Magical Evening at Ryerson Woods

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Model Allison Saum wears an original dress designed by Friends of Ryerson Woods Administrative Coordinator Julia Kemerer.
(Photo credit: Adriana McClintock)

Ryerson Woods is a magical, natural wonderland in the spring – full of native flowers covering the forest bed, trees as far as the eye can see and a host of beautiful creatures living inside. This past Saturday at the 30th annual Smith Nature Symposium, a new and delightful figure appeared in the woods. “Bird Girl” welcomed guests to the symposium in a dress made of moss, hand-painted birds, butterflies and flowers.

Celebrating 30 years is a special occasion and we knew we needed something equally special to dazzle our guests. I thought about a garden dress I came across some time ago. Cascading rows of planters made up an elaborate and dramatic piece of art and nature, the very intersection we cross with our mission at Friends. Many of the events I have done in the past have had a performance artist or some artistic feature to wow guests so I approached our group to see if we could do something similar.

With a passion for design, the project sparked the interest of Friends of Ryerson Woods administrative coordinator and multi-media artist Julia Kemerer. She quickly came up with a concept and got to work.

The hardest part was manipulating chicken wire to form the lower half of the dress and covering it with natural materials, such as Spanish moss, green mountain moss and Black Lichen. Poor Julia was covered in cuts and scratches, as well as the materials and glue. It was a labor of love, though, because it ignited her creative spirit and she was able to focus her energy into a project close to her heart.

Guests were tickled to see the finished product and enjoyed taking pictures with “Bird Girl” throughout the night. Her hat, adorned in hand-painted eggs atop a gorgeous nest, balanced delicately on her head as she made her way through the party interacting with guests. She then rallied the crowd to raise their paddles for fundraising.

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Photo Credit: Adriana McClintock

It was an incredible evening, made possible by so many great moments and helping hands. Kenn Kaufman delivered an informative and funny keynote address. Sophie Twichell, executive director at Friends, lovingly honored longtime friend and former colleague Doug Stotz, the 2013 conservation award winner. Last, and certainly not least, the Lake County Forest Preserve District worked tirelessly to take care of setting up, providing staff and volunteers, chauffeuring guests to the front door and so much more. We couldn’t do it without you!

Thank you to all involved to help make this a memorable year!

Adriana McClintock
Director of Development and Communications

5 Tips for Planning Your Spring Garden

What are you planting in your garden this year? Whether you are growing herbs, flowers, vegetables or fruit, here are five tips to help you with your green thumb this spring.

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  1. Timing is everything. Plug your zip code into Sprout Robot to make sure you are planting the right thing at the right time. This easy to use website gives you step-by-step instructions with illustrations to help you get started.
  2. Use native plants and flowers when you can. Attend our free Midwestern Native Garden workshop in partnership with the Lake County Forest Preserves to find out how you can makeover your garden with native plants on Thursday, April 18 from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. in the Welcome Center at Ryerson Woods.
  3. Be creative! You can recycle almost anything to use as a planter. Subscribe to our Pinterest gardening page to get inspired by tips and ideas. Garden Pins1
  4. Protect your plants and trees. Mulching helps to maintain soil moisture, control weeds and improve soil fertility. Take a look at many organic options available at The Mulch Center in Deerfield, a Friends of Ryerson Woods sponsor.
  5.  Enjoy the outdoors with children. Nurture your garden and pass along your knowledge to a young person to help them appreciate nature. Show them how to collect vegetables from the garden or watch flowers grow. Use the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights from Chicago Wilderness’ Leave No Child Inside initiative as a guide.

Adriana McClintock
Director of Development and Communications

Drawn to Nature II

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Bull thistle illustration (Cirsium vulgare) by Derek Norman

Drawn to Nature II
by Dr. Gregory M. Mueller

Re-posted with author’s permission from the Chicago Botanic Garden website.

Recently, I helped kick off an exhibition of artwork focusing on wildflowers and other plants found in Midwestern woodlands and prairies. This amazing show, at Ryerson Woods in (Deerfield), Illinois, features works by members of the Reed-Turner Artists’ Circle, some of whom teach in the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden. This exhibition and activities related to it provide a terrific example of what a “citizen artist” program can accomplish, helping to protect our native plants and the benefits they provide humankind by documenting their beauty and engaging the public.

The Artists’ Circle works to further the interests of botanical art, conservation science, botany, and horticulture at the local level. To highlight the beauty and importance of plants in our lives, the Artists’ Circle promotes and exhibits members’ work in collaboration with local and regional institutions.

In my opening remarks, I spoke briefly about how all life depends on plants, which is one of the basic tenets of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Plants provide us with food, shelter, oxygen, and medicine; they also provide vital services such as climate regulation, air and water quality improvement, and flood control. Yet we are in the midst of a well-documented plant biodiversity crisis, and some experts estimate that up to one-third of the world’s plant species may become extinct within the next 50 years. Unfortunately, far too little is being done to address this crisis. In fact, much of society suffers from “plant blindness,”an inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment.

Members of the Artists’ Circle, thankfully, are acutely tuned in to the environment, viewing plants and their role in the world with a unique clarity of vision. Not only are they producing beautiful works of art, they are thinking about developing a “citizen artist” program, and some members have been brainstorming about this idea with me. This program would parallel and enhance the important work that citizen scientists are performing throughout the region and beyond, through Garden involvement in such programs as Project BudBurst and Plants of Concern.

The Drawn to Nature II exhibition, which runs through April 30, highlights the important contributions of botanical artists. It is impossible to be unimpressed by the beauty and complexity of plants when viewing the outstanding drawings and paintings here, created by members of the Artists’ Circle. The subtlety of the art prompts the viewer to see these objects of nature in a new light, eliciting a powerful, emotional response. By provoking such a visceral response, botanical art becomes an effective tool in fighting plant blindness.

Dr. Gregory M. Mueller serves as vice president of Science at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Before joining the Garden, Dr. Mueller worked for 23 years at The Field Museum as curator of mycology in the Department of Botany. He was chair of the Field Museum’s Department of Botany from 1996 to 2005. Dr. Mueller received his B.A. and M.S. from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee. He is also a member of the Friends of Ryerson Woods Advisory Board.