From The Pacer, neighborhood newsletter since 1997, articles about the natural world of Parkview Gardens
The Community Gardens, Decorative Beds and Parks
The First Two Gardens
Two formerly vacant lots, one on Syracuse (700 block, west side of street) and the on Leland (700 block, east side of street) are the sites of thriving community gardens. Last year, both of the Loop gardens were award winners in a city-wide competition. These gardens exist thanks to Gateway Greening, Inc, a non-profit affiliated with the Missouri Botanical garden. Gateway’s mission is to vitalize inner city areas by facilitating community gardens and green-space projects. Gateway has over 80 projects throughout St. Louis. The projects cover a broad spectrum, but all are conceived of and maintained by neighborhood groups. Most, like the two in the Loop, are vegetable gardens.
[Note: A third garden, Clemens, was later opened on land donated by the Byron Company and Washington University. It is now the largest community garden.]
Eight new garden beds have been installed throughout the subdivision. They are sponsored by the Parkview Gardens Special Business district. Most have been incorporated around existing signed shrubbery beds, but others include a crescent-shape bed at Vernon and Cates. The plants are mostly perennials, but some annuals will be used, including annual vines. According to the gardener who is caring for the beds, Claire Linze, plants have been selected for their hardiness to both climate and urban challenges as well as visual appeal.
[Note: The flower beds still flourish, now tended by Kelcye McDonough.]
The Leland Community Garden has been renamed “Vito’s Garden,” after the late Vito Ponticello. He owned the land and welcomed the idea of having a community garden on it. A year and a half ago, he was killed in a car accident. His daughters inherited the land and decided to let the garden continue. Ponticello was happy to make it possible for people to grown their vegetables; he was a gardener himself.
Night Out Begins
The members of Clemens Community Garden invite the residents of Parkview Gardens to join them for the 20th annual “America’s National Night Out” Tuesday, Aug. 5. Thousands of people across the country will be participating in the event, meant to celebrate community and create safer neighborhoods. So come meet your neighbors.
Night Out Ends
The annual event, part of a national anti-crime, pro-community effort, took a different form this year. University City invited all the groups that traditionally hold their own small parties to one big party at Centennial Commons in Heman Park.
Captain Carol Jackson of the U. City Police Dept. explained the reasons for the change. “It got too large for us to make the rounds of every group,” she said. “This is probably how we’ll do it from now on. National Night Out serves the same purpose whether it’s held on the street or in Centennial Commons. We don’t discourage block parties, but the police will be at Centennial Commons. We can give everyone the best time that way. It’s more efficient. Better entertainment for all and more fun for kids.”
But Parkview Gardens Association President Mike Giger criticized the decision. Noting that the original idea behind National Night Out is that people reclaim the streets of their own area and get to know each other, he said, “The key to Night Out is the neighborhoods. People shouldn’t have to drive to Centennial Commons. This is a very short-sighted decision.”
Christine Michael, who traditionally hosts the Parkview Gardens party at Clemens community vegetable garden, decided to go ahead with this year’s event, and it was a notable success. Breezes moderated the heat. Clemens gardeners and other neighbors enjoyed food and drink and conversation around the sod sofa. Miles Jenks performed on the guitar and Al Stanger juggled. Michael Glickert, Second Ward City Councilmember, and Cheryl Adelstein, our liaison with Washington University, dropped by to discuss neighborhood news. Deborah Miller of the university police also came, and won the lottery prize, a basket of produce from the garden.
Clemens Garden Is Safe
The Clemens Community Gardeners got a scare last month. It appeared for a time that a portion of the lot the garden stands on would be sold by Washington University, the current owner, to U. City, which would then sell to a real estate developer who would build condominiums. But, at a meeting on March 20, the Clemens gardeners made their case to the City Council, which voted not to buy the land. Now the gardeners can get on with their growing season. The three community gardens are co-sponsored by the Parkview Gardens SBD and Gateway Greening.
New Stone Spiral
The renovations to upper Ackert Park have just been completed with the installation of a stone spiral between the flower beds planted last spring. From a central circle four feet across, the path spirals out to the grass. Limestone was chosen as the material, in keeping with the 1920s buildings of the area. The spiral is meant to be fun for children and soothing and meditative for adults. The upper Ackert garden was designed by Linzee Gardening, Inc., constructed by Griesedieck Brothers Landscaping, and sponsored by the Parkview Gardens Association SBD.
Household Pets and Pests
Keep Cats Inside
The Humane Society of the U.S. and most veterinarians encourage cat owners to keep their pets inside. To judge from the number of “Kitty Missing” signs you see on telephone poles, it’s a message people need to hear. The starkest statistic provided by the Humane Society is that indoor cats have a lifespan of 12-18 years, but outdoor cats live only 2-3 years. Wandering cats are exposed to the dangers of traffic, poisons, wild and domestic animals, and sub-human beings. They also have a much-increased risk of catching such diseases as feline leukemia and rabies. Some reach the safety of an animal shelter, but for two-thirds of them, it’s a one-way trip.
Roaming cats also cause troubles for other creatures, including humans. Even well-fed cats are instinctive predators that kill many songbirds. They spread diseases and make unwanted kittens. Cats dig up flowers, spray walls, yowl during mating season and find other ways to make themselves and their owners unpopular with neighbors.
Although cats get in the habit if they’re put out every night, they don’t really need to roam. They can get plenty of diversion and exercise at home–and provide the same to their owners. Just walk past your cat trailing a piece of string and you’ll see. You don’t want to be the one tacking “Kitty Lost’ signs to telephone poles, because you’ll have only a 5 % change of seeing your pet again.
Have you noticed little gray brown bugs crawling sluggishly around your apartment? I have, and my response is to capture them, which isn’t difficult, and return them to the wild. Partly because I’m a humane guy, partly because I’ve read that they emit an unpleasant odor when crushed. That’s why they’re called stink bugs.
Brown marmorated stink bugs, to be exact. They are an invasive species from Asia that arrived in Pennsylvania in 1996. They snuck into your apartment last fall and found cozy hiding places. February’s warmer temperatures and longer days have awakened them, and they’re fumbling around in search of fruit and leaves. They can fly, and sound nasty when they’re buzzing around, but they don’t sting or bite.
The time to prevent infiltration is late summer. Seal cracks around windows, doors. and baseboards and replace damaged screens. For the present, all you can do is eject them as they reappear. Stink bugs have little to recommend them, but I’ve noticed that when I dump them outside and they land on their backs, they extend their long rear legs and perform a flip as graceful as an Olympic gymnast’s.
This month the chimney swifts, having wintered in Peru, will be flying north. Soon we’ll be seeing them fly high overhead and hearing their rapid chittering calls. They nest in small chimneys. Once the young are raised they leave the chimneys and begin to roost in large groups in larger chimneys. In the fall as many as 300 swifts gather at Delmar Harvard school. They circle the main chimney at dusk and then, in the space of about three minutes, dive and tumble into the shaft.
It’s no accident that there are so many of them here. Steps have been taken to make Parkview Gardens a friendly habitat. Swifts are unable to land on the ground or perch in trees. They fly all day, and at night they like to hang from the insides of chimneys. Due to changes in home heating methods, most chimneys in old buildings aren’t used anymore, and unused chimneys are usually capped to keep out debris. The swifts can’t get in to build their nests, so they leave the area. Thanks to the efforts of the Parkview Gardens association and Teresa Kragnes, many of the newly renovated buildings in the neighborhood have been fitted with special caps that allow the swifts access. So they get to nest. We get to enjoy their aerial acrobatics, and we don’t have to put up with so many mosquitoes.
Where have all the blue jays gone? When I first lived in the Loop, in 1981-83, there seemed to be jays everywhere. You can’t miss them, or confuse them with other birds. They’re big (well, Cardinal-sized) bright blue birds with a raucous cry, and they were once common. These days, I hardly ever see one. For awhile, I put their disappearance down to the Law of Dreariness, by which drab or downright ugly birds (sparrows and starlings) replace beautiful ones (bluebirds and blue jays). But that’s hardly a scientific explanation, so I went looking on the Internet. Apparently the jay’s decline is well-established and widespread. So said an article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The expert quoted said there were two causes: the loss of oak trees to development (acorns are a major food source of jays) and West Nile virus. His count of jays was down 1.5 percent.
That’s all? I’d call that insignificant. Things must be worse here, because I haven’t seen a single jay in the neighborhood all summer, and I’ve been looking. I’m skeptical about the causes too. Although West Nile has killed a lot of birds here in recent years, we still have plenty of oak trees.
So I’d like to see a better explanation. Even more, I’d like to see a blue jay.
[Note: The local blue jay population seems to have recovered somewhat.]
I’ve noticed that in early autumn, when other birds aren’t singing anymore, the mockingbirds put forth a final burst of song, as if on the verge of winter they can rouse a return of spring all by themselves. Much as I’ve always enjoyed the mockers’ performance, I doubted they were singing for my benefit and wondered what was the reason. Recently I searched on Google. In 1990, University of North Carolina researchers did a study. By kidnapping some mockers’ mates (what scientists won’t stoop to!), and comparing their song rates to those of mockers still enjoying wedded bliss, they found that the bereft birds sang much more. Their conclusion? Mockers continue singing into the fall because they’re still trying to attract a mate. Then, in spring they can get a jump on the mating season. I’m not entirely convinced. It would seem more logical for the mockers to sing in February and March, but in fact they’re silent then. Perhaps further research will establish that the birds want a mate to cuddle up to in the wintertime.
Call of the Nightjar
On summer evenings in Parkview Gardens, you often hear a buzzy-creaky call and look up to see small birds high overhead, either circling lazily or zig-zagging quickly. I consulted master gardener Cornelius Allwood, who explained that these are nightjars. To be exact, they are nighthawks, one of three types of nightjars in this part of the country. The others are the whippoorwill and the Chuck Will’s widow. These two are strictly nocturnal, but nighthawks fly by day, too. Nightjars are also occasionally called goatsuckers, because of a mistaken belief that they can suck milk from goats. Their real source of nourishment is insects, mostly moths. I once saw hundreds of nightjars in a feeding frenzy over the floodlit Amoco sign at Skinker and Clayton. But they seem to be able to track their prey with much less light, for you hear them calling and presumably feeding through the night. They fly around with their mouths open, taking in their prey like aerial vacuum cleaners.
During the day, they rest up unobtrusively. I once saw one on a tree-branch outside my window: a medium-sized brown-gray mottled bird, well camouflaged against the bark and absolutely still. I kept checking all day and he never stirred a feather. At dusk, he promptly took wing. I’ve never seen a nightjar on the ground; they have very short legs and can’t walk very well. But I’ve read that they lay their eggs on the ground rather than building nests. That doesn’t sound like a very good reproduction strategy, and some folks worry that nightjars are declining. There seem to be plenty over Parkview Gardens this summer. In mid-August, they begin to gather. They migrate to South America by day in large flocks–a spectacular sight, said Allwood. Opinions are mixed on their repetitious call. Roger Torey Peterson, author of the classic field guide, writes it as “peent” or “pee-ik.” Opinions are bound to differ on how to spell bird calls. The Pacer’s pages are open to anyone with a different version. Think about it as you fall asleep tonight, listening to the nightjars far overhead.
Juncos are Back
The juncos have returned. Twittering flocks of these songbirds enliven Parkview Gardens in the winter. Sparrow-sized but stouter, the dark-gray birds flash white tail feathers as they fly. They spend summer in northern Canada and winter across the central U.S. Our variety is variously called the northern, slate-colored, or dark-eyed junco.