Wild Ones West Cook Accomplishments 2021

| Community, Grants, Learning, Programs, Sales, Volunteer

Wild Ones West Cook 2021 Accomplishments

by Byron Lanning

A pandemic did not prevent West Cook from carrying out its mission. We hope that amidst a time of turmoil and uncertainty, we brought you respite from that stress and hopefully you found some peace in nature, especially if it was right outside your door or near you. We hope our programs help you access nature, understand it, and protect it. We appreciate all of you who attended the programs, gave feedback, bought and planted (!) plants, shared information with friends, neighbors, and workplaces. We are so grateful for all of you!

Below you can read about what we were up to month by month. Thank you to our members, volunteers, PlanItGreen, FPDCC–your support makes this work possible. 

Quick note from Stephanie Walquist, board president, in recognizing the Board of West Cook Wild Ones. 

Thank you to the following board members whose voluntary, constant, year round, 24/7 dedication makes our incredibly robust chapter run. 

Laura Hartwell Berlin is one of the main engines behind our programs, plant sale, and garden tour. There would be no WCWO without her!

Carolyn Cullen who brings an incredible amount of expertise in native plants, running our Shopify site, finding sources for native plants, negotiating with plant vendors, communicating with customers about their orders along with all her other advocacy efforts and making new connections for us. 

Adrian Ayres Fisher who is another engine behind programs, garden tour, and our advocacy efforts. 

Candace Blank for all of her attention related to our members and new initiatives to help engage members more. 

Sharon Storbeck who also helps with the plant sale logistics and helps us with all the financial nitty-gritty.

Doug Chien who made sure the grant program continued this year and will continue next year! 

Byron Lanning who brings his distinctive voice to our newsletters and other communications. We are so lucky to have such a talented writer bring his inspired musings and turns-of phrases to our communications.

Cynthia Colvin who helps us think through possible solutions to the problems we encounter. 

Month-by-Month Activities 


The January Member Meeting (via Zoom)

  • New border members Cynthia Colvin and Douglas Chien introduced.
  • Plans for 2021 announced.
  • Janice Gricus, Master Gardener and expert seed sower, demonstrated seed starting via nature’s germination method. View it on West Cook’s YouTube channel.
  • Members met each other in Zoom breakout rooms with conversation prompts.
    • Tell us about your favorite native plant or why you choose natives.
    • Did anything unexpected grow or happen in your garden?

Mentorship Program Launched 

West Cook began a mentoring program, matching new(er) gardeners with more experienced gardeners to share resources, information, and advice. WCWO members received priority.

Recipients of 2021 Garden for Nature Grant Announced

Eleven nonprofit and public organizations in the Chicago area received  $250 to $1,000  to buy only native plants or seeds to create native gardens.


Presentation to FOPCON

Stephanie presented “Wildly Beneficial: Native Plants” to the Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory. She shared the what, why, and how of native plants. 

Year of the Butterfly

West Cook Wild Ones, represented by Adrian and Laura, collaborated through most of the growing season to participate in the Year of the Butterfly. The Brooks Earth Action Team proposed to the Village of Oak Park that 2021 should be proclaimed the Year of the Butterfly. VOP made the proclamation. WCWO partnered with FOPCON to organize institutions, community groups and congregations to sponsor and host activities and events that ran from spring until early fall. These slides highlight just a few of the organizations (including partnerships) that contributed to the initiative: Celebrating Year of the Butterfly 2021


Doug Chien’s garden was on the tour. Photo by Beth Rooney.

2021 Native Plant Sale

West Cook partnered with Forest Preserve Department Cook County and Conservation@Home to sell single and kits of native plants by preorder. Buyers picked up the plants and plant kits at the Forest Preserves of Cook County Central Warehouse and the Sagawau Environmental Learning Center.  A record 11,500 + plants were sold.

Leftover plants, cared for by Laura and other volunteers, donated to grantees WonderWorks, APAC, and to non-grantees Soaring Eagles Academy and the River Forest Community Center.




Eagle Scout Garden Project at Hepzibah

For nearly a year, Adrian and Byron mentored an Eagle Scout who made plans to install a native garden at Hepzibah, which was planted in early June 2021. 

Wolf Road Prairie

For some of the summer, Wolf Road Prairie was threatened (and continues to be threatened) by development of a neighboring savanna. Adrian wrote a piece explaining the significance of this threat: Why We Should Care about Wolf Road Prairie. Adrian created flyers and handouts that helped to communicate the importance of WRP, which were then distributed in multiple ways. Other levels of assistance were provided from our group. The threat is not over but has at least been delayed. (A similar story happened with Bell Bowl Prairie in Rockford, IL in October-November, 2021.)


Butterflies: A Native Garden Tour 

With The Year of the Butterfly as the theme, eight gardeners, who have experimented with and observed butterfly habitats, gave guided tours and answered questions about their native gardens, sustainable landscapes, and edible gardening. Tours took place in Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park, and Berwyn. The event sold 306 tickets.

APAC Garden Support

Stephanie met with Phyllis Rubin of Temple Har Zion and representatives of Austin People’s Action Center (one of our grantees) and helped with advice about prepping the site, selecting native plants, making a plan, finding a source for the plants, and then organized the plants for planting which happened in October. Read article here: Austin nonprofit grows a prairie garden

FPDCC Referendum

WCWO is taking an active part, led by Adrian, in helping the FPDCC communicate about and pass the FPDCC referendum to assure sustainable future funding. This recalls our founding vision of a wildlife corridor that connects at one end with Thatcher Woods, and also is important because of our partnership with FPDCC.

Volunteer Appreciation Party

Socially-distanced party was help at Laura’s house and many volunteers had a great time reliving their time amongst thousands of plants and getting to know each other a little more. 🙂


2021 Tree and Shrub Sale 

West Cook helped  One Earth Collective’s  native tree and shrub sale. Proceeds went to the One Earth Collective. All sales were preordered; pickup was at the Euclid Ave., United Methodist Church in Oak Park. 367 native trees and shrubs sold.


Before Covid 19 restrictions,  West Cook set up tables at various public events such as Farmers’ markets, Earth Day, Forest Preserve affairs, and green block parties  presenting information about native plants, naturescaping, monarch butterfly conservation, and biodiversity education.  In September, West Cook set up a table at  South East Oak Park Community Organization’s (SEOPCO)  BarrieFest, the first tabling event in two years, and broke the Covid curse. 


Speakers and Presentations for the Year

Midwest Native Gardening Basics  (three presentation series)

1. Top 10 Things New Native Gardeners Need to Know (February)

 Chicago-based horticulturist Ken Williams emphasized the importance of native plant gardening and contrasted it to other types of residential gardening. 

2.  Native Plants Through the Seasons (May)

Owner of Good-Natured Landscapes, Denise Sandoval, suggested native plants that are sophisticated, great for wildlife, grow well in a range of conditions, locally purchased, and look beautiful in small to medium landscapes.

3. Native Plant Garden Q&A (April)

Monica Buckley of Red Stem Native Landscapes and Sarah Michehl of The Land Conservancy of McHenry County answered all questions from simple to complex. View the presentation at  West Cook’s YouTube channel.

Be the Super Generation That Saves the Monarch Butterfly (May)

Terri Treacy of the Illinois Monarch Project taught the audience about the monarch’s unique lifecycle, migration patterns, and increasing survival threats, notably, the loss of habitat and The Illinois Monarch Project’s plan of action. View the presentation at  West Cook’s YouTube channel.

Birds in the Garden: Creating & Enjoying a Bird Oasis (June)

Pam Karlson’s Garden

This presentation featured Pam Karlson photographs of the Chicago bird garden she created and its bird visitors, illustrating how to attract over 100 bird species.

Native Predatory Wasps: Their Role as Pollinators and Beneficial Insects (July)

Heather Holm illustrated the natural history of native wasps, their nesting habitat, prey specificity, and their ecosystem services: pest insect population control and pollination.

Golden Digger Wasp Photo by Heather Holm


Soil: It Is Not Dirt! (August)

Dwayne Anderson, University of Illinois Master Gardener, and Gemini Bhalsod, Educator for University of Illinois Master Gardener Program, discussed the importance of soil health for ecosystems and native plant gardens.


Creating Butterfly Habitats: Through the Seasons (September)

Stephanie Walquist, president of Wild Ones West Cook, explained the basic requirements and essential practices for butterfly gardens and how to create habitat gardens for some of the area’s diverse local butterfly species for all stages of their life cycles.

October Membership Meeting: How Did Your Garden Grow? (October)

An informal meeting to connect members, chat about native plants, and share tales of gardens. The session was interactive and brimming with photos.

Wild City, Human Ecosystem: Wolf Road Prairie, Westchester, Illinois  (November)

Wyatt Widmer, the steward of Wolf Road Prairie, discussed the ecosystem of the prairie, its biodiverse species, and how the prairie and humans can exist together as mutually beneficial parts of the ecosystem.

Wolf Road Prairie
Photo by Stephanie Walquist



And we got big plans for 2022!