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July 2010

Lurie Garden Partners with MELA for first-ever Maintenance Yard Party

Summer FiestaMELA members and guests ignored the 100 degree heat index of July 15th to gather at The Lurie Garden for Summer Fiesta 2010. It was the Garden’s first-ever event in their maintenance yard, but it seemed like home to MELA members, all of whom are familiar with such surroundings.

Over 60 people toured the award-winning Lurie Garden with Lurie Garden Director Jennifer Davit, staff member Sylvia Schmeichel, and plantsman Roy Diblik, whose perennial farm (Northwind) grew the plants for the garden. For many it was their first official tour of this unique garden.

The 5-acre garden is built on top of the Lakefront Millennium Parking Garage and is one of the world’s largest green roofs. It includes over 240 varieties of perennials and 14 varieties of woody pants, 65% of which are native to North America. Its unique design clusters plants to create a prairie theme. After six years it looks like a mature garden with waves of color that vary depending on the season and what’ in bloom. The garden is entirely pesticide free.

Networking, also a highlight of every MELA event, was accomplished comfortably in spite of the extreme heat and humidity of the evening thanks to tents provided by Lurvey Landscape Supply.

Adult beverages were provided by Goose Island Brewery and Bartlett Tree Experts. A number of other MELA members sponsored the event as well.

Summer FiestaOne MELA member with more than 30 years in business was overheard to comment: “I always learn something now at MELA events and I never fail to come away inspired.”

See more photos here!






MELA sponsors

July 2010

O'Keeffe DedicationO’Keeffe Garden Dedicated to Fallen Student; MELA Is There!

MELA was present this spring and summer to help students at O'Keeffe School prepare the first phase of their garden for dedication. It was a flurry of activity leading up to the day of dedication July 18th—preparing and planting raised vegetable beds, cutting and mulching over weeds, initiating soil restoration without chemicals, designing a perennial garden, planting, and installing the memorial stone.

In spite of the fast pace and the deadline, all gardening activity included teaching elements and every step was completed using sustainable principles.

The garden memorializes Troy Law, who was murdered in 2006 at the age of 10. He was a fifth grade honor student at O'Keeffe at the time of his death.

O'KeefeContributing members have included Lynn Bement, The Organic Garden Coach (soil restoration, mulching, teaching); Pam Wirtz, Grace Landscaping (design, teaching); Midwest Trading Horticultural Supplies (garden mix); The Care of Trees (many truckloads of wood chips); Grace Koehler and Kyle Banas, Pizzo & Assoc. (project leadership, plants, teaching); Midwest Groundcovers (plants). Tools have been provided by Neighbor Space, who owns the property, and Lurvey Landscape Supply.

MELA's role is funded in part by a grant from the Department of the Environment. MELA is seeking additional support from private funders.O'Keefe

The next phase of the garden's development will include installation of native plant beds. MELA hopes to schedule member tours, to discuss the sustainable practices used with the students. Watch the website for details!






April 22, 2010

Terry Guen Honored by Chicago Foundation for Women

MELA member Terry Guen, President and Principal at Terry Guen Design Associates, received a Polaris AwardBreaking Barriers Award from the Chicago Foundation for Women at their 7th Annual Breaking Barriers Awards April 22. She was one of seven women honored, and was cited for her innovation in landscape design, her dedication to sustainability and her service to the city of Chicago throughout her career. Guen was nominated for the award by MELA Executive Director Carol Becker.

MELA friends (pictured with Terry) were on hand to see her receive the award. They include, from left: Christine Nye, The Shedd Aquarium; Roy Diblik, Northwind Perennials; Terry Guen; and MELA co-founder Mike Nowak, The Mike Nowak Show. Back row: Grace Koehler, Pizzo & Associates; Carol Becker, Executive Director, MELA.

March 22, 2010

Jack Pizzo Named 2010 Polaris Award Recipient

Each year at the annual conference, MELA presents its Polaris Award to an individual who has Polaris Awarddemonstrated outstanding commitment to the practices of sustainability in the environment. This year, the Polaris Award was presented to Jack Pizzo, President, Principal Landscape Architect, Senior Ecologist, and founding partner with Pizzo & Associates, Ltd., a firm dedicated to protection, restoration, creation and management of natural areas and natural landscapes. For 21 years Jack has been involved in teams to restore, design, construct and steward ecological restorations, sustainable developments, parks, preserves and natural landscapes throughout the country.

In presenting the award, MELA Board President Garth Conrad (pictured presenting the award to Jack) said, “Our Polaris award winner was doing green long before it was fashionable. He founded Pizzo and Associates in the late 1980’s, and has steadily built it into a strong industry leader, advancing the use of native plants and ecological practices along the way. He serves as the philosophical and knowledge base of his company.

“If you have heard his numerous talks to the industry around the Midwest and country at large, you know him as a passionate and articulate advocate of adapting ecological principles for the built landscape. His call for natives and broad ecological techniques is not just an aesthetic one: he clearly shows the economic benefits that emerge when going native.

“He is the go-to burn guy, instructing prescribed fire training for professionals in the trade as part of proper prairie management. His enthusiasm is contagious. He truly is a leader in ecological restoration.”
Pizzo and Associates are environmental stewards focused solely on ecological restoration. They create, restore, and steward natural areas using cutting edge principles and techniques. Working together with public and private landowners, they convert high maintenance, low function, chemically intensive landscapes to low maintenance highly functional natural areas that become home to native birds and butterflies.
The award itself is traditionally made of 100% recycled materials. Each creation is unique, thanks to the creativity of award designer Kathleen Thompson, who designs with found materials an award appropriate to the recipient.

February 25, 2010

MELA Annual Conference 2010

Speakers and Sponsors Urge a Pledge for Action
By Marilyn Witney

Download speaker and workshop information and presentations.

MELA transformed its annual Conference this year and attracted a capacity crowd of over 200 conferenceparticipants from all areas of the horticulture industry, for a day of networking and education on the practical aspects of sustainability February 25th. For the first time, the event was a partnership between MELA and the host, Chicago Botanic Garden. Eight additional organizations sponsored the event (see side bar). Twelve companies also exhibited at MELA’s first-ever Vendor Fair for companies offering sustainable products and services.

The tone of the 2010 Conference was different too. Emphasis was on sustainable practices, within the theme: “Our Future is in YOUR Hand: Sustainability in Action.”

MELA Board Chair Garth Conrad opened the Conference, reiterating MELA’s vision for transformation of the industry, so that sustainable design, materials and methods become the professional standard.

Ron HallRon Hall, Editor-at-Large for Landscape Management Magazine, keynoted the event, recommending that attendees choose specific initiatives and focus on actions that will celebrate MELA’s initiatives for sustainability.

Gerould Wilhelm of Conservation Design Forum took the podium next with a heartfelt and humorous address on human interaction with landscapes. He urged participants to understand the “spirit of the habitat” like Native Americans, and then build landscapes with the capacity for renewal.

“Nurture native landscapes,” he said, “and we will be nurtured back.”

The wrap-up keynote of the day was from Bob Kirschner, CBG Director of Restoration Ecology, who leads the renovation and redeveloping of 6 miles of shoreline at the Garden. With real examples and real lessons learned, Bob demonstrated how sustainability can be accomplished through engineering, ecology and public acceptance.

Vendor FairBreakout sessions were led by experts who provided the “how” in terms of taking sustainable action in the season ahead. Native plants, soil, water, hardscape, snow removal and human health were covered in detail to give Conference participants the tools to take make new ideas a reality this year.

In the midst of the new energy of the 2010 Conference, one thing did not change. The famous annual “Polaris” award was graciously accepted once again, this time by Jack Pizzo of Pizzo and Asscociates (see accompanying article). A special recognition went to Bill Aldrich, founder of Chicagoland Gardening Magazine. Raffles and prizes were announced. Good friends and colleagues broke bread at lunch while networking about seasons past … and the season ahead.

The Conference ended with a personal pledge from all, led by MELA Conference Chair Linda Vendor FairKiscellus, to pick just “one sustainable idea” learned that day and bring it to life this year. A brand new initiative supported by Bartlett Tree Experts and the Chicago Department of the Environment will provide a MELA members-only Sustainability in Action Forum online to share the progress of these pledges.

After the event, Conference, attendees headed to the new Chicago Botanic Garden Plant Science Center for a tour and reception sponsored by Unilock.

View more photos on Flickr.




December 11, 2009

MELA Member Leads Way to Greener Landscaping Equipment

Eric Hansen, Competitive Lawn Service, 630-327-0823, www.competitivelawn.com/
Garth Conrad, Midwest Ecological Landscaping Association, 219-778-2194, www.melaweb.org/


A green lawn can have hidden costs--such as the fuel used and greenhouse gas emissions spewed by noisy, inefficient gasoline-powered mowers and other landscaping equipment.

One commercial landscaping firm in Chicago's western suburbs is taking a step toward reducing that environmental burden by setting up the state's first all-propane-powered landscape maintenance crew--from mowers to trimmers to a heavy-duty 1-ton pickup truck.

The truck, a Ford F350 equipped with a propane engine, will arrive in the Chicago area Wednesday, Dec. 16, after a propane-powered drive from the factory in Detroit. It will be the first Ford F350 off the assembly line at Rousch Performance in Livonia, Mich., which adapts the trucks for propane.

Eric Hansen, president of Competitive Lawn Service Inc. in Downers Grove, expects that over the coming growing season the crew will replace about 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of gasoline with liquid propane, which burns far more efficiently, reducing emissions by 50 to 60 percent.

Hansen is a member of the Midwest Ecological Landscaping Association, a group of more than 140 Chicago-area contractors, growers, suppliers, landscape designers and architects and other professionals dedicated to finding greener ways to create and care for landscapes. "By banding together we can get more traction on these issues," Hansen says.

"MELA hopes to showcase and encourage these kinds of methods of chipping away at the unsustainable elements of the landscape industry, and the turfgrass industry in particular," said MELA president Garth Conrad of Garth Conrad Associates, a design firm in LaPorte, Ind. "We applaud Eric's move and hope others can learn by it."

Other MELA members also are experimenting with propane equipment. Christy Webber Landscapes in Chicago uses two 6-foot-wide propane-powered lawnmowers. "My guys like them," says owner Christy Webber, and she's driven them herself. Of Hansen's propane crew, she said, "We support anybody that's trying to kick our industry up to a greener level."

Hansen, whose 36-employee firm cares for commercial and residential landscapes, said he joined MELA because he wanted to work with others to reduce the environmental impact of maintaining landscapes in the long term--both by designing them more thoughtfully and by finding ways to care for them with less toxic chemicals and fuel.

One way Hansen hopes to influence others in the industry is by collecting data over the coming season on the performance, costs and emissions of his propane-powered crew compared to his seven other mostly gasoline-powered crews. Real numbers from real work, he hopes, will help convince others in the business to consider alternative fuels.

He's not sure exactly how his costs will work out in this first season, he says, but experimentation over several years already has revealed unexpected benefits: His crews learned that trimmers and blowers retrofitted to use propane are substantially quieter than gasoline-powered ones and need their oil changed far less often.

The new truck, with Hansen driving, is scheduled to arrive at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the dealer, Al Piemonte Ford Sales, 2500 North Ave., Melrose Park.

September 30, 2009

MELA Partners to Present Natural Lawn Care Seminar

November 5, 2009 was the day MELA members gathered with others from ILCA and Safer PestMELA Annual Meeting Control Project (SPCP) to learn about natural Lawn Care. We were host to about 100 participants, double the number at past events. Cantigny Gardens was the host sponsor of theevent.

Chip Osborne from Osborne Organics and Lynn Bement, MELA member and Owner of The Organic Garden Coach were the keynote speakers of the morning.



September 30, 2009

MELA Annual Meeting at Cantigny at Record Attendance

A record number of MELA members attended its annual meeting on September 30th held at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, IL. Cantigny Park is the historic home of the late Col. Robert R. McCormick, former editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. Participants were treated to a tour of the Cantigny Park grounds, MELA Annual Meetingconducted by Jane Rogers and Bob Waterman, host sponsors of the event. Rogers then spoke to the group stating that Cantigny, “…really believes in what MELA stands for…protecting our country, our environment and our world”.

This was followed by a presentation by Grace Koehler, out-going MELA president. Koehler, of Midwest Groundcovers, thanked the other sponsors of the event: Premier sponsor - Bartlett Tree Care Experts, as well as Moore Landscapes, Midwest Groundcovers, Starhill Forest Arboreteum and annual sponsor, The Care of Trees and the Chicago Center for Green Technology. She also recognized The Chicago Botanic Garden for their continued support and host sponsorship of the upcoming February 2010 conference.

As part of her final few acts as president of MELA, Koehler made note that, in keeping with MELA’s advocacy on sustainability, that all the utensils, plates and cups used for the annual meeting event were compostable. In addition, she introduced the new Board members – Jean Bragdon of Lurvey Landscape Supply, and Loren Nagy of The Care of Trees. In addition, Koehler recognized current board members Linda Kiscellus of Moore Landscapes and Laura Haussmann, and MELA Board officers – Mark Moxley, President-elect, Ernesto Huaracha, Secretary and Kristen Kepnick, Treasurer. She also recognized and thanked past and out-going Board members for their help in growing the MELA membership and for their dedication to MELA’s initiatives of sustainability in the landscape.

The MELA presidential reigns were then turned over to Garth Conrad of Garth Conrad Associates. Conrad’s first official act as President was to thank those individuals who had been instrumental in advancing MELA’s initiatives – Grace Koehler, Rinda West and Lynn Bement; who were presented with a small token from MELA as a thank you for their efforts.

Next, Conrad introduced three initiatives by MELA. The first is the sustainable site initiative at 26th and Federal in partnership with the City of Chicago, Openlands, the Metropolitan Planning Council, and Neighbor Space to create a sustainable light use recreational area for the residents of the South Loop. Efforts to begin efforts to obtain grant funds and with a design charrette of MELA members. MELA Annual Meeting

The second is a program to foster the five areas of sustainable practices – Hydrology, Human Health &Well Being, Material Selection, Vegetation and Soil Food Web. Attendees at the Cantigny event were introduced to these five concepts using the ‘Live Green and Prosper’ symbol. More information on these five areas of sustainable practices will be presented at future MELA events. Finally, MELA is currently seeking grant funding to develop an internship program that would place community college students in MELA member organizations for the purpose of learning about sustainability.

Next up on the agenda was a presentation by co-founder and past president, Mike Nowak. Nowak regaled the audience with a history of MELA in a humorous recap of its early beginnings – from board meetings at MELA's Mike NowakGrandma Sally’s in Oak Park to its’ use of Safer Pest Control as a home base for many years. Nowak recounted how, with the help of Ken Benson at Triton College, MELA was able to put together their first conference in a month’s time and thanked Kathleen Thompson who created the first MELA logo and the ‘Live Green and Prosper’ graphic and tagline.

In closing, Conrad again thanked the annual meetings’ sponsors and reminded all who attended of the upcoming National Lawn Care workshop on November 5th and the annual conference on February 25, 2010 at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Anyone interested in volunteering for the November Lawn Care event were to contact Carol Becker, MELA Executive Director.

If you attended and have an insight to submit, please send it to director@melaweb.org



July 21, 2009

MELA Summer Fiesta: 65 MELA Guests Tour Shedd Sustainable Gardens

MELA members were treated to a rare horticultural tour of the Shedd Aquarium sustainable gardens July 8, 2009. The tours were led by Shedd Horticulturist Christine Nye and Plantsman Roy Diblik, owner of Northwind Perennial Farm, and MELA Board members. Nye and Diblik collaborated on the creation of the gardens.

The tour included an established garden, a new sustainable garden and organic lawn on the lakefront, built just this year on ground fresh from construction of the new Oceanarium, a lakeside garden and waterfall donated by Aquascapes, and a rain garden that helps cleanse and slow down the flow of stormwater runoff.

In the newest gardens, planted in May of this year, Nye comments, “we had two days to install 20,000 square feet of garden.” Restoration of the soil began with the application of compost and weekly applications of compost tea throughout the season. Nye selected native viburnum, amelanchier, aronia, chionanthus, cedar, and perennials native to this area. All are plants that offer both food and shelter to migratory birds on their journey from Canada through the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi River valley. Creating the Migratory Bird Garden has been a long-time dream for Nye.

MELA members saw first hand how the Shedd gardens support wildlife, promote the presence of beneficial insects, eliminating the need for pesticides, create beauty, and over time reduce the need for intensive maintenance.

“Our commitment to sustainable garden practices outside adheres to the Shedd mission inside by helping to keep our Great Lakes free of pollution, promote diversity of wildlife by creating habitat, contribute beneficially to reversing climate change, and of course maintaining a beautiful space for our visitors to enjoy,” Nye said.

The event was made possible by the five sponsors whose logos appear on this page.
It is MELA’s aim in this and other events in 2009 to help members learn about the benefits of sustainability and the practices that create sustainable landscapes. We hope you will join us for the next event


Here are some more insights into sustainable landscaping, sent by participants at the Summer Fiesta:

“ ‘Native’ isn’t synonymous with ‘wild.’ A landscape can still be civilized and scaled down yet increase its return of ecological benefits.”

“When turf is required, it can be green and lush without synthetics and pesticides.”

“ ‘Native’ & ‘sustainable’ doesn't mean ‘no maintenance.’  In particular, plants need to be watered until they're established!”

“It makes money sense to start with smaller plants.  But people need patience to wait for the garden to mature. We need to promote the idea that watching growth is the joy of a garden (not just putting something in that’s already complete.” 

If you attended and have an insight to submit, please send it to director@melaweb.org


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April 30, 2009

MELA Hires Carol Becker as Executive Director

The MELA Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Carol Becker has been hired as the association’s first Executive Director. Many of you know Carol as she has been on the Board since 2005.

She has been a non-profit and business consultant for 30 years, specializing in planning, marketing communication, media relations, resource development, and team building. Most recently, she has worked with Resurrection Health Care, Chicago’s largest Catholic health care system on a two-year full time assignment to reorganize their foundation. Prior to that she worked with Growth Design Corporation, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a consulting firm serving not-for-profit organizations in health care, the arts, social service and higher education.

Carol is a graduate of Ohio State University, where she received her Master's degree in English, with a specialty in English language. In 2005, she received her AAS Degree in Ornamental Horticulture and Landscape Design from Triton College.

Carol is also a writer. She has published many newspaper and magazine articles, as well as two books on leadership and team development. Many of her articles were written to promote the work and vision of her professional clients.

With Carol at the helm as our ED we are positioned to move forward with our strategic plan and several new initiatives we have outlined for action within this year.  We will keep you posted as we develop those initiatives and we appreciate your continued support.  

February 26, 2009

MELA's Annual Conference fosters productive dialog between green-industry players

MELA’s annual conference, Nature at Work: Creating Professional Standards for a Sustainable Green Industry, was presented at the Chicago Botanical Garden on February 26, 2009, to a packed crowd of green industry professionals seeking guidance on sustainability. The Keynote speaker, Lois Vitt Sale, LEED AP, invigorated the audience with a summary of the challenges, sustainable approaches and excellent successes to date of the LEED system for buildings, laying out the potential course for the sustainable landscape. Garth Conrad from the APLD and MELA, talked directly to the issues of the greener landscape and how the draft Sustainable Sites Initiative will potentially be the LEED for landscapes in the immediate future.

Next came the first set of roundtable sessions for the day, with participants plugging into various topics to contribute and learn from their peers how to approach individual green industry elements through the lens of sustainability. After lunch, a panel discussion on standards and sustainable landscape approaches offered four points of view on the future of the landscape, with opening comments from the panelists and questions from the audience. A second set of roundtables finished out the program, providing more networking time and a further chance to give and take on the issues of moving toward a sustainable green industry.

A crowded after-conference social hour was held down the road at the Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook, where the talk continued over excellent food and drink. 

The conference buzz was excellent, and MELA has hopefully fostered an open dialog between green industry players on how we can all help push our collective landscape into a sustainable future. A sincere THANK YOU to all who contributed and participated in the conference. We cannot move forward without our members helping to lead the way. MELA views the conference as a successful step toward pulling together verifiable standards, certifications, technologies and strategies that will become the guidelines for reaching a sustainable green industry.

View PDFs of these presentations from the conference:

Defining the Sustainable Landscape by Garth Conrad
View this presentation about the draft Sustainable Sites Initiative and how it will potentially be the LEED for landscapes in the immediate future.

Designing LEED Buildings by Lois Vitt Sale
Read about challenges and successes of the LEED system for buildings, and find out what the landscape sustainability effort can learn from it.

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