Take a slideshow tour through the garden of Vicki Nowicki, one of the 2009 Garden Crusaders. Her garden is in Downer’s Grove, IL

Vicki (right) and I in her garden.

This past August, I had the great pleasure of spending a whole day with one of this year’s Garden Crusader award winners: Vicki Nowicki. It was exciting to visit her home just outside Chicago — ground zero for the sustainable landscaping business she runs with her husband — and to visit a few of the many interesting projects that she’s either started or is intimately involved with.

Our day began in Vicki’s garden and ended late in the evening, dining beneath the stars at a local organic farm. I left with the impression that just about everyone who is anyone in Chicago knows Vicki. She is an expert gardener and possibly even a more expert networker. What a dynamo!

Vicki and her husband Ron are both landscape architects. The Nowickis’ landscape business is called The Land Office. For the past 30 years they have been slowly but surely spreading the word about sustainable landscaping, biodiversity, native plants, permaculture and the value of local food production. They design gardens and landscapes, and also install and help maintain them. This hands-on approach allows them to engage with homeowners and in turn, help those homeowners engage with their own yards and gardens.

For Vicki, planting and tending gardens has always been about much more than creating beauty. She and Ron are passionate defenders of the natural world. They believe strongly that every garden and landscape they design is an opportunity to restore the environment and help promote good earth stewardship.

Vicki’s life work has been to help people slow down, learn about the land they live on and take better care of it. As she says, “I want to help people glorify the place where they live and use food gardens to nail them down to their place. A garden helps to reveal the nature of your site and bonds you to the land.”

Vicki has been working against the dominant trend in landscape architecture her entire career. When she found it difficult to source tough plants that were appropriate for northeastern Illinois, she co-founded a local chapter of Wild Ones, a national organization devoted to using native plants in the home landscape.

Having always been a big vegetable gardener, Vicki found every opportunity she could to work vegetables and other edibles into the landscape designs she and Ron were creating. The problem was, she found that the homeowners often didn’t pick the vegetables. When she asked why, they would tell her they didn’t know when they were ready or how to harvest them. So last year, she began offering a new service: she and her crew will come in and plant vegetables, maintain the gardens and then harvest the food. The key? The homeowners are encouraged to participate and along the way they learn how to take care of the gardens, when and how to harvest and how to cook and preserve the food they grow.

“These homes are sitting on some of the best soils in the world – literally the breadbasket, so it is only right that they grow vegetables,” she said. “We can get so much food out of these small gardens, that our clients end up sharing it with their neighbors.”

Vicki and Ron have turned their own suburban yard into a model permaculture site, combining native trees and shrubs, herbs, vegetables, berries and fruit trees. Walking around, I was overwhelmed by the diversity of plants, the healthy and abundant crops, the birds and butterflies and toads and sheer exuberance of life that surrounds their home. It’s an immediate way to understand the concept of permaculture, and a tremendous resource for the many workshops and tours that they host.

Vicki’s newest project is a website that pulls together everything she knows and believes about gardening: Liberty Gardens. The site will include tutorials, informational articles and garden journals that can be accessed by anyone interested in sustainable, organic gardening techniques.

As Vicki says, “Our lives will change and our world will change when we plant food gardens at home. It’s a simple act that each person can choose to do at any time without a new law being passed, or a feasibility study being run or a stimulus package being doled out. Talk about a shovel-ready project!”

With Vicki Nowicki’s help, more and more people will be grabbing a shovel and joining in.

Kathy LaLiberte
Director of Gardening, Gardener’s Supply

Slideshow: Vicki Nowicki’s Garden

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.
Slideshow:Vicki Nowicki’s Garden
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