BAPA Gardening Guide: Making the Best of Shade and Small Spaces  

 By Tim Moran  

 

As is the case with neighborhoods across Chicago, gardening lovers in Beverly/Morgan Park have often been challenged with how to make the best of shady areas and small spaces. It’s an inquiry that Gael Mennecke, president of the Garden Club of Morgan Park-Beverly Hills, has fielded on and off throughout her 25 years in the neighborhood.  

“Hostas are pretty common,” Mennecke told The Villager. “You can usually pick some up from your neighbors who are looking to thin theirs out.”  

Hostas are mostly known as green and white, but can actually come in a fairly wide variety of colors and shapes.  

“Visit a local nursery, like Steuber’s, to see how much of a variety they have,” Mennecke said. 

Coral bells, pulmonaria, vinca vine and Virginia bluebells also do well in shaded areas that get fewer than 6-8 hours of sunlight a day.  

Shaded areas, and places with an abundance of clay in the soil, generally require less maintenance. That’s not the case when it comes to native plants, which Mennecke and Garden Club board member Barb Gyarthmaty agree has become among the hottest gardening trends in recent years.  

Native plants “are my passion,” Gyarthmaty said.  

“I’ll plant anything that attracts pollinators, especially monarchs,” she said.  

Milkweed, Echinacea and Monarda are among the most grown native plants, Gyarthmaty said. Calamintha nepeta, another bee attractor, she added is the specific plant Garden Club members get asked about the most.  

A number of native plants are among the species within the Roy Diblik garden that Gyarthmaty maintains outside the Beverly Arts Center.  

It’s Roy Diblik himself, along with Pete Ouldolf of the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park, whom Gyarthmaty attributes her love of native plants.  

“It’s because of them and their new ideas in encouraging us to plant plants that native to the country,” she said. “Plants that are imported from other countries either don’t attract pollinators, or if they do, they are not as healthy for the bees.”  

The bees are “dwindling,” Gyarthmaty said, and “without the bees, we’ll be dwindling too.” 

“They are pollinators. They are pollinating the food we eat.”  

Don’t worry if your native garden isn’t organized. It’s not supposed to be.  

Native plants tend to spread, and come back in greater numbers from year to year.  

“They can look like a bunch of weeds,” Gyarthmaty said. “But if planted together in patterns, they can support each other.”  

And they do require maintenance, Menneke warned.  

“They really do spread… you really have to keep the garden tended. If you aren’t into maintenance, you probably aren’t going to like native plants.” 

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