'Prairie paramedic' worries Naperville pollinator garden could be removed
A wildflower garden at a Naperville post office will be in jeopardy if postal officials follow through on plans to eliminate it.
Carolyn Finzer, who has spent years helping tend to the garden, says officials told her earlier this month they intend to seek bids to remove the prairie plants on either side of the entrance to the office at 1750 W. Ogden Ave. She said she's been informed some of the plants violate a height limit for growth near entrances and the postal service plans to replace them with mulch and a low retaining wall.
A postal service customer service supervisor, who identified herself only as Tanitcha, said Wednesday she was unaware of plans to remove the garden. She said the officer in charge of the facility, Michael Young, is out of the office until July 5. Postal service media representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Now Finzer and other Naperville-area gardeners say they are reaching out to the U.S. Postmaster General, seeking to extend the life of the prairie plants they've been cultivating for the past decade.
Finzer began incorporating native flowers, ground covers and grasses outside the post office 10 years ago to attract pollinators such as bees and monarchs. When she started bringing plants she found or received from fellow gardeners, she said she was "greeted by cigarette butts, chewing gum, fast-food wrappers, plastic bags and assorted junk, just blown and thrown."
"I considered it environmental rejuvenation of a very dead area that needed a lot of help," Finzer said. "I felt like a prairie paramedic."
The seeds and shoots she and others planted -- such as bee balm, black-eyed Susans, day lilies, Joe-Pye weed, salvia, prairie clover, a peony bush and an ornamental onion -- took hold gradually.
On Wednesday afternoon, the pollinator garden showed mixed greenery, some of it more than 6 feet tall, along with blooms in whites, yellows, oranges and purples.
Some of the plants, such as the tall Silphium perfoliatum known as the "cup plant," look like weeds, and Finzer knows it. But because they're native to Illinois, they conserve water and attract monarchs, Finzer said the weedy appearance serves a natural purpose.
That's where she and the postal service disagree, said Jim Kleinwachter, program manager for The Conservation Foundation in Naperville. Through the Conservation@Work program, Kleinwachter certified the post office garden as "an eco-friendly natural area," designated by a sign near the door.
So instead of tearing the garden out, he hopes he can forge a compromise that would allow the post office to approve a landscape design for a more aesthetically pleasing prairie that still helps the environment and attracts butterflies and bees.
"There are ways to make a garden more formal and more organized in appearance with lower-profile plants and still retain the value to the environment," he said. "We can make it more attractive. I know the tricks."
But he said outreach efforts to Young and the postal service requesting to negotiate have gone unanswered.
"We're not getting consistent communication," he said.
The postal service in April 2017 issued a series of pollinator stamps, which sold out. The stamps, featuring images of monarchs and honeybees, aimed to inform of the valuable crop pollination role these insects play, according to the postal service website.
The irony puzzles Finzer and Kleinwachter, who say they hope the agency will honor its commitment to pollinators by allowing the garden to remain in place.
"We have this pollinator garden on public property," Kleinwachter said. "And it would be a shame to lose it."