Gardeners question compromise about Naperville post office prairie
A longtime gardener and a conservation advocate thought they had their problem solved when they reached a compromise with U.S. Postal Service officials about the future of a pollinator garden at the Naperville post office on Ogden Avenue.
But when they noticed crews rototilling remaining plants and installing sod, mulch, hydrangeas and other bushes last week, they began to fear otherwise.
The issue emerged in June when Carolyn Finzer of Naperville, who had been growing prairie plants outside the post office at 1750 W. Ogden Ave. for about 10 years, was told her garden needed to go. The post office wasn't happy with the free-flowing look and the height of some of the plants and wanted the landscape in front of the entrance to be redone.
Finzer pushed back. Seeking to continue her garden, she offered to use the help of Jim Kleinwachter from a Naperville nonprofit group called The Conservation Foundation to plan a more aesthetically pleasing prairie that would help the environment and attract butterflies and bees.
In August, Finzer, Kleinwachter and Jason Howard, post office operations manager, agreed on a plan. Finzer would move her prairie plants to two small islands within the parking lot. The post office would give her until this fall to relocate other plants she wanted to save. And the post office would seek input from Finzer and Kleinwachter on what should be planted near the entrance in the future.
"We were told by the local officials that we were going to have a say in what happened with the landscape, that they wanted something that was unique and different and something that supported what we were pushing for -- for habitat for butterflies and pollinators," Kleinwachter said. "And that's not at all what happened. We're very disappointed."
Instead, Kleinwachter described the sod, mulch and bushes planted last week as a "traditional, plain, ordinary landscape."
"It's not very sustainable for this area to be putting sod in on a slope like that," he said. "I think they're going to have a lot of problems."
But Howard said work is not done on what will take the prairie plants' place outside the Naperville facility's entrance.
"It's a beginning ground to what eventually will be there," Howard said. "It's a starting point. It's not finished by any means."
Finzer was able to work with Naperville Park District, the College of DuPage, Beebe Elementary School in Naperville and private homeowners to find new locations for many of the prairie plants she cultivated. Still, she said she's not happy with the new look.
"It's very stark," she said. "They even ripped out everything along the south side of the building. It's just bare."
Finzer and Kleinwachter said they were surprised by the landscape installation because the post office had received their input through three designs submitted by Amanda Arnold of PlanIt Landscape Perspectives in Downers Grove.
Kleinwachter said Arnold designed options that incorporate native plants, but place them in larger clusters and more organized layouts than how they were spaced in Finzer's wild prairie.
While Howard said he wasn't sure if Arnold's designs were included in the landscape work done last week, he said officials remain committed to involving the prairie gardeners.
"We've definitely been working with them and we're still staying in constant contact with Carolyn to try and get a common ground," he said.
Finzer said she's focused on the two small islands, where she planted about 60 bulbs so daffodils and crocuses will emerge in the spring.
"I'm grateful for the two tiny little pollinator gardens," Finzer said. "They will be a tiny, tiny postage stamp sample of what was there before."