Prospect Gardens Summer Time

Prospect Gardens Summer Time
Summer Scene

Sunday, January 6, 2019


This month's theme at our Unitarian Church is "possibility."  On the cover of the January newsletter, introducing the theme, is a quotation from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a French writer, poet, aristocrat, journalist, and pioneering aviator.

"Behind all seen things lies something vaster; 
everything is but a path, a portal, or a window 
opening onto something other than itself." 

This quotation is especially suitable for this new year, another life cycle full of unknown possibilities that will reveal themselves as 2019 unfolds. The snow that turned Madison into a winter wonderland on New Year's eve is fast disappearing. Since Ann and I were in California from December 20th through January 3rd, we vicariously enjoyed the beauty of Madison's first significant snowfall through Facebook postings. 

We were in the Bay area visiting our daughter Emily for a week and then on to Ojai, in Southern California, for another week. Emily moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Oakland in April, 2017. We so enjoyed time with her before flying to Los Angeles and eventually traveling to Ojai, about 70 miles northwest of LA. We stayed at Darrel's and Beth's home. We enjoyed and renewed our long term friendships. So easy and comfortable.  Darrel and Beth picked us up at LAX and Darrell, who loves driving, took us back on January 3rd.  Someone once said you know you have true friends when they pick you up at airports.  Given the immensity of LAX and the traffic, Darrel's actions testifies to our strong and lasting friendship with him and Beth.

Darrel and Beth witnessed our May 25, 1979 civil wedding in the Portland, Oregon courthouse.  Looking back, it was a clear, warm and sunny Oregon day full of possibilities. Many possibilities have become realities including Emily, now a woman on her own path of possibilities while she enjoys the Bay area, her circle of friends, her art work and satisfying work at as a Data Quality and Governance Analyst. Ancestry's office is in San Francisco, a 45 minute commute by BART.

Emily, like her mother and father, went West in the search of new possibilities. I left Wisconsin for Oregon in 1974 and Ann moved to Portland during the summer of 1976, about six months after we met. I came home for a visit during the 1975 holidays, where we met on a blind date, and the rest is history.

"Possibility" also fits the status of Prospect Gardens on this unseasonably warm and sunny Saturday, January 5th. The gardens are in a restful state. The following pictures are openings onto something else that will surely emerge as winter turns into spring.

 I am wishing for more snow so the Gardens have a protective cover.  These 40 plus degree days are comfortable and pleasant, yet the thawing and freezing cycle can damage roots. Plus I want to enjoy cross country skiing and I would like to try snowshoes this winter. For now both are just possibilities.
 This old picket fence, bordering the northwest section of the Gardens, has witnessed many events, including the transformation of the railway into the bike path. The plant remnants will be removed during the first spring work party.
 A view of the Gardens and the bike path through the bare cherry tree branches. If you look closely near the center of the picture you will notice a walker enjoying the warm day, as I did.

This cherry tree and another need to be pruned and branches turned downward to fully achieve the possibility of a more abundant crop of cherries. I learned from Percy, a Master Gardener and Prospect Garden volunteer, that the bottom branches must be weighted down to achieve a rounded shape. Another task for early spring.

This forsythia, waiting for spring, will be transformed into a golden yellow bush. It will be the first to bloom.

I just googled forsythia. I learned that its fruits are widely used in Chinese traditional medicine as an anti-inflammatory and in the treatment of bacterial infections, and upper respiratory ailments. I didn't know that!
 Another "window" showing a walker on the path and a shrub (bordering the wall), the North American Elderberry.  A Midwest Elderberry Cooperative brochure that I pick up this summer at one of our farmers' markets lists elderberry's health benefits. The fruit is high in antioxidants, vitamins and other nutrients and is a natural anti-inflammatory and an anti-viral support. The berries, according to traditional cultural practices, help against colds, flu, sore throat, coughs and bacterial and viral infections.

The brochure ends with this gentle warning: "We encourage every consumer and producer to do their own research. Each body presents its unique challenges and responds differently to various foods."

Janice, a neighbor, and her husband pick the ripe fruit. They make juice and pies. Janice shared a small bottle of the juice, which was quite tart. Janice's husband is from Germany and according to Janice, Elderberries are very plentiful near her husband's birthplace.

The remains of seedpods from a once blooming Bee Balm.  The stencil figure is part of the mural at Prospect Gardens. After nine years, the mural is starting to show its age.  Another section of the mural was recently tagged with graffiti. Perhaps a sign to freshen up or redesign the entire mural. The future design possibilities are endless.
 I am unsure about the plant featured in this picture. Whatever, it will come back to life during spring or summer.  The stencils represent the different ways the path is used.
Another "window" to the path and the wonders of the Gardens.  The blue orb reminds me of plant earth. It's actually a bowling ball.

2019 has many possibilities for the Gardens as well as for our lives. May many of those possibilities be pleasant and bring joy while staying open to what is now unseen and part of the vastness of the universe.

I end with these words from our Unitarian Sunday service:

"Say these words when you lie down and when you rise up...
In times of mourning and in times of joy...
Another world is possible."

Aurora Levins Moreales


Friday, October 26, 2018

Time Passing and Ready For Winter

Last Sunday on a sunny October 21st, I once again passed the remains of the old Jackson White Oak located in the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. I still vividly recall when I first observed this tree in 1986 when Ann, Emily and I returned to Madison from living in Andover, Massachusetts. Emily was about 21 months old, I had a head of hair and this tree was alive full of branches and green leaves. Now it's skeleton reminds me of time passing.  Ecologically, the tree has the humble title of "snag." I have various titles including retired, elder, old, and senior citizen. Take your pick.

The falling leaves on my walk also reminded me of Wendell Berry's poem about Autumn titled "October 10."

Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain, of the leaves falling.
Under their loosening bright
gold, the sycamore limbs
bleach whiter.

Now the only flowers are
beeweed and aster, spray
of their white and lavender
over the brown leaves.

The calling of a crow sounds
loud —a landmark— now that  the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow.

On that sunny Sunday walk with blue sky above, I did not hear the calling of a crow. Yet I was so aware of time passing, the beauty of Autumn and that the nights indeed are growing longer. Winter  is just around the corner.

We had a preview of winter during the October 20th UW Homecoming game. For about 45 minutes, large snow flakes and strong winds pelted Madison and UW fans. My brother Lou, his wife, Corine, Les, and his friend, Eunice cut short their attendance at Camp Randall.  I picked them up at half-time after Corine called me.  Her thick fur coat failed to provide protection from the dampness and piercing wind. We continued our 32th Homecoming celebration, along with Gary and his wife, Kathy in our comfortable and warm apartment.  Gary, Kathy, Ann and I did not attend the game.

Gary, Les, Lou and I are UW Alumni. Gary, Kathy, and Les are my legacy friends with deep connections spanning more than fifty years. Les and I met as 7th graders, attended the same high school, and were roommates during our junior and senior years at UW Madison.

Gary and I met during our Freshman year at Pulaski High School. He also, along with Les, was a college roommate. I had a role in introducing Gary and Kathy more than fifty years ago and I was in their wedding party.

Gary, Les and I also commuted from our homes near Pulaski to the then two year UW-Madison Green Bay Center during the mid-1960s. We transferred to UW Madison after completing our sophomore year. Listening to and singing along with the newly minted Beatles on the local radio station while traveling down snowy Highway 29 is just one of many fond memories. Another is my first trip in the Fall of 1964 to UW Madison with Les in his 1957 green Chevy.  In retrospect, I realize how that trip marked a major transition in our lives. Our lives would never be the same.

Now decades later I enjoy community gardening with my neighbors. On Saturday, October 13th, ten neighbors besides Ann and I, enjoyed each others company, while finishing preparing the Prospect Gardens for the winter.  Pictured below are Loren, me, Eli, Laura, Joyce (behind Eli), Ann N., Percy and Ken in the back row. Gary and his wife, Patty and Laima arrived after the picture was taken.

Our stocking caps indicate that the temperature was a crisp 49 degree. We worked under cloudy skies; weeding, cutting back plants and hauling the remains up the ramps for city pickup. Once again Ann B. provided a tasty treat. This time it was Butterhorns.

What a crew. Hard workers all of them. While working and during the break,we caught up with recent events in our lives. Listening to and telling stories is one of the pleasure of working together. Doing so contributes to a sense of community while reminding us that we are all connected.

Thank you all for sharing your Saturday with Ann and I. I feel a deep gratitude for your generosity which supports a natural space of beauty in our neighborhood. Here's four pictures showing your work and generosity.

Percy is uprooting Bishop's Weed.  We have been contending with Bishop's Weed all season. Unfortunately, the frost will not kill Bishop's Weed. So we will surely see this persistent plant next spring.

Eli teamed with Percy. He also cleaned up and hauled plant materials up the ramps. Eli is our youngest volunteer. I joked that I was expecting him to join us for at least the next five years as he completes middle and high school. Eli has a strong interest in gardening. During this last summer, Eli spent time working with his uncle who is a landscape architect.
Here's Loren and Gary chatting during a brief break. Gary works full-time for a rapidly growing med-tech company while Loren is retired. Thank you Gary for helping out and for taking time from your jammed packed schedule to join us. 
 Here's Patty, Gary's wife, bent over and hard at work cutting back plants on the south side of the Gardens and the section located in the Regent neighborhood. Patty and Gary live a few blocks from our apartment building.

While reminiscing with Gary and Patty, we learned we shared a past connection. They were good friends with Keith and Debbie.  Keith and Debbie were our close neighbors during the late 1980s and early 1990s.  They lived two houses east of ours. Together we planted and tended a vegetable garden on an elderly neighbor's property, and took their piano in our home while their wood floors were redone.

Here's Laura and Joyce weeding the slopes near the raspberry patch. Both are long time core volunteers that have spent many hours over that years tending the Gardens.
Laima just finished cutting back Sawtooth Sunflowers which once had brilliant yellow flowers. These hardy prairie plants will surely return next season in the space Laima has cleared.

 Pictured is the result of our labors. We all worked on this section which borders the Regent neighborhood.  Upcoming  frosts will finish clearing the area.

The final preparation for winter involved putting up the orange snow fences provided by the Department of City Engineering. A special thank you goes out to the Department for providing new fences replacing those battered by past winters. The fences prevent city snow plows from pushing snow into the Gardens.

Ann and I completed this task last Monday, the 22nd. We enjoyed being out on another sunny Autumn day. Here I am decked out in blaze orange.

A perfect ending to the ninth season of tending the Prospect Gardens along with stalwart volunteers. Now we patiently wait for winter and for a protective blanket of snow covering the Gardens.

I will end my ramblings with a poem about facing the inevitable passage of time. As suggested in this post, I'm feeling that passage. My aspiration is to abide by the advice mentioned in the last eight verses.

 The Layers
by Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

A Prayer and Preparations

Tonight, October 3rd, the temperatures will drop into the high 40's after a balmy eighty degree day and rain will return. An unsual day weather wise.  Another reminder that climate change is a reality.  Here are pictures of Asters and Bottle Gentian from a few weeks ago when Prospect Gardens were still alive with color.

These two purple gems reminds me of Ronald Wallace's poem "Prayer for Flowers."  Wallace is the Felix Pollak Professor of Poetry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He also has a forty acre farm in Bear Valley, which is in Richland County. This poem is from his 2003 book "Long for This World."

Prayer for Flowers

Show me the disguises of coral root 
That I may go unnoticed among enemies.
the tenacity of columbine
that might thrive in the unlikely place.

Teach me to climb higher than envy,
to trust my own colorful seasons. 
Let the wind move me; let me keep my roots.

Like a pitcher plant, let me store up rain 
against the dry season, surviving with patience 
whatever comes along. 
Show me the wind's song through lupine
that my blue days may be filled with music.

Teach me the persistent delicacy of glacier lilies
that I might endure winter's cold, heavy foot. 
And, at the end time, 
neither stiff-lipped nor trembling, 
let me go up, like bear grass, 
in a puff of smoke.

Yes indeed, the Gardens and we Madisonians will once again face "winter's cold, heavy foot." Living in an apartment greatly reduces winter's heaviness. Somebody else is now responsibile for snow shoveling. Although occassionally I do miss "Snow Commander", the red Toro snowblower, I used to clear out our front sidewalk and our neighbors. Now I just let these thoughts pass and return to the comforts of home.

October signals drastic changes in Prospect Gardens as plants turn brown and blooms turn to seeds.  October also involves preparing the Gardens for the inevitable winter.

On September 29th, a crew of nine, counting myself and my wife, Ann, begin cutting back plants. I'm the guy with the hat and sunglasses in the front row. To my left is Jessica, and to my immediate right is Joyce and Ann N. Laura and Hanns are in the back row. Hanns could be exclaiming about Ann's homemade treat, rum bars.  Yum.

Gary who joined us for a short while before going to work is not pictured. Neither is Percy who joined us later.

Thanks to all of you. I so enjoyed sharing the day with you all.  Special thanks to Percy for the advice regarding the two cherry trees. The trees need pruning and the lower branches are weighted down so the trees have a rounded appearance, and plenty of air space. A lot of air space helps prevent disease.

Here's Hanns pausing before cutting down the tall Michigan Daisies and other plants on the Regent side of the Gardens. Hanns said that he really liked this work session becasue he didn't need to be concerned about telling the difference between weeds and desirable plants. He commented that it was like a Fall clearance sale with everthing going.

 Joyce and Hanns chatting during a brief break from their labors. We always blend talk and work, catching up on our lives. The wind had a chill as indicated by Joyce's clothes.

We ended about 1pm with another large pile of plant material awaiting pick-up by a city crew.  While we cleaned out a substantial section of the Gardens, more needs to be done so the Gardens can "endure winter's cold, heavy foot."

We will resume the winter preparation on October 13th.  If you are in the Madison area, please join us.  Once again, we will share neighborliness, a homemade treat, and hopefully enjoy a sunny day.  Your time and generosity will be greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"Staying Put" and Sense of Place

Tending Prospect Gardens causes me to reflect on the value of  "staying put" while feeling the sense of place.  Michael Schuler, now our Minister Emeritus at First Unitarian Society, in his 2009 book "Making the Good Life Last" laid out four keys to what he called "sustainable living."  His second key is "staying put" which means intentionally remaining in a neighborhood while developing deep roots and strong connections.  '"Staying put" is challenging given societal values of picking up and moving for jobs, and the fact that many neighborhoods are bedroom communities lacking amenities needed to develop roots and a strong sense of community.

Fortunately, Ann and I live in the Dudgeon Monroe neighborhood with the right mix of amenities. We have lived in our neighborhood since 1986. In 1996, we intentionally decided to remain after I turned down an attractive job offer in Lorain, Ohio. Two years ago, when we sold our home, we once again decided to "stay put", and we moved to an apartment in the heart of lower Monroe Street.

Among the amenities within are neighborhood are a bike/pedestrian path, a lake, several coffeehouses, a library, our bank, a bookstore, Trader Joe's, a public high school and elementary schools, a private school (Wingra), churches and restaurants all within walking distance. Equally important are residents who willingly volunteer and work to preserve and enhance community life. We are fortunate to have an active neighborhood association and a strong Monroe Street business association. I would be remiss not to mention volunteers who care for the prairies along the Southwest Bike/Pedestrian Path and especially those who show up regularly at Prospect Gardens.

On a personal level Wendell Berry's poem "A Standing Ground" suggests a value of "staying put". Wendell Berry is a poet, essayist, novelist and farmer, born on August 5, 1934, in New Castle, Kentucky. His literary works reflect his deep agrarian Kentucky roots and his keen sense of place.

A Standing Ground  

However just and anxious I have been,
I will stop and step back
from the crowd of those who may agree
with what I say, and be apart.
There is no earthly promise of life or peace
but where the roots branch and weave
their patient silent passages in the dark;
uprooted, I have been furious without an aim.
I am not bound for any public place,
but for ground of my own
where I have planted vines and orchard trees,
and in the heat of the day climbed up
into the healing shadow of the woods.
Better than any argument is to rise at dawn
and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.

This poem points out the healing quality of solitude and how peace is gained through being grounded in an environment you create. Berry seeks refuge and finds peace on his farm with its vines, orchards and woods. He has "stayed put", planted and nurtured the environment. The result is savoring the peaceful moments of life, may these be as simple as picking "dew-wet red berries in a cup."

While I am a city dweller, I too have savored peaceful moments while caring for the Prospect Gardens along with  volunteers who are my neighbors. To refresh your memory, the Gardens are along the Southwest Bike/Pedestrian Path, commonly referred to simply as "the path." The path is more than a means of transportation.  It's a corridor teaming with life including human beings like this one speeding towards his destination. Perhaps unrecognized by him, are the countless daily human interactions taking place along the path, such as those that happened at Prospect Gardens during our August 25th work session.

Sharing food is an interaction that builds community. Once again my kind and generous wife, Ann, offered her homemade cheesecake tassies topped with currant jelly.

Ann bakes for every work session. All volunteers always leave after the work session with a treat to take home and enjoy. 

Ann does her fair share of weeding and taking care of the Gardens. She also often pays attention to the ramps, clearing them of leaves and other debris, making them safer for the bike riders.

Here's Steve, Laura (upper left), Ann N., and Joyce (in the middle) caught enjoying the cheesecake tassies. Joyce looks like she is in the middle of a bite. I too enjoyed one during the break and afterwards snitched another. The tassies were so delicious.  The standing joke is that these core volunteers only show up because of Ann's treats and I am starting to believe it. Regardless, their continued support is greatly appreciated.
Here's Jody relaxing in her comfortable chair while chatting  with Laima and UW student, Jessica(on the far right). Chatting always happens during breaks as well as while working. Through these chats we get to know each other and are informed about what's happening in our lives.

I feel very bonded to our core regular volunteers and of course, to Jody.  I have known Jody for at least a decade and served on committees that supported Jody during her studies to be a Unitarian Minister and chaplain.

This was Jessica's first time. She learned of us through Dane County United Way's website. I post announcements of work sessions on the site.  Thanks for joining the crew. You worked hard and we enjoyed getting to know you.  I hope you return and become a regular as you complete your UW studies.

Here's Ken in one of our "Stewards of the Path" t- shirts, having one indicates he has been volunteering, when he can, for several years. A few years ago the Dudgeon Monroe Association provided funds for the bright green shirts. I plan to ask if we could again get t-shirts for those who have volunteered since the t-shirts were first distributed.

When Ken first volunteered he was concerned about his ability to distinguish weeds from flowers. I assured him not to worry because the Gardens would always fill in any flowers he accidentally pulled.

Ken has a sweet and lovely granddaughter who he regularly cares for. It's always a pleasure seeing him and his granddaughter. She always greets me warmly and with a big smile. During Halloween's trick or treat time, she now comes to our apartment with her loving grandfather, instead of our former house.
Here's Jessica and Laima removing the tenacious and persistent Bishop's Weed. The stripes in the right hand corner are from Laura's back. All season we have been waging battle against Bishop's Weed and I think the weeds won. Laura reminded me of this fact. Perhaps using Round-Up is next. Yet I am reluctant to use a herbicide.

Here's four crew members tackling weeds on the upper section of the Gardens located in the Regent Neighborhood. Purple Cone flowers were once abundant in this section.  This section hopefully will be replanted this fall. Purple Cone flowers will be included.

Thank you to all who shared August 25th with me. Because of your generosity, I experienced the joy of being connected with you that results from "staying put" in our neighborhood. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Generosity, UW Badger Volunteers, Blooms and Monarch Butterflies

The Prospect Gardens work session held on Friday (August 3) was one of generosity,  summer blooms and a visiting Monarch. Babatunde Aremu, a Nigerian Poet, says this about the quality of being kind and generous.


Open those tight fists
Do not hold back
Make your palms transparent
Release that dime
Be a blessing
Wipe tears away
That little drop
Is what someone desires
Be an answer to someone's prayer
Be an instrument of succour
Sow that seed impartially
Don't delay, cease the moment
Be an angel to that poor soul
Remember, whatsoever you sow
Shall return to you in folds

John Imes, Executive Director of the non-profit Wisconsin Environmental Initiative, answered my frequent prayers for volunteers. John's organization sponsors a team of UW Badger Volunteers, a program sponsored by the University's  Morgridge Center for Public Service. John generously provided his team of students for an afternoon of weeding the shade garden. Thank you, John.

Badger Volunteers usually work once a week with John on various tasks including those supporting the mission of the Wisconsin Environmental Initiative. John has over 25 years of experience creating and managing programs for improving our environment and economy. See for more information about WEI.

Here's the team who did not hold back their generous and energetic spirits as they cleared and hauled away weeds from the shade garden. Starting on the left is Claire, Patricia, Cloris, Xiyu, and Evan. The Hostas, the Jacob's Ladders, Ferns and other plants in the shade garden are now more visible as a result of the team's hard labor.

I am grateful for their generously offered labor and for the opportunity to share our lives during a most pleasant afternoon. I so enjoyed a discussion with Cloris, a student from Southern China, about Christianity and it's many branches. Our discussion was prompted by us noticing the stained glass windows of the nearby Blessed Sacrament Church, after a bathroom break. I pointed out a window depicting a pope. Her questions about being a pope led to the topic of Christianity.

Here's Claire pulling weeds. She knew her weeds and worked rapidly. In the upper right hand corner, is Patricia hauling a basket of weeds to the pile.  During the following Monday morning, once again, staff of City Engineering picked up the pile of plant material. Another generous act.

Patricia and Evan, both Wisconsin born, also worked diligently. I liked Evan's overalls. As a kid I reluctantly wore bibs while being envious of kids with jeans. Now occasionally I consider buying a pair at Farm and Fleet because they strike me as being comfortable. At my age, comfort beats fashion.
Here's Xiyu, another student from Southern China, demonstrating her Badger weeding skills. Another diligent worker, Xiyu is just starting her UW studies. I will be proud to count her, as well her other four team members, as Badger Alumni when they graduate.
Colectivo, our neighborhood coffee shop and gathering place, once again provided chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies. Thank you, Nelson, the manager of the Monroe branch, for this generous deed.
Here's Patricia, Cloris and Xiyu enjoying the cookies during a well deserved break. We all agreed that the large cookies were delicious. I especially liked the oatmeal raisin cookies, one of my favorites. Another favorite of mine are Colectivo's scones. Always fresh and yummy.

Here's the rest of the team enjoying Colectivo's generosity. Just before our time together ended, a friendly dog came by and attempted to benefit from Colectivo's gift. He managed to get his nose into the bag of remaining cookies, but only got a small piece of a cookie.  Generosity has its limits.

As a result of the Badger Volunteers hard work, I feel that we are finally ahead of the weeds, although Bishop's Weed still plagues a few parts of another section.The August 25th work session will knock back this tenacious weed.

A few days after the Badger Volunteers left I returned to the Gardens and enjoyed the summer blooms. The blooms testified to the generosity of many volunteers since the Gardens started nine years ago. As the poem states :

"Remember, whatsoever you sow
Shall return to you in folds"

Here now are five pictures of the summer blooms. These should keep returning as the years slip by. This soul will keep praying for volunteers while recognizing the impermanence of gardens and life itself.

Here's a stand of Joe Pye Weed that continues to thrive. Filling the lower right had corner is Brown Eye Susan, a species of Rudeckia. They too have thrived. Unfortunately, this species spreads rapidly to the point that some must be periodically removed. Pretty to look at, easy to grow and yet aggressive.
An assortment of summer blooms in this picture along with a colorful birdhouse. A wren comes visiting. I am unsure if it actually laid and hatched eggs. Wrens like to build several nests and then pick one out for raising their brood.

Filling the top left quarter of the picture is Sweet Black Eye Susan, another species of Rudeckia. The droopy yellow blooms to the right of the birdhouse are Yellow Cone Flowers.  The splashes of purple are from the rod like Liatris (Prairie Blazing Star) and Purple Cone flower.
Featured in this picture is a red Lobelia or Cardinal flower. Look closely and you will notice the blooms are past their peak, an early sign that summer is passing. I noticed in another section of the Gardens, two less majestic Cardinal flowers than those pictured. I didn't plant them.  Ah, the wonders of Mother Nature.
This picture reminds me of Claude Monet's gardens. Monet is famous for his gardens as well as for his French Impressionist paintings. The weathered picket fence, installed years ago, marks the northern border of Prospect Gardens. The small yellow blooms on top of tall stalks are a species of Daisies. Filling out the area behind the fence are Joe Pye Weed and the golden yellow Japanese Sumac.

I don't know the name of the dark purple plants in front of the fence. Neighbors bordering the Gardens planted them several years ago. The contrast with the fence is quite pleasing.
If you were a Monarch Butterfly, you would love the nectar of this Milkweed plant. Monarchs also lay their eggs on its leaves. This Milkweed is food source for the current generation of Monarchs and the start of future generations.  In return the Monarch pollinates the Milkweed.  A perfect symbiotic relationship.

Planting Milkweed, as we did, is part of a national effort to help Monarchs survive. Monarchs have dramatically decreased in the last two decades. A September 2017 article notes a decline of 84% between the winters of 1996–1997 and 2014–2015. Equally alarming, the article warns that Monarchs face near extinction in the next 20 years. (

Monarchs are in trouble for several reasons. The destruction of forest in Mexico's mountains, where Monarchs reside during part of their live cycle, is a major contributor.  Generations of Monarch find their way to the Upper Midwest and to places like Prospect Gardens. Contributing to the Monarch's decline is the rise of industrialized farming. Planting row crops such as corn and soybeans along with heavy herbicide usage destroys needed habitat including Milkweed. Milkweed was plentiful growing in fence hedgerows or in fields before the widespread use of herbicides.

When I see a Monarch in Prospect Gardens my heart goes out to these delicate beings.  I realize that it has taken 2-3 generations to get to Prospect Gardens. Butterflies that left Mexico’s mountains flew to the southern US in the spring and laid eggs before dying, and those new butterflies matured and  began making their way across the US and stopped to have another generation. That second generation continued, facing daunting challenges as they searched for Milkweed plants to sustain their next generation. With luck and persistence the second or third generation made it to Prospect Gardens, and feasted on this Milkweed.

The Badger Volunteer team contributed to the survival of Monarchs because they helped maintain a green space with critically needed butterfly habitat. I will long remember the team's generosity, kindness and diligence. 


Monday, July 23, 2018

Weeds and a Banner

Last Saturday, July 21st and the day before my birthday, intrepid volunteers joined Ann and I for a session of weeding and removing two aggressive prairie plants, Saw Tooth Daisy and a species of Rudbecki. The two aggressors spread from their initial locations and were crowding out other desired native plants. In short, the two species were no longer valued native plants. They were now weeds.

The morning's session reminded me of Carl Sandburg's poem, Weeds.  It includes a view from the weeds' perspective while pointing out their persistence in the face of societal norms.

From the time of the early radishes
To the time of the standing corn
Sleepy Henry Hackerman hoes.
There are laws in the village against weeds.
The law says a weed is wrong and shall be killed.
The weeds say life is a white and lovely thing
And the weeds come on and on in irresistible regiments.
Sleepy Henry Hackerman hoes; and the village law uttering a ban on 
weeds is unchangeable law. 

This Spring's wet weather followed by hot temperatures made the weeds and aggressive plants "come on and on in irresistible regiments."  More than usual, I would add. Fortunately the volunteer crew had the tenacity of Henry Hackerman, while not being "sleepy" at all.  Here we are cutting up just a bit during a break and after enjoying Ann B's homemade lemon bars.

On the first step, starting from the left, is Joyce, Jody and Larry.  Joyce recently traveled to Easter Island. We heard about her adventure. Jody and Larry were "newbies." In the back row is Laura, me and Ann N. with the blue hat and doing a royal like wave.  Thanks to each of you for spending part of your day tending the Gardens. We made much progress against the irresistible regiments.

Here's Ann N. striking a pose. We have known Ann and her husband, Don, or at least thirty years. Their daughter was friends with our daughter Emily since pre-school. Staying in one place (Madison) overtime has its benefits and this includes the pleasure of knowing the same people through different phases of life.

Here's Larry pulling aggressive plants. The pinkish plants are Joe Pye Weed. Friends from West Bend donated them several years ago and they are thriving. Larry, before he retired, grew and sold flowers. He still has a small greenhouse. Larry told me that he sold Joe Pye blossoms to florists.
Here's Laura and Joyce teaming up clearing out weeds from a section on the Regent side of the Gardens. They also  removed the two aggressive plants.

The two working side-by-side represent the partnership between Dudgeon Monroe and Regent Neighborhood Associations that supports Prospect Gardens. Joyce lives in the Regent Neighborhood and Laura is a resident of Dudgeon Monroe.
There is always time to talk with neighbors or those just passing by. Here is Joyce talking with a neighbor she knows. I stopped to admire the baby in the stroller. She has wonderful long eye lashes. She did not pay much attention to me.

Earlier in the day I enjoyed an exchange with a stranger entering the ramp on his bike. He stopped and we chatted. I learned that he knew Clifton Hillegrass, a Nebraska native, who started CliffsNotes in 1958. The stranger explained how different professors working on CliffsNotes editions would meet in his home and how Hilegrass made millions while increasing the income of other professors.

We also shared our fondness for Burlington, Vermont, a place he once lived. I often traveled to Burlington when I was an educational consultant for The Network Inc, an educational consulting firm located in Andover, Massachusetts. This was my first position after earning a doctorate in education from Indiana University in 1983. I traveled throughout the New England States and occasionally New York and New Jersey working with primarily staff of state special education agencies.

Our daughter, Emily, was born in Lawrence, MA a town bordering Andover. The New England states have a special place in my heart. We moved back to Wisconsin in 1986 so Emily would experience her grandmothers, and her many aunts, uncles and cousins.

We all have our stories to tell and I enjoy hearing them from those passing by as I tend the Prospect Gardens. Story telling along the path shows how green spaces promote human connections. Sometimes, instead of a short story, the connection is a heartfelt "thank you for your work" from a walker or a biker whizzing by.

By noon our efforts resulted in this large pile of plant material. This morning, July 23rd, I returned to the Gardens for another two and a half hours of weeding. The additions to this pile made it the largest of the season. Perhaps a candidate for the book of Guinness World Records?

A city crew will do a pick up sometime this week. Thanks Ryan, City Engineering, for arranging the pick up and to the the crew who always follow through.

I also enjoyed this morning's chats with Ed, Derek, Richard and Susan. I very much enjoyed Richard's and Susan's singing of Happy Birthday, as they came up the bike ramp.
It's so nice to continue in a birthday celebration mood.
Finally, we come to the banner. This is just one of the ways I am trying to recruit more volunteers and especially those that are younger than me and the age of our regular volunteers. Most of us are over 60 and I just celebrated my 74th birthday.  I hope to have a few more good years of gardening.  Yet, inevitably I will need to give up tending the Prospect Gardens. Aging is a process of letting go.

Aging volunteers coupled with the challenge of recruiting younger ones is an issue faced by other lead volunteers heading up other prairie gardens along the Southwest Path. I'm spending more time this season on this issue and will in the near future.

If you are in the Madison area and not a regular volunteer, please consider volunteering. If you have any ideas about recruiting younger volunteers, I would like to hear from you.  

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Tour of Five Gardens: "One Vast Garden"

Prospect Gardens is just one of several gardens along the Southwest Bike/Pedestrian Path. Get ready for a tour of five other gardens. These gardens, along with others not part of the tour, make the Southwest Bike/Pedestrian more than a transportation corridor. Each of the five is unique with its own history. All depend on dedicated volunteers. Their time and energy has resulted in colorful prairies, places for human connections, habitat for birds, butterflies, insects, animals, and pleasing views for all who use the path.

Furthermore, volunteers have restored plots of what a spiritual leader and one of the great Hindu saints, Sri Ananandamayi Ma (1896-1982), referred to as "One Vast Garden", a metaphor for our universe. Here are her words. Please note two male pronouns in the original have been replaced with gender neutral terms. Changes are underlined.   

 "I find one vast garden spread out all over the universe.

All plants, all human beings, all higher mind bodies

are about in this garden in various ways ,

each has their own uniqueness and beauty.

Their presence and variety give me great delight.

Every one of you adds a special feature to the glory of the garden.”  

Our first prairie is the furthest one west of Prospect Gardens covering areas along both sides of the Hammersely connector to the Southwest path.  Laura from the Midvale neighborhood seeded these areas mostly on her own in 2001-2002.  Laura also tends other prairie gardens between Midvale Boulevard and west towards the Beltline.  She affectionately refers to one section just west of the Midvale as "the big ditch."

I estimate that the pictured prairie is at least 300 feet long and 60 feet deep. I stepped it off with my Fitbit. Across from it and on the east side, is a long stretch of mostly cup plants. Bikers, runners and walkers use the bridge in the picture to cross over the busy four lane beltline.  Further down the path and just past the Allied Neighborhood, the path connects with several other trails including the Capital Trail that takes you around Madison through the Nine Springs area. About a block from our apartment, I can get on the Southwest Bike Path and do an 18 mile loop that includes the Capital Trail.

 Here's another view of the prairie surrounding the Hammersely connector. Pictured are some usual prairie plants such as native Bee Balm, Purple Cones and the tall Cup plants. These will have large yellow blooms in late summer. The large leaves form a cup which catches rain water.

A few weeks ago Laura emailed reporting several discoveries while pulling hedge parsley and wild parsnip in the "big ditch" west of Midvale Boulevard. As Laura hoped, over the small pools created in the ditch bottom by erosion from flood waters, she noticed tadpoles and damselfly nymphs in the pooled water. In the bottom of the ditch she also discovered swamp milkweed and wet tolerant grasses. These discoveries are worth celebrating. They are also are a testimony to Laura's seventeen years of persistence caring for the "big ditch", the Hammersely connector and other prairie sections along the Southwest Path.

Traveling east from the "big ditch" on the Southwest Bike/Pedestrian Path to the intersection of  Odana Road, takes you to the magnificent Dudgeon Monroe Prairie. It's on the southeast corner. I consider this the crown jewel of the all the prairies along the Path because of its diversity and size. This gem spans a total of 6,490 square feet.

Sue and volunteers began planting in 2000 before the Southwest Path formally opened on July 28, 2001. The first plantings were 320 forbs and grasses from Agrecol, a commercial supplier near Janesville.  Much of the seed came from Audubon's Goose Pond in Arlington and Pleasant Valley near Black Earth. 

Sue, Laura, caretaker of the "big ditch, and others were the initial members of the Friends of the Southwest Bike and Pedestrian Path, formed before the path opened. A 2000 article by Bill Jordan states their aim:  

"to foster a sense of community along the bike/pedestrian corridor, with due regard for plants and animals as well as for the human community--a sense of the cultural commons that includes goldfinches and walnut trees as well as people. " (see   

Sue and her volunteers through hard work have achieved this lofty aim drafted nearly 20 years ago. This picture is just a glimpse of the beauty and majesty of their creation.  You must visit this prairie to fully appreciate its beauty and what Sue and other volunteers under her guidance have achieved.

The prairie was the staging area used to construct the path.  As a result, underneath this prairie is crushed asphalt, the remains of the staging area. Heavy equipment was parked there plus two work trailers. Soil, including four tons of sand in the front third of the main prairie, was trucked in to cover the asphalt.  According to Sue: " the plants are thriving in spite of it all." Among the thriving plants are several species on state lists as either endangered or of special concern.

Sue continues caring for the Dudgeon Monroe Prairie. She is still deeply committed to the aim for the entire Southwest Path corridor that she helped set in 2000.

Bonnie, Chair of the Westmorland Greenspace Crew, and volunteers also have achieved the 2000 aim. Ten years ago Bonnie and her stalwart volunteers took on the challenge of restoring a ravine on the north side of the path at the intersection of Glenway Street. The site,  sometimes called the "Glenway Gulch", is east of The Dudgeon Monroe Prairie and is in the Westmorland Neighborhood.

Initially, City Engineering helped the crew to eradicate a carpet of garlic mustard and then established prairie/native plantings. City Engineering contracted for both tasks. 

Bonnie's crew manages the almost half acre site. This includes yearly burns, seeding and planting.  Also required is frequent removal of  aggressive species such as garlic mustard, dame’s rocket, motherwort, ragweed, Canada thistle, and Japanese hedge parsley.

Bonnie says that because of its difficult history:  "We are happy with nearly anything native that grows there; the goal is not necessarily diversity or a particularly garden look." This picture shows that Bonnie and crew have succeeded and can be very happy with the results.  A once weed infested ravine is now a space of beauty and a natural habitat.

Across the street from the Glenway Gulch and in the Dudgeon Monroe Neighborhood is the Glenway Area Prairie. The north section covers 3,267 square feet in 3 sections separated by grassy strips. Another south section of 566 square feet is bordered by grass and private property which includes woods.

This prairie has a special place in my heart. Robin, a Dudgeon Monroe resident, originally did some planting in a smaller area of the current prairie. Sandy agreed to take over when she moved into the neighborhood in 2007. I volunteered for the first time after the initial area was expanded with the help of the city and the Dudgeon Monroe Neighborhood Association. I fondly remember that day when I pedaled my bike to the site. We smoothed out black dirt and planted seedlings, also known as "plugs."  During a break, we enjoyed chocolate chip cookies from the Saturday Market. Since 2007 other sections were added to the prairie.

I continued volunteering at Glenway until 2010 when we (Steve, and his late wife, Peg, and myself) began the Prospect Gardens, and I then became its crew chief or lead volunteer. Thanks Sandy for introducing me to prairie gardening along the Southwest Path and for encouraging us to start the Prospect Gardens site.

This picture is a small window to the beauty of what Sandy started over a decade ago. The north side of the prairie is mostly short grass prairie plantings, with a border of native ornamental plants in an area closest to Glenway.  Small dogwoods and native shrubs are also part of this area.

The native plants were chosen based on Sue's Dudgeon Monroe Prairie, with allowances for more shade and moisture. The south section has wildflowers and a woodland garden.

Our final prairie garden is about three quarters of a block west of Prospect Gardens at the Commonwealth Avenue intersection and is the newest garden along the path. David and his wife, Jeannette, began planting this beauty in 2014 after receiving a Madison Neighborhood grant. The garden is in the Regent Neighborhood.

It's a 1,200 square foot garden with a focus on plants that attract butterflies and native pollinators. The garden has a diverse mix of flowers and grasses that are native to the area. According to the initial grant, the goal was "to beautify an underutilized neighborhood space that can be enjoyed not only by the surrounding neighbors, but also the many people that enjoy the bike path every day."

The goal has been accomplished. The garden includes special seating designed and installed by Peter, a landscape architect. Much of the stone was donated. Another bench is opposite of the one pictured. David applied the finish to the benches.    
This is just one of many colorful prairie plants in the garden.  The garden has 38 different species of wild flowers and 4 different native grasses.  A plastic box on a pole has a catalog showing all the plants in the garden. Check it out if you visit this garden.

Sit quietly on one of the slab benches and enjoy this beautified space. A Monarch butterfly may gently float pass or you may see, in the late summer, a Gold Finch feeding on the Purple Cone seeds. A chipmunk may check you out and Cardinals may fly across the garden.

Rest awhile and contemplate your place in what Sri Ananandamayi Ma calls "one vast garden."  Perhaps you may notice your special contribution to our universal garden and how we are all interdependent and connected. 

This concludes the five prairie garden tour. May these five plots of the "one vast garden" continue nurturing all beings who live in them, live near them, care for them, and travel by or through them.