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Chicago Wilderness Magazine
Winter 2007

chicago wilderness magazine

MG Bertulfo details here move from the San Fransisco Bay area to Oak Park, IL in this issue of Chicago Wilderness Magazine in an article entitled From the Golden State to the Prairie State.

She talks about her adjustment to our flat, midwestern scenery - "So flat. No hills whatsoever, let alone mountains." and her discovery of Chicago Wilderness and the "midwest tall grass prairie."

She explored Warren Dunes, Teason Woods near Palos Hills, scenery along the Des Plaines River and Thatcher Woods in River Forest.

She finally began to settle in and feel comfortable in her new home and wrote, "Three years ago, I brought Chicago Wilderness home. Can you guess what I repaced my small boxy lawn, juniper bushes and hostas with? Bergamot. Rattlesnake master. Butterfly milkweed. Sky-blue asters. ... With the help of prairie advocate Art Gara, my family replaced our own yard with native plant communities."

Click here to see photos of the small prairie garden she and Art designed.

Midwest Home Chicago
Spring 2006

Art and Linda's Wildflowers was featured in the article "Wild for Natives," by Patricia Terry, with luscious photos by Carol Freeman.

The article starts by talking about the use of native plants in gardens in the Chicago area, saying that the trend has "gained quiet momentum among Chicago gardeners." Last summer's drought certainly encouraged gardeners' interest in natives, as they are adapted to our fickle climate, in ways that exotics are not.

The main attraction of native plants, says the article, is that "They require little watering and no pesticides or fertilizer. Even under extreme drought, established natives will survive."

Several people from the Chicago Botanical Garden are quoted extolling native plants, then Art Gara of Art and Linda's Wildflowers. Art describes "the restoration of a swamp, white oak forest on a three-acre property in Riverwoods."

The article says that "The woods surrounding Hans and Diane Aschman's window-filled house had been badly degraded by invasive buckthorn, which creates deep shade...The only plants left were Jack-in-the-pulpit, geraniums, chockberries and gooseberries."

The article goes on to describe the changes Art and Linda's Wildflowers made to the property, which is now planted with "blue lobelia, cardinal flowers and other shade-lovers as colorful notes amidst the owner's rock gardens and sculptures. 'Even with the terrible drought last summer and a watering ban, the cardinal flowers and blue lobelia were blooming...'"

Several other gardens are described, with more advice from the Chicago Botanical Garden, interspersed with gorgeous color photos.

A sidebar of Native Garden Resources lists our website, Art and Linda's Wildflowers, for images of gardens, plant and seed sources, and other information, followed by the University of Illinois Extension for FAQ's; The Natural Garden in St. Charles for lists of perennials and other plants; Morton Arboretum for info on native trees and the Chicago Botanical Garden for their outstanding Plant Information Services.

Daily Herald
Sunday July 4, 2004

Art and Linda's Wildflowers was featured in the Sunday Home and Garden section in a terrific article written by Deborah Donovan called "Going Native: Gardeners embrace the past with plants and grasses that graced the Midwestern prairies.

Ms Donovan says "landscaping with native plants can be a mission, an adventure and a gift to the environment. Native plants can also be beautiful."

She writes about the most popular choices: milkweed, purple coneflower, wild leek, shagbark hickory [trees] serviceberry [shrubs] and grasses like Indian switchgrass, Northern dropseed, bottlebrush grass and prairie brome.

She mentioned that, riding the wave of fashion, Schaumburg trustees recently adopted a plan requiring developers of commercial properties to use natives in their landscaping and allowing residents to use natives in their rear yards - although the front yards are still supposed to remain "manicured green grass."

Donovan weighs the pros and cons of large native-plant gardens: on the plus side - native plants are good for the environment because they provide homes and food for insects and birds, do not require fertilizer, rarely are dosed with pesticides and when they are established, do not need watering.

On the down side - Donovan says that it's a myth that native plants are carefree. She says that plantings should be set on fire every few years (very impractical in the suburbs!) or mowed and raked in fall or spring. Natives crossed with non-natives by breeders usually do require more care.

Donovan describes a beautiful garden, designed and installed by Art and Linda's Wildflowers, at the home of Deborah and Bob Jones of North Barrington. She lists the native plants, which include wild quinine, rattlesnake master, creme wild indigo cup plant and joe pye weed.

Jones appreciates his garden, saying that fewer chemicals are used in his yard and he thinks it's healthier for his children. His 10 year old daughter even has her own small plot, complete with fire pit.

The garden also has a rock-lined stream, activated by turning on a hose. Water-loving plants like queen-of-the-prairie and fowl manna grass have been planted at the end. Click here to see the garden after installation. Updates will be coming soon!

For more information, about the Daily Herald, click here:

Chicagoland Gardening Magazine
P.O. Box 208 • Downers Grove, IL 60515-0208 • 630-963-8010
July/August 2003

A long article, about Art and Linda's Wildflowers, by Cathy Jean Maloney, called Wildflowers Sprout in Cicero, appeared in this prestigious local magazine. Copy appears below. Reprints (with color photos) are available. E-mail us at to request a copy.

" These ‘city slickers’ took their love of native plants from their hearts, into the basement (where they propagated these wild things) and out to thousands of customers.

"How does a city boy become one of Chicago’s foremost authorities on native plants?

"In 1997, the basement of Art Gara’s Cicero home became the unlikely cradle of a very popular native plant business, Art and Linda’s Wildflowers. Art, a former biomedical engineer, and Linda Schwab, a longtime friend and librarian, had long shared a deep love of the natural world. Putting their money where their hearts were, they started their native plant nursery and garden design business and have since become outspoken activists in Chicago’s native plant community. By selling homegrown plants at local farmers’ markets and designing wildflower gardens, Art and Linda’s business now has over 2,000 customers on their mailing list and has added three staff members to the payroll.

"Art says his midlife career change came after injuries made his hospital job too difficult, and he and his dog Luke took to long walks in the forest preserves. There, equipped with a field guide, Art began identifying local flora and “really developed an affinity for it.” Linda says her garden-loving parents inspired her, but it was her discovery of Wolf Road Prairie that really drew her to the native plant world. “It was so relaxing and spiritual,” she says of the native prairie in Westchester. She introduced Art to the prairie, and that experience predestined their mission in native plants.

" Once a hobby, native plants became a business. “We have a very large variety of Illinois native, habitat-appropriate plants,” says Art. With their homegrown plants (augmented with those of like-minded nurseries), they offer hundreds of natives. Space in Art’s basement is now reserved only for uncommon plants like wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) and purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens).

Art and Linda became fixtures at local farmers’ markets, and still can be found at the Oak Park and Skokie farmers’ markets. “I do a lot of the proselytizing about native gardens,” Art says of the many educational slide shows he prepares for local audiences.

"Indeed, this is more a vocation than a business, and Art, never at a loss for words, has developed his own vocabulary. He prefers “wildflower gardening” to landscaping, which he deliberately mispronounces as “landscraping.” He says groundcovers are a sign of a lazy designer, and describes his own garden design style as earth friendly. “We let the earth tell us what to plant,” says Art.

"Art and Linda’s Wildflowers has designed and installed gardens for properties ranging from modest bungalows to Brookfield Zoo. Art says they like to plant sparsely, to let the form and shape of each plant stand out. Their designs feature wide sweeping curves of islands and peninsulas of plants ideally suited for the unique habitats found on each property, ranging from sun to shade, dry to wetland. Pine bark walkways covered with a bit of mulch give the look of a well-worn natural path.

"Art puts sensibility above the sacred shibboleths of landscape design. When asked if a native plant garden might look incongruous near a formally styled home, Art bristles. “What’s more incongruous,” he asks rhetorically, “an Illinois home surrounded by plants from China or Japan, or by plants that have been here for hundreds of years?” Art deems symmetry in a garden as “dysfunctional” and eschews plants in a straight line. “That’s called farming,” he flatly pronounces. “Plant row crops like corn.”

" To attract butterflies, Art suggests milkweed, blazing stars and asters. His favorites for hummingbirds are cardinal flower and trumpet vine. To attract slugs or Japanese beetles, plant tea roses or other non-native plants, he says, tongue in cheek. Art and Linda do not favor insecticides, noting, “The people who like our gardens rejoice when they see a caterpillar. It’s either food for the birds or it will turn into a butterfly.” Like the unique plants they sell, Art and Linda are Chicago natives, and someone you should know."

Native Plants: He Said, She Said
Art and Linda share many common philosophies about the gardening world, but they don’t see eye to eye on their favorite plants. Here are some of their recommendations for those unique garden spots.

Most unusual
Rattlesnake master
(Eryngium yuccifolium)
Wild leek
(Allium tricoccum)
Most versatile
Common milkweed
(Asclepias syriaca),
Prairie blazing star
(Liatris spicata)
Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)
Best for
traditional look
Purple coneflower
(Echinacea purpurea)
Purple coneflower
(Echinacea purpurea),
Jacob’s ladder
(Polemonium reptans)
Small space favorite
Hairy wild petunia
(Ruellia humilis)
Prairie smoke
(Geum triflorum),
Jacob’s ladder
(Polemonium reptans)
Best for leaves/foliage
Virginia creeper
(Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Wild leek
(Allium tricoccum),
(Sanguinaria canadensis)
Best for flower
Common milkweed
(Asclepias syriaca)
Virginia bluebell
(Mertensia virginica), goldenrod
(Solidago spp.)
Most bodacious
Cup plant
(Silphium perfoliatum)
Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba)

  Special thanks to graphic artist Terri Wymore for providing the above

The Oak Leaves
May 29, 2002

Art and Linda's Wildflowers was featured, in a story by Cheri Bentrup, about the 28th annual re-opening of the Oak Park Farmers' Market ("On the market"). Ms. Bentrup remarks that, "Although fresh fruits and vegetables are a big draw for residents to visit the Farmers' Market, another is the array of summer flowers, particularly native plants." She then mentions Art and Linda's Wildflowers, noting that the two have been vendors at the Market since 1997.

"It's our best market," Art is quoted as saying. Then he talks about his philosophy. "It's about reconnecting to the woods and nature. There's something that we've lost as people. And now we're trying to find that reconnection to the natural world."

Bentrup describes "Gara's mission" as "creating native gardens at homes, schools, and other institutions throughout the area."

" 'We do a lot of gardens in Oak Park,' Gara said of his business that designs and plants native gardens." The Bentrup quotes Art talking about "the virtues of native gardening: There is a great sterility about evergreens and plastic plants and the kind of landscaping we often see...that kind of landscaping doesn't feed the birds or attract butterflies the way a natural garden does. It's one step removed from putting in a parking lot there. There's no real life to it."

Bentrup then describes the plants preferred by local native gardeners: "tall Illinois grasses, native wildflowers and shrubs that provide habitat and food for butterflies, birds and other wildlife." She then explains about the other benefits of native plants: "They're also easier on gardeners. Once established, native plants are hardier than cultivated and nonnative varieties. They need little or no watering and no chemical fertilizers, and may require less weeding."

Bentrup writes a bit about Art and Linda's past jobs, how they discovered Wolf Road Prairie and how Gara now "has devoted himself to opening the eyes of others."

"There's a void in people's lives," she quotes Art at the end, "I think people want to find what they've lost - what they've been missing for a long time. People tell me I've helped change their lives just like mine has been changed."

A side-bar lists "recommended native plants:"

Sandy or dry soil: hoary vervain, rough blazing star, showy goldenrod, prickly pear cactus and Ohio spiderwort.

Full sun: wildflowers - prairie smoke, fox glove beardtongue, purple coneflower, red milkweed, prairie blazingstar and sky blue aster; grasses - prairie dropseed, little bluestem and Indiangrass.

Woodland (part or full shade): woodland phlox, Jacob's ladder, assorted trilliums, wild columbine, goatsbeard, bugbane, woodland asters and goldenrods.

"The most popular plant Gara sells," concludes Bentrup, "is the cardinal flower. A native of Illinois stream banks and marshes, it responds well to cultivation. Stalks up to five feet tall are covered with vivid scarlet blooms around August, often for a month or longer."

Conscious Choice, the Journal of
Ecology and Natural Living
June 2001

Art and Linda's Wildflowers was featured in an article entitled "The Sprouting of Native Plant Nurseries" by Mary Boldan

They were mentioned as "hav[ing] a thriving business selling native woodland and prairie plants at farmer's markets throughout Chicago and the near suburbs, such as Oak Park, Wheaton, ... and Skokie...they offer a variety of rare species such as prairie sundrops (Oenothera pilosella) which cannot readily be found in the local Chicago area.. During spring, summer and fall, Art and Linda provide a tremendous resource and service to Chicago residents who realize you don't need a five-acre parcel and all day sun to grow natives." The article then gives a few examples of which native plants do best in which conditions.

Later, the article commends Art and others for their "sincere committment to the preservation, improvement and enhancement of our environment... They also strive to conscientiously and ethically provide superior products and services through education and involvement with the community."

Art and Linda were described as people who are "committed to sustaining and improving the natural ecosystem of Illinois. They are actively involved with nature organizations, schools and community groups that work to maintain and restore native plant habitats." The article then describes Art and Linda's involvement with Middleton School in Skokie, IL.

The article briefly mentions Art and Linda's "varied backgrounds" - former biomedical engineer, romance novel writer - then goes on to describe their slide show and landscape service. Art was quoted, explaining his philosophy of landscape design: "One of the most important cornerstnes of creating a stable native landscape is to group species by plant community. Most plants develop a relationship amongst themselves; that is, they actually help one another survive by enhancing resistance to disease. You also want to design in order to attract wildlife such as butterflies and birds. I try to design so there is interest and beauty in the garden all year long...." The author describes their skills as "invaluable."

The Chicago Tribune
July 22, 2001

Art and Linda's Wildflowers was featured in the Sunday Home and Garden section, in an article entitled "Wild Wisdom " by Dennis Rodkin.

Mr. Rodkin interviewed Art and Linda at the LaGrange farmer's market one "stormy Tuesday morning." He described Art and Linda's booth and customers, as well as Art's interaction with a woman who'd picked the "wrong" plants for her particular garden."The purple coneflower had to go, he explains, because [her] soil has too little sand in it..." The writer then lists which plants Art chooses instead, and why. At the end of the transaction, the customer was "thrilled to have stumbled across this knowledgeable native plant guy ..."

The article says that Art and Linda's Wildflowers is not only a business, "it's also a bit of a mission." Their inspiration, says the article, comes from their relationship with Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester. "'There's just something spiritual that happens when you see these plants growing the way they were supposed to, and what this area would have looked like for the pioneers,' Schwab says."

The article describes Art and Linda's start in the native plant business "about a dozen years ago;" how they raise native plants in their backyards, then how they started selling at the Oak Park farmer's market.

The article mentions their sales schedule, which has changed this year (see Plant Sales Schedule), as well as some of Art and Linda's "Top 40 natives." Customers leave satisfied, the article concludes. "If Art likes it, I think I'll try it," says a happy customer.

The Tribune article, "Wild Wisdom " has a side bar that lists the following as "some of the best performing native plants", as recommended by Art Gara and Linda Schwab of Art and Linda's Wildflowers:

Bugbane, also known as black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa): with great, deeply-lobed dark green-to-purple foliage and tall spires of white blooms in July, this is one of Gara's favorites for shade in semi-dry to moist soils.

Jacob's Ladder (Polemonium reptans): its blue flowers are one of spring's delights in a moist, shady woodland and its ladder-like foliage is nice year round.

Rattlesnake Master
Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium): its latesummer blooms look like a snake's rattle held aloft in the prairie. Schwab likes it, in part, because "You can easily see where it gets its name." The bloom stalks are about 4 feet high; plant in full sun in moist soil.

Prairie blazing star (Liatris spicata): "It takes full sun and it';; break up your hard clay soil," Gara says. The pinkish-purple bottle-brushes of flowers open from the top downward, not from bottom up like other flower spikes. The blooms attract bees and butterflies. Plant in full sun in moist soil.
 Blazing Star


Prairie dock leaves
Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum): "Those huge leaves are beautiful and then you get this big shoot with yellow flowers on top," Schwab says. the straight-standing leaves can be more than 2 feet long. Plant in full sun in moist soil.

Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum): In early spring, wet or dry, the silver-dappled foliage always looks as if water has just dripped onto it. Gara likes it as a ground cover for shade areas. It likes almost any soil that isn't dry.

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