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Jefferson Park, Portage Park, Norwood Park

Jefferson Park Could Get A Community Pollinator Garden Thanks To Neighbors’ Efforts

Founders of the garden group are holding a seed giveaway event and walking tour this weekend.

Five plots near the Jefferson Park fieldhouse could become home to the first community pollinator garden, including this plot near Higgens and Long.
Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago
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JEFFERSON PARK — One child’s passion for bees and gardening has turned into a community effort to create a pollinator garden in Jefferson Park.

During the height of the pandemic, Stephanie Livingston and her two children spent time at the Jefferson Memorial Park playground, where bees drank from nearby water features and buzzed around the fields. Her 10-year-old son, Xenith, would tell other children at the park not to be afraid of bees.

“He calls himself the bee whisperer and wants to be a beekeeper when he grows up,” Livingston said.

Xenith’s excitement for bees got the Jefferson Park mother thinking about ways to provide more native plants for the insects while educating her kids on the importance of pollinators and native plants.

Livingston connected with neighbors and gardeners on Facebook, and folks jumped on board to create a community pollinator garden, she said.

Students from Hitch Elementary School, 5625 N. McVicker Ave., and Livingston’s children created drawings of bees and other pollinators they want to see in the garden. Experienced gardeners began sharing resources and ideas for what kind of garden sustainability they hope to see in the community — and where that can be, Livingston said.

“It’s a very, very fertile soil in this neighborhood for these kinds of things,” she said. “There’s a lot of people very open to this and a lot of stuff already going on, so it’s really great because there’s so much support and interest.”

A Park District supervisor helped pick six plots that could be used to create the garden. Livingston recently submitted a formal application for the garden and has been told the approval process will be easy because a water source is nearby and there is strong community support.

Plots near the park’s field house are perfect locations for the gardens because they are centrally located in the community, are unused and are close to the bees, Livingston said.

To celebrate spring and get the community involved, Livingston and a few other neighbors are holding a native seed giveaway and garden walking tour this weekend in partnership with local politicians.

Organizers will give away about 400 seed packets with native, pollinator-friendly plants, including milkweed, wild bergamot, aster and coneflowers.

The event runs 10 a.m.-noon Saturday near the field house and will include an arts and craft station, a winter seed-sowing demonstration and an Indigenous eagle feather welcoming ceremony by American Indian Center staff. It will be moved indoors if it’s raining.

Cook County Commissioner Bridget Degnen, whose 12th District covers parts of the Far Northwest Side and who is co-hosting the seed event, is excited for more neighbors to get their hands dirty with planting.

Degnan, who is looking to start a pollinator garden on her block, said efforts to create the garden can have a positive impact on environmental awareness and combating climate change. They also show neighbors can make a difference, she said.

“The garden is an easy way to take part in green initiatives,” Degnen said. “Creating a milkweed garden at the end of their block or a small circular space in the middle of their grassy front yard — they don’t require a lot of pending and care.”

Livingston, who has lived in the neighborhood for about five years, hopes the garden effort can inspire others who want to learn more about pollinators and native plants. She’s been blown away by the community engagement and people offering their knowledge and time to work together on the project, she said.

“We are hoping to literally spread the seed for the native plants and for neighbors wanting to start their own gardens,” Livingston said. “I have met more neighbors this way in a positive way than in the five years I have lived in Jefferson Park.”

Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago
The Jefferson Memorial Park fieldhouse at 4822 N. Long Ave. as seen March 29, 2022.

Maggie Daly Skogsbakken, president of neighborhood group Jefferson Park Forward, called the garden a great idea and said the group supports the initiative.

“She has taken this ball and ran with it,” Daly Skogsbakken said of Livingston at a community meeting last month.

Neighbors who want to get involved are encouraged to attend the garden group’s weekly virtual meetings Tuesdays and Fridays. For more information, check out the garden’s Facebook page.

Livingston said she has learned a lot from her peers through the garden’s organizing efforts and hopes the garden becomes an official space that can aid in creativity, education and sustainability.

“It’s not just for our neighborhood, right? It’s for the whole environment there because the pollinators are sometimes travelers,” she said. “We’re fighting climate change to support the native pollinators in the area. It’s part of the whole. Whatever we are doing will help.”

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