Seeking Oak Park/River Forest Native Plant Gardens for Upcoming Tour


Green Community Connections and West Cook Wild Ones are collaborating on a local native plant garden tour on Sunday, September 7, 2014 from 2:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.(tentatively), and we are seeking Oak Park and River Forest home and public (libraries, churches, schools) landscapes to be included on our tour.

The tour’s focus will be on landscapes using native plants (i.e., plants indigenous to Illinois, pre-settlement). This tour is meant for a wide audience of people, from those who currently have no native plants in their yards to people who are very knowledgeable about natives and are looking for more ideas. We would like to feature established native plant gardens as well as those that are “in progress” or are transitioning from non-natives to natives.

Below are some types of gardens we aim to include on the tour; if you think you (or your neighbor or friend’s or business or church’s) garden fits one--or more--of these categories (loosely or partially is ok), please complete the form below or send an email with your garden address and type, along with your phone number to: by Monday, August 4.

  • Native landscape1 (2)Starter Garden: yards where homeowners are just beginning to add native plants to landscapes that may include traditional lawns, evergreens and annuals

  • Fixer Uppers: gardens that are transitioning--they’ve gone beyond adding a few natives and are following a more robust plan of replacing non-natives with natives

  • Pretty as Petunias (but without the work): these can be colorful, low maintenance and less resource-intensive

  • Formal Attire: native plants in traditional, formal garden design

  • Kids in the Garden: gardens that have children as co-caretakers

  • What’s Blooming Now:  featuring fall blooming natives

  • Food for All:  includes native edible plants for humans

  • Mixed Company: established gardens that show off attractive mixes of non-natives and natives

  • Purely Prairie & Woodland Wonders:  yards that try to recreate native ecosystems, the major ones being prairies (full sun), savannah (part sun), and woodland (shade), although an ecosystem is not defined strictly by light requirements

  • Block Party: whole block or stretch of a block that features natives

  • We Care about Carex:  sedge lawns

  • Living Lawn Free:  yards with no turf grass

  • Plants with Wet Feet:  rain gardens and bioswales

  • Not Just a Pretty Face:  habitat gardens that provide for wildlife; can also be focused on attracting particular animals such as butterflies, birds, bats, pollinators

  • Wild Card: Is there something we’ve missed? Do you have a fabulous native garden that has some other special feature? Please contact us!

If your garden is included in the tour, there will be several options for your participation. We realize that some people may enjoy guiding visitors through their garden; others would prefer less involvement. There will be a member of Wild Ones and possibly a Master Gardener at each site helping with logistics for your site (except at gardens under option 3, below).  The choice is yours, and we’ll provide you with tour-preparation guidelines in any case. Please consider whether:

GoldFinch1. You’d like to lead people through your garden;

2. You would prefer that a Wild Ones volunteer or Master Gardener lead people through your garden; or

3. You would like your garden to be included as a  “bike by” or “drive by” site only.  Guests would only view from the sidewalk or street.

Because time is of the essence--the tour date is just six weeks away!--we need to know if you are interested in being included in the tour by Monday, August 4.  Please complete the form below indicating your interest in participating (or send an email to with garden address and type, along with your phone number). Someone will be in contact with you about next steps shortly after we hear from you.  Also, please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you might have about participating in the tour (you may phone Sally Stovall at 773-315-1109).

Thank you very much for considering being included in what we hope will be an annual event for learning about native gardening and expansion of our local wildlife corridor!  For more information about Green Community Connections or Wild Ones, please visit our websites/Facebook pages: ; ; [contact-form-7 id="12358" title="2014 Native Plant Tour Contact Form"]

Community Profile: Julie Carlson and her River Forest Passive Solar Home

This month, the 2014 GreenBuilt Home Tour stops at two innovative homes in Oak Park and River Forest: one is a thoughtful green rehab with a greywater system, the other is a spectacular custom-built, passive solar home. The self-guided tour, which showcases the best in sustainable design and construction in home building and remodeling in Illinois, runs Saturday and Sunday, July 26 and 27. We chatted with one of the homeowners, Julie Carlson, about her River Forest passive solar home. Read on to learn Julie's biggest challenge in building the home. (Hint:  Julie, an editor by profession, acquired a whole new vocabulary to meet the challenge.) Plus, discover which stainless steel appliance is her favorite green feature of the home...but it's not for cooking!

In June 2013, Julie and Quinn Carlson broke ground on a custom green home built to passive house specifications. Their passive solar house includes features like a super-insulated, air-tight building envelope and massive specialized windows that minimize airflow and maximize energy capture from the sun. Completed in May 2014, the home meets or exceeds multiple national certification standards for green building, air quality and energy performance. A recent energy audit revealed that their home earned a super-low 21 rating on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS), which is the most efficient score of all 17 homes on this year's GreenBuilt tour.

Here's what Julie had to say about the project:

GCC:  When you began thinking about building a home, what were your top goals?

Julie Carlson: In building this home, we really thought a lot about our children and how important it is to make a healthy home for them. In addition, we agreed that we wanted the home to be energy efficient, but also blend with all the beautiful older homes in the neighborhood.  We wanted to preserve the large backyard where our kids could play. That meant having a contained building footprint with a smart floor plan that fit our family of four. Space planning took a long time. We thought about every room and how we would use it. For example, we opted not to have a formal dining room or living room. Our dining table is in our kitchen/great room.

GCC: Why did you choose passive solar as the main strategy?Passive Solar Kitchen

JC: The ultimate goal in green building these days is a "Net Zero" home, where your home produces as much energy as it uses. But that is hard to achieve in Chicago's climate. We thought we could get close to Net Zero with a passive solar, all-electric home.

I haven't turned on the air-conditioner yet. It's been really comfortable so far. We don't have a traditional furnace for winter. Instead, we have massive windows that let the sun warm up the house in the winter, and the home is super insulated and sealed tightly, so there's very little airflow from outside.

GCC: What was the biggest challenge to building a green home?

JC: My husband would say it was the budget. When you're building green, everything costs more, from the LED lights to the paint.

My biggest challenge was educating myself about green building. It was a lot of work! But in the end it was great, and I learned a lot. For example, now I know what a "lumen" is [the amount of light emitted by a source]. And when we started work on the closets and cabinetry, I learned that we should avoid products made out of medium density fiberboard (MDF) or particle board because of the toxins in it, which was really difficult to do, because it's everywhere!

GCC: What are your favorite green features of the house?

JC: Our giant windows not only bring in light and warm the house in the winter, they also look good and function well. They are aligned on the south side of the house and are specially designed in Europe for passive houses.

Another feature is the Energy Recovery Ventilation System – essentially the "lungs" of the home. Most homes are leaky and naturally breathe to allow fresh air inside. But our home is so tightly sealed, we need this equipment to exhaust out the stale air and bring in fresh air.

Finally, I love the smell, or lack of one: it doesn't smell like a new home! We used building materials with no or low amounts of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). Our contractor put up signs on all the doors to warn workers not to bring toxic materials inside the house. We even purchased floor model furniture that had already off-gassed the bad stuff. We are all sleeping better, and the house feels really healthy.

You can see the Carlson's homes during the GreenBuilt Tour July 26-27. The Oak Park home of Ana and Jim Doyle is also featured on the tour. Their award-winning rehabbed home features one of the first residential greywater systems in Illinois. Learn more at


Connect to Action: Active Hope Workshop

active-hope_cvr "In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer." - Albert Camus

The long nights of winter are the perfect time to turn inward and restore our energy, commitment, and care for each other and the planet. Begin the New Year refreshed and ready to take on new challenges by attending a workshop based on Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone''s book Active Hope: How Do We Face the Mess We're in Without Going Crazy.

Green Community Connections is hosting the Active Hope Workshop for three Monday nights: Jan. 13, Jan. 27, and Feb. 10, from 7 p to 9p. The group will meet at Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church,405 S. Euclid, Oak Park.

Through guided reflections and sharing, we'll look back on what we've accomplished and remind ourselves of the inner gifts we each bring to this important work and the strength we give each other through the bonds we forge with our community.  We do this so that we can participate in what Macy calls The Great Turning to a life-sustaining society. The workshop will be led by Sally Stovall, Marni Curtis and Pam Todd. Register for this free event by emailing Feel free to bring a friend.