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American Society of Landscape Architects


April 2006 Issue

Tea, Anyone?
A Chicago horticulturist puts compost tea to the test.

By Allison Knab

Tea, Anyone? Jennifer Appel, ASLA

Strolling past the Rose Gardens of Grant Park, Chicagoans and area visitors would have no idea a landscaping revolution is taking place. Downwind from the soaring Buckingham Fountain, intermittently bordered by the city’s latest weekend festival, there are no signs to indicate the ongoing experiments occurring in the park’s rose gardens.

The force behind the experiments, Christine Nye, isn’t even sure how she would let visitors know what she’s done. “What would the signs even say?” she asks one afternoon in the garden, then stands still a minute, considering, her straw hat blocking the sun from her eyes.

They might say something about compost tea, or natural pest control, or big ideas that Nye, the horticultural manager of Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, had while landscaping at the aquarium in the spring of 2004. “One day I was out working on the north field and I thought, this whole peninsula should be organic,” says Nye. “We should set an example—that it can be done even on this scale.” Soon after, she was on the phone to the park district. “I said, ‘I want you to work with me. I want you to give me trial space—just give me some pieces and at the end of the year we can evaluate.’”

Nye was interested in looking at the use of compost tea, which she’d been experimenting with for years at the Shedd Aquarium, where she had a 22-gallon tank she was using to brew the tea in the basement. She began taking her truck around the city and beyond, dropping the results off with other horticulturalists in the area.

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