wilmette close to 100 years ago.

Lizette: 'Overgrown jungle or butterfly snackbar'
Lizette: 'Overgrown jungle or butterfly snackbar'
(Image by Lizette White)
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JB: How cool about the family heirlooms plants! And it's wild to think about having something from Wilmette [neighboring suburb] that's almost 100 years old. Does having those plants in your own yard make you feel closer to your family and your roots?Was your grandfather a big gardener, too?

LW: You know, I don't really know whether Pop White was a gardener. My parents had me, their youngest, when they were older, so I never knew my grandparents. I do know that the plants were important enough to my dad to get cuttings from his parents' backyard and bring them to his own home. (My grandpa owned a butcher shop on Central in Wilmette across from St. Joe's church, and the family lived upstairs.)

I find it amazing that plants seem almost immortal sometimes. You prune and split and replant, or take a cutting, and they can go on and on. I have an asparagus fern that was my brother's, and he died in 1994. It's a living connection to the person and to the past.

JB: Yes, indeed. You don't even need the plant itself to evoke memories. Every time I pass a lilac in bloom, it brings me back to the yard of the house I grew up in. It's a lovely reminder that randomly hits and is most welcome when it does. You've chosen to do what a non-gardener might term a "distinctly unEnglish garden". Tell us how you decided on that style.

LW: Ha! If you mean by "unEnglish" that I don't have symmetrical lines of little "soldiers" all marching in a row, I admit that is true. I love symmetry and those perfect gardens you see in photos, and if I had a billion dollars and three people on my gardening staff, I'd be happy to have that (at least at one of my homes). But, since it is just me and (as much as I can persuade him into helping) my boyfriend, Dave, I have to adjust my expectations. Trying to be perfect would leach all the joy out of working in the garden. Plus, I think that Mother Nature likes things a little willy-nilly. I read a little while ago that it has been found that plants perform better when there are small clusters of them mixed throughout clusters of other plants. A huge garden of one type of plant is not as healthy overall as a mixed garden.

Echinacea, Joe Pye Weed and Rose Campion
Echinacea, Joe Pye Weed and Rose Campion
(Image by Lizette White)
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JB: That's so funny. Because I've seen your lush and helter-skelter front yard, I wouldn't have taken you for an English garden kind of gal under any circumstances. Things are a lot different this year, besides for COVID, than they were for you a year ago. You wouldn't be doing all this gardening, for one thing. Want to talk about that a bit?

LW: This has definitely been a very strange year for everyone. I took a full week off work in April, and I spent as much time as possible working on the garden. Plus, while working from home, I have used the time I usually spend commuting to get my hands dirty, so I have probably spent more time working in the garden this year than in the past two or three years combined. I find it comforting and peaceful, so the "work" is not really work to me. And it is an ongoing cycle, so being out in nature reminds me constantly that life keeps renewing itself, no matter what. It's calming and centering, and definitely a good message to repeat to oneself during a pandemic.

JB: It is definitely "comforting and peaceful" as you say. I was talking more about what was going on with you health-wise, last year.

LW: Ah! Well, much of last summer I was in a "boot" due to the removal of a bone spur on my heel, and I missed out on most of my gardening season. It was excruciating to watch the season go by and not even be able to push the lawn mower! It definitely left me feeling...empty? regretful? Not sure what is the exact right term, but the world passed me least the garden world. I compensated by helping "head start" some monarch caterpillars inside, so I brought some nature indoors that way. We ended up releasing 50 butterflies in several small clusters, which was a great feeling! Still, I missed being outdoors and with my hands in the dirt.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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