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Jennifer Davit celebrates Earth Day by sharing her gardening tips

Jennifer Davit

Jennifer Davit

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Updated: April 22, 2013 6:34AM

Chicago’s front yard: How could someone’s “office” get any better than this? As director of the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park, sometimes I forget I’m just steps off Michigan Avenue, in this serene respite of plants, flowers and wildlife.

As the weather warms and the days are longer, the garden is filling fast with flowers and people — tourists from all over the world, Chicagoans who come here on their lunch break, young campers from the Chicago Park District and our own committed group of volunteers, who help with hands-on gardening and lead public garden tours.

Visitors often ask us how they can replicate elements of the Lurie Garden in their own home gardens. As we transition to planting season and think about how to incorporate the philosophies of Earth Day throughout the year, we love sharing that advice — it means the continual growth of beautiful, sustainable gardens.

• Replace annuals with perennials. We grow many perennials that are native to prairies and require little water and no fertilizer.

• Don’t overfertilize. Perennials in our garden are chosen for their durability and successful growth over time. They typically don’t need supplemental nutrients through conventional fertilizers — some will actually perform poorer if they are fertilized, especially with liquid formulations. Only fertilize if the plant is showing signs of nutrient deficiencies.

• Think beyond color: When choosing perennial plants and grasses, consider textures, movement, sound and scents. For example, the combinations of prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) and Eastern bee balm (Monarda bradburiana) provide excellent textural diversity throughout the year.

• Attract wildlife. Choose plants, such as calamint, that provide nectar and pollen to attract and feed wildlife. We don’t use any chemicals in our garden, making it the perfect place for animals to enjoy a meal or seek some shelter.

• Say no to insecticides. If you learn to tolerate a little plant damage, you will help welcome a healthy insect population to your garden. You’ll be amazed at the number of dragonflies that come to eat your mosquitoes, the number of bees that will collect pollen and nectar from your plants, and the variety of butterflies that will make your garden their home.

• Don’t forget winter: Instead of cutting back perennials in fall, leave them up through winter and cut them back in late winter, before early spring bulbs start to grow. This will enable you to enjoy your garden despite the cold and provide a home for wildlife year-round.

If you have other gardening questions, feel free to stop by and see us or sign up at for one of our many free lectures and workshops, offered year-round. Happy Earth Day, and happy gardening season to all!

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