PGM in pictures


Stringing together even two interesting words has seemed a challenge of late. Late-summer lethargy? Age-related brain cell loss? Allergies? Who knows. Who cares?

butterfly garden

Here, instead, are are some pretty pictures, shot this morning in the greenhouse and gardens behind the Pacific Garden Mission. PGM is a Chicago institution; originally founded in 1877, the shelter stood at 646 S. State for 84 years. Its huge neon cross, declaring “Jesus Saves,” was an icon of the South Loop.


The mission relocated to a spiffy new “green” building in 2007, following an eminent domain claim by the city, which wanted to expand the adjacent Jones College Prep. The new, Stanley Tigerman-designed facility, in a nameless nowhereland somewhere between the South Loop, Chinatown, and Pilsen, features a green roof of native plants, solar-thermal panels, low-flow water fixtures, and a host of other ecoconscious amenties. Running along the south wall of the building, just across a chain-link fence from the UPS parking lot, are the greenhouses.


I’ve been volunteering here since January, but haven’t written much about it because a) I wanted to respect the privacy of the residents who work with us in the greenhouse program and b) you try writing about working with the homeless without sounding like some smug, self-righteous jerk. Everytime I tried I hated myself.

saad and sayre

Anyway. As I’ve mentioned, we’ve been getting some nice press lately, the gardens have hit a stage of full-on late-summer blowsiness, and today I finally remembered to bring my camera. Above, Saad and Sayre discuss how to make a dill pickle glow. (Seriously.) Above them is a view of the west greenhouse, and above that are a few shots of the beautiful butterfly garden.


empty lot

Before we got our hands on it, it looked something like this.


But now: butterflies!

Actually, I’m fudging the facts. There *are* butterflies everywhere — along with all sorts of other flying bugs — but this monarch is actually hanging out in the vegetable garden, which occupies a long, narrow strip of land outside the greenhouses. 

kale and marigolds

Here, some kale is tucked into a bed of marigolds.


While here, fennel is going — gloriously — to seed.

long view

Here’s the long view.


And here are some golden tomatoes. I don’t know the varietal — we started a lot of mystery seeds this winter. But it’s possible — or, really, probable — that Nance does.


Here’s Jose, examining the largest praying mantis I have EVER FREAKING SEEN. It crawled out of the greenhouse and onto Sayre’s T-shirt before making for the basil.

What? You can’t see it?


There you go. Too bad I didn’t get a picture of last week’s pair of hornworms. Now I can’t find them anywhere, which is a little freaky.


Inside are caladium ….


…. figs ….


… succulents …


… and fish. Someday, once we’ve figured out how to not kill these guys, we may upgrade to tilapia.

wild tomatoes

This above may be my favorite area of all. It’s an experiment in laissez-faire horticulture, a riot of botany gone wild, where dill and fennel and brussels sprouts have bolted long ago and now reach their crazy feathery fronds to the ceiling. It’s a weirdly prehistoric landscape in miniature that, honestly, defies description. Above, in the foreground, are some volunteer cherry tomatoes. I don’t know where they came from, but I guess tomato seeds must be quite mobile, and hardy, as we are constantly weeding out tiny tomato sprouts from the containers in the greenhouse. By all appearances I’d guess this set just landed on this little pile of miscellaneous soil, found it hospitable, and, against all odds, started to thrive.