Native Medicinal Garden latest in Elgin’s blooming network
By Emily McFarlan firstname.lastname@example.org May 31, 2012 7:46PM
A withered Monarda grand parade plant is showered with drops of water from a nearby sprinkler after being planted during the hot Memorial Day weekend at the Elgin Public Museum. May 30, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Elgin Community Garden Network 2012 Gardens
Abbott Middle School, 949 Van St.
Boys & Girls Club, 355 Dundee Ave.
Buena Vista/Fleetwood, 1293 Amanda Circle
Centre of Elgin, 100 Symphony Way
Channing Elementary School, 63 S. Channing St.
Clifford Court Public Housing, Clifford Court
Eastside Recreation Center, 1080 E. Chicago St.
Elgin Community Church, 991 Deborah Ave.
Elgin Public Museum, 225 Grand Blvd. in Lords Park
Gail Borden Public Library, 270 N. Grove Ave.
Garfield Elementary School, 420 May St.
Hawthorne Hill Nature Center, 28 Brookside Drive
In The Neighborhood Deli, 185 N. Edison Ave.
Larkin Center, 1212 Larkin Ave.
Lords Park Zoo, Lords Park
Rakow Library Branch, 2751 W. Bowes Road
Salvation Army, 316 Douglas Ave.
Second District Appellate Courthouse, 55 Symphony Way
Tyler Towers, 1450 Plymouth Lane
Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin, 39W830 Highland Ave.
United Methodist Church, Randall Road and Highland Avenue
SOURCE: Elgin Community Garden Network on Facebook
Updated: July 6, 2012 9:42AM
ELGIN — Record-breaking heat isn’t the best weather for gardening, either for the sweating volunteers or the slightly mopey-looking plants that were wavering under a sprinkler Wednesday outside the Elgin Public Museum.
But about four brave Elgin-area residents nonetheless turned out Memorial Day weekend to help museum staff plant its new Native Medicinal Garden in the savannah of native plants outside the museum in Elgin’s Lords Park, according to museum education coordinator Sarah Russell.
That’s an extension of the Three Sisters Garden museum that staff started last year and one of more than 21 gardening projects the Elgin Community Garden Network has its hands in this summer.
Gardening has “really blown up,” Russell said.
“I feel like sometimes it’s because we’re so removed on a daily basis from nature so often,” she said. “I think there’s a pushback on that.”
Russell said people also are learning about — and have become more concerned about — chemicals and processes used in producing food.
That’s something that documentaries such as “Food Inc.” and the recent outcry over the process used to produce lean finely textured beef — “pink slime” — have highlighted. And it’s something Russell said people can control when they garden and grow their own food.
Donna Askins, president of the Elgin Community Garden Network, called it “the best food in the world.”
It’s also one of the many benefits to students in School District U46 schools with community gardens, such as Abbott Middle, Channing Memorial Elementary and Garfield Elementary schools, all in Elgin.
Other benefits include exercise and increased self-esteem, Askins said.
Plus, Russell said, gardening is “a great stress reliever. It’s a great way to get away from your phone for a while.”
The Elgin Public Museum planted its Three Sisters Garden last year, Russell said. The Three Sisters — corn, beans and squash — are an Iroquois legend, she said, although many Native American cultures tell a variation on the story.
The corn grows at the center of the garden, surrounded by beans that put the nitrogen into the soil that the corn depletes, according to the education coordinator. Squash grows outside the two, acting as “living mulch” and protecting the plants from animals, she said.
“The whole thing about the Three Sisters is the story that goes along with it. The corn, the beans, the squash all are sisters, and they work together in harmony,” Russell said.
Not only does that fit into museum programming about Native American cultures, she said, but also “companion gardening and using space wisely have become popular recently.”
The nearby Native Medicinal Garden includes nine different plants used for medicinal purposes by cultures in the plains and wetlands, she said.
“I was surprised when we were doing research on it how many of the plants we think of as garden plants actually were used for medicinal purposes,” she said.
Among them are lacy red yarrow and black-eyed Susans, which were used to treat colds, according to Russell. So was coneflower, or Echinacea — the most well-known in the Elgin Public Museum’s garden, she said.
And bee balm is one of Russell’s favorites, she said. It can be used to make a tea, and it’s what colonists drank after throwing imported tea into the Boston Harbor in the Boston Tea Party.
The education coordinator hasn’t tried it yet, she said. The natural remedies make her “a little nervous,” although she said she hopes to serve squash from the Three Sisters Garden at the Elgin Public Museum’s fall Native American Days.
And the museum plans to offer programs around all its gardens — including the new hydroponic garden growing different kinds of lettuce inside its building.
Askins said gardening has gained popularity in the area since she planted the first plot in spring 2006 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin.
Not long after, the Lords Park Zoo Garden was planted, she said, and those volunteers took on the church garden. Then the Hawthorne Hill Nature Center requested a community garden, and that’s when she realized, “This is becoming a network.”
“By the end of Year One, we had five gardens, and then I helped the city write a grant for the (Kane County) Fit for Kids program,” Askins said. “With that, we expanded to 15 gardens in the space of one year. We now have gardens in places you might find unlikely.”
That number will pass 21 gardens this summer, she said. That includes community gardens at Gail Borden Pubic Library and its Rakow Branch, public housing, schools, businesses, churches and the 2nd District Appellate Courthouse.
And every time the network plants a new garden, somebody else is inspired to go home and plant their own, she said.
“I know we’ve inspired hundreds of people, and hundreds of kids are getting great nutrition,” Askins said.
“It’s really exciting, and I couldn’t be happier all this is happening.”