Monthly Archives: June 2016

Doan Brook Watershed Partnership

by Victoria Mills

Doan Brook connects us.  It’s an elegant simplicity that can get lost in our bustling, urban neighborhoods.  Elsa Johnson’s kind invitation to reach out to the Gardenopolis Cleveland audience gives us the opportunity to, not only highlight the Doan Brook Watershed Partnership’s recent activities, but also to reiterate the goals that we share.


The work of the Partnership is important to local, clean water, but it’s equally important to community.  Through our work, kids and adults from ‘Heights’ communities work alongside new friends from the Cleveland neighborhoods of University Circle, Little Italy, Shaker Square, Larchmere, Buckeye. St Clair-Superior and Glenville. 


As they pull invasive weeds or remove litter from the Brook, they laugh and grow an understanding that clean water requires effort from each one of us, in every single neighborhood within each of the watershed municipalities of Cleveland, Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights.  Community-building in the Doan Brook Watershed has a wonderful cyclical rhythm, as people learn to fish, build rain-barrels, plant trees, and paddle Lower Lake at many events throughout the year.


BF3_3367Like healthy aquatic ecosystems, our watershed landscapes are inherently more diverse when gardens replace the monoculture of lawns. Some lawn has a role in our communities and homes, as a place for outdoor recreation and relaxation. When lawns consume an inordinate percentage of our urban landscapes, they are expensive to maintain, create needless, polluted runoff and can become a void for biodiversity– including for critical soil life and pollinators.  For this reason, the Partnership applauds Gardenopolis’ vision for inclusion and diversity in both plant and human populations.  Diversity equals resilience for our future communities and landscapes. 

In fact, in twelve years since our inception, with collaboration from diverse partners, we have restored thousands of feet of stream, filtered acres of untreated stormwater with new raingardens, improved biodiversity with hundreds of trees and native plants, invited tens of thousands of people to interactive workshops and events and, most importantly, raised awareness about our local treasure, the Doan Brook. Needless to say, we hope to multiply these efforts in the future.  With only two staff, the Partnership is grateful for an active volunteer corps.  Individuals step forward to help with everything from cleaning up litter to running big events of 200-700 people.  Great teams of students, especially from Hawken, Shaker, CMSD, Laurel and Case Western Reserve, provide the bulk of person-power needed to remove invasive species and install and maintain raingardens. 


The primary way that restoration along the Doan moves forward is through successful grant applications, submitted by either the Partnership or one of its partners.  Restoration projects at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, Woodbury School, Shaker Country Club and Rockefeller Park have provided new in-stream and riparian habitats in the last ten years. 

In early 2015, the Partnership received nearly $180,000 from the Sustain Our Great Lakes Foundation to remove a concrete debris rack spanning the width of Doan Brook, at the western end of the Gorge, 90 feet upstream from the Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Drive, between Fairhill and North Park Blvds. The failed debris rack is a source of impairment, not prevention because it prevents the natural movement of bed-load and fish. The Doan Gorge Habitat Restoration Project will create a comprehensive solution to restore ~300 linear feet of Doan Brook in the pristine Gorge. Since receiving the grant, DBWP assembled a Technical Advisory Committee that includes engineers from Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD). The committee will work with consultants to model hydraulics and study all options from complete removal to dam modifications. Regardless of which option is chosen, the project will restore the streambed profile, proper sediment transport, and the Brook’s original channel alignment. In addition, invasive species will be removed from the project reach.

This year the Partnership finished initial plan designs for four restoration sites along the Doan, with a $50,000 grant from Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). For many smaller organizations like ours, long-range planning amid the day-to-day realities of programming and managing the organization can be a challenge. When major grant funding becomes available, it is critical to have plans ready at short notice. This GLRI grant allowed us to prepare plans for four targeted restoration interventions along the Brook, including an estuary where the Doan enters Lake Erie, a new oxbow meander at Sowinski Park, the removal of eleven check dams, and tributary repairs throughout the Canterbury Golf Course. It’s important to reemphasize that, although we are excited about these potential restoration sites, these plans are not yet projects. This study showed that these four concepts are plausible, but it will take more study, more discussion with stakeholders, and, of course, more grant funding to move forward with any of them.

The Partnership invites all the wonderful gardeners of the Gardenopolis community to learn more about our projects, home-habitat workshops, fun outdoor events and volunteer opportunities.  And, as well as your participation, we invite your suggestions for how to improve the quality and access of the Doan Brook.  A study conducted by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation interviewed 43,000 people in 26 communities to learn what bonds them to where they live. In every region of the country, above economy and schools, the following three qualities ranked highest: a sense of openness, social gathering places and beautiful green spaces. The work of Gardenopolis Cleveland and the Doan Brook Watershed Partnership promotes all three of these crucial elements. And the Doan Brook gives our community a common focal point that, despite our differences, reminds us how we are interconnected and interdependent.

Gorge Hike

We look forward to working with gardeners to restore our watershed landscape and build strong attachments to our local places for many more years to come.

Taking a Swing at Pawpaws

by Tom Gibson

Growing pawpaws and, especially, getting them to fruit in quantity has been an exercise in slow motion frustration.  Each year since my 6 trees started flowering in 2010 (planted in 2008) I’ve made at least one misstep that has limited production and/or harvest.

It reminds me of a particularly agonizing game of baseball, with just one or two swings per year and never getting the bat squarely on the ball.  What follows is an account of my ups (few) and downs (many) as I try to raise a proper harvest and how (spoiler alert!) this year I may finally have hit a home run.

A good pawpaw crop is a worthy goal.  The fruit are delicious—with a taste somewhere between a banana and a mango.  They are great fresh from the tree , in smoothies , and in a whole range of desserts.  

Pawpaw-smoothie-vertical-Web jpegsi

They also contain exceptionally high levels of nutrition. (

They are native to North America (with custard apple relatives in Central America) and they are particularly resistant to many of the plagues of more traditional fruit, from fungi to insects to deer. (Their leaves even contain compounds that are the basis for insecticides.) Their history is particularly ancient; at one time they enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with mammoths

pawpaw mammoth

(, who ate the fruit, pooped out the seeds in a nice pile of fertilizer, and spread the trees far and wide.   In recent years, pawpaws and their consumers have benefitted from active breeding for flavor.

But they still have distinct idiosyncrasies that reflect their origins. And it’s those idiosyncrasies with which I have struggled over the past 6 years since my pawpaw trees started to flower.  Here’s my chronicle:

Year 3, 2010. I had already avoided the problem of cross-pollination by planting two distinct cultivars.  In this, I was better off than the Holden Arboretum, which planted only one set of cultivars and was puzzled when they didn’t fruit!  A huge, embarrassing swing and a miss!

But my pawpaws still weren’t fruiting.  Their pre-Columbian origins meant that they had evolved without the honey bee. Thus the pawpaws’ dark red, funereal l flowers that don’t look or smell like anything a bee would visit.  

pawpaw blossoms

Instead, its pollinators are detritus-loving beetles  and blow flies, the iridescent blue-green flies we see on dog poop.  

pawpaw beetle

pawpaw blow-fly_210x179

Clearly, my suburban Cleveland Heights yard did not contain enough dead animal waste!

Some pawpaw growers solve this problem by supplying their orchards with roadkill and dead fish  

pawpaw fish

(definitely not an approach that would have pleased my neighbors or my wife!). 

An Athens, Ohio, permaculturist runs goats through his pawpaw orchards. The goats eat grass that might compete with the pawpaws and leave behind poop.  The ingenious farmer harvests both milk and fruit. But, once again, not a Cleveland Heights solution.

So flowers, but no fruit.  In baseball terms, a called strike.

Year 4, Spring 2012. The suggested online solution for suburban pawpaw pollination is by hand. Buy the finest-haired, most delicate water color brush and gently knock pollen off one cultivar’s flower into a dish, then “paint” the pollen into the flower of another cultivar.  

Pawpaw Hand Pollination Tools-715x536

I try this, bumbling around inside one flower, knocking loose a light brown shower of particles, gathering the pollen on my brush, and bumbling around again inside the next cultivar’s flower.  I have no idea if I’m hitting the stigma, the female part of the flower, but then, in a meta sense, blow flies don’t know what they’re doing, either.

Year 4, Fall 2012. Twenty fruit have formed! Green orbs the size of mangos.  pawpaw tree

A Wooster Arboretum horticulturist tells me to wait until the pawpaws turn brown before harvesting.  So I wait. It’s early October, but still no brown, maybe a tiny suggestion of yellow.  Suddenly 4 of the fruit on one cultivar disappear.  It looks like a raccoon or a possum knew more about pawpaw ripeness than my horticulturist acquaintance.

I learn to judge ripeness by feel.  Just the right amount of softness and I can bring fruit from the other, later-maturing cultivar into the kitchen window sill for raccoon-free ripening (too early, though, and the fruit never gets ripe enough to eat!).

Nevertheless, my wife and I are excited. We love the wonderful custardy texture of a fully ripe pawpaw.  We give a few fruit away to special gardening friends. It’s almost like child birth.  I tell my grandchildren that I have become a “Pawpaw Papa!”

Of all our progeny, we managed to harvest and eat just 12 of the original 20.  In baseball terms, we’ve gotten hits, but we’ve left a lot of runners on base. We want to score more!

Years 5 and 6, 2013-2014. More fruit, require more blossoms.  But the latter seem less abundant they should be.  Eric Toensmeier, the famous permaculturist, who grows pawpaws prolifically in Massachusetts, writes that, in nature, pawpaws like to grow as understory trees next to black locusts. Presumably, pawpaws crave the nitrogen that these legume trees and their symbiotic bacteria make available to the plants around them.  Elsa Johnson, my landscape design partner and Gardenopolis Cleveland co-editor, and I get permission from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and travel to the museum’s Ashtabula preserve where black locusts grow like weeds.  We dig up five foot-high seedlings and transplant them right behind my pawpaw trees. Just a few years later and the black locusts are taller than the 12 foot pawpaws.


I also spread a wood chip mulch around the trees—both to preserve moisture (noting that pawpaws often grow in the wild along river banks) and proliferate root growth.

Finally, I add lime, since calcium is supposed to aid fruit set.

Harvests stay in the 15 to 20 fruit range. We’re winning, but not by much.

Year 7, 2015. Whatever we’ve done seems to have worked. Blossoms appear in profusion. I hand-pollinate furiously for 10 days. After a week or so, tiny fruitlets appear—200 in all!  (You’re probably beginning to notice a certain obsessiveness on my part!).  Then, disaster!  Two strong thunderstorms knock all but 4 fruitlets off the trees. My grand slam home run as essentially turned into a long out.

Later that fall, I notice that most of the lime was still in place, still undissolved.  So not much help for fruit set.  Instead, I learned in last fall’s Ohio State Soil Fertility course ( that gypsum or calcium sulfate should have been my preferred source of calcium.  Not only do the calcium ions in gypsum dissolve rapidly, but gypsum does not raise the pH.  (Pawpaws prefer a more acidic pH of 5.5 to 7.) I spread gypsum under every tree.

Year 8, 2016 spring.  So here we are.  What do we have?  Despite 4 vigorous thunderstorms this spring, the fruit have held. I’ve got about 20 adolescent fruit per tree and they’re looking great!    Will 2016 be the Year of the Big Score?  I’ll let you know in October.


It’s Serviceberry Time!

by Elsa Johnson

What to Do With Serviceberries:

First, you ask, what do they taste like? To me they taste a bit like cranberries combined with cherries. Above all, somehow, they taste familiar, unlike some of the more exotic fruits currently popular and available – gumi berries, goji berries, honeyberries (which do not taste anything like honey). I like fruit that tastes a bit tart, so I pick my serviceberries when they begin to turn from red to purple.  Serviceberries are about the size of currants or small blueberries, so picking is slow – nonetheless, you will soon have enough to brighten something edible. There are small seeds at the top that sometimes pull out as you pick the berries, but often don’t. I find them unobjectionable.

0612161900-1My multi-trunk serviceberry trees are still relatively small at ten to twelve feet tall. The birds get the berries at the top and on the upper branches, but have a hard time harvesting the berries hanging at the ends of the lower outer branches. Those berries are mine. 

serviceberries (1) 0612161323-2                                          

I made buckwheat pancakes with today’s berries, adding some berries directly to the batter while reserving some to make a sauce. I made the sauce by adding the berries to a bit of leftover raspberry/rhubarb jam brightened with lemon juice and cooking briefly (thicken slightly with corn starch if you wish). My spouse and I tend to like things to taste bright rather than merely sweet.



Other things you could do with serviceberries? I think pie made with serviceberries would be good if you had the patience to pick enough berries. The berries hold their shape well even when cooked. The richness of the crust would set off the sweet tartness of the berries.  Add a dab of slightly sweetened whipped cream on top — mmmmmm. They would also nicely perk up bran muffins.

Meat eaters might find a relish of serviceberries appealing, particularly with pork or chicken.

In a couple more days the last of the serviceberries will ripen. I think I may try a variation on a dessert from my own Scandinavian background called Rod Grod Med Flod – which, properly pronounced, sounds like you are speaking with a golf ball in your mouth. For my variation of this summer fruit dessert (traditionally made with strawberries or raspberries) I will use homemade small pearl tapioca, the kind where you whip the egg whites to fluff and add them at the last minute to the custard. I like to sweeten my tapioca with honey. I haven’t yet decided whether to turn the berries into the traditional cooked sauce to spoon on top – I think I may just add them whole and raw. I think that might be interesting.

Warning: serviceberries eaten in quantity may be slightly laxative.

Folklore of etymology: Amalanchier is commonly known in various localities as shadblow, serviceberry, juneberry, saskatoon, and other local names, depending on where it grows. Shadblow comes from the Northeast coast where the amalanchiers bloom at the same time the shad (a migratory fish like salmon) ‘blow’ – i.e., swim up river to spawn… while the name Juneberry comes from the tree’s tendency to set fruit in June – it is actually a little late this month.

Wikipedia says: “ …a fanciful etymology explains the name ‘serviceberry’ by noting that the flowers bloom about the time the roads in the Appalachian mountains became passable – allowing circuit riding preachers to resume church services . A similar etymology says that blooming serviceberries indicated the ground had thawed enough to dig graves, so burial services could be held for those who died in the winter when the only way to deal with the bodies was to allow them to freeze and wait for spring.” Wikipedia continues: “Both of these fanciful etymologies are unlikely to be correct since the term is attested for both the English and New World species as early as the 16th century.”

Either way – enjoy your Serviceberries – both for their early spring flowers, so important to early spring pollinators, many of them native, and for the berries that follow in June. Why let the birds and chipmunks have them all?!



It’s Everything

                            I’m picking serviceberries to the sound

of seeth                          that sea sound of the wind high

in the rigging of the trees                              hundreds of

miles from ocean             reminding me                  again

how    without water                           life could not exist

on this planet                       The sea flows through us all

even though we are far away                      through our

salted blood     through the birds’ blood   (with whom I

share these berries)    even through the trees      There

are unsalted seas closer home                               choppy

(and dangerous)         that        though good to see   to

hear       do not stir the seeth in me                       I am   

picking berries to the sound of sea  :                       three

for the birds                 two for me                  Life is good     


It’s Everything

by Elsa Johnson

                            I’m picking serviceberries to the sound

of seeth                          that sea sound of the wind high

in the rigging of the trees                              hundreds of

miles from ocean             reminding me                  again

how    without water                           life could not exist

on this planet                       The sea flows through us all

even though we are far away                      through our

salted blood     through the birds’ blood   (with whom I

share these berries)    even through the trees      There

are unsalted seas closer home                               choppy

(and dangerous)         that        though good to see   to

hear       do not stir the seeth in me                       I am   

picking berries to the sound of sea  :                       three

for the birds                 two for me                  Life is good     

Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights 2016

by Catherine Feldman
20160601_143923GARDENOPOLIS Cleveland is happy to advertise and recommend the12th Annual Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights tour to take place on Fathers’ Day, June 19th from noon until five pm. As always, fantastic gardens will be open to the public: this year, six private gardens from all across Shaker and one community garden at Shaker Heights High School will be on display. Visitors may purchase tickets now for $20 at the Shaker Historical Society, Gali’s Florist and Garden Center, J. Pistone Market, Van Aken Hardware, Shaker Hardware, Juma Gallery and Bremec on the Heights. Tickets may also be purchased for $25 at Shaker Heights Historical Society and at each of the gardens on the day of the tour.

For avid, curious and sociable gardeners there is also a kickoff party on Friday, June 17th from 6 -10 pm. The party is special this year because it takes place in a 150+year old farmhouse that belonged to Rockefeller’s pastor and golf buddy, the Reverend William Bustard. The house has been lovingly maintained and furnished by hosts, Jude and Dick Parke. A raise the paddle auction will be held in honor of former Fire Chief, George Vild. In recognition of the Shaker Heights Fire Department centennial funds will be raised for renovation of Shaker’s first fire truck, the 1917 La France pumper. Tickets may be purchased for $150 until June 10th at the Shaker Historical Society. Party chairs are Jennifer Sullivan and Stacy Hunter; honorary chairs are Fire Chief and Mrs. Patrick Sweeney. For information, call 216-921-1201.

If you would like to volunteer for 2 ½ hours on the day of the tour, not only will you be able to chat with other gardeners, but also will receive a free ticket to tour the gardens. If you are interested mail Stacy at

The tour benefits the Shaker Historical Society, located in the Myers mansion at 16740 South Park Boulevard. Ware Petznick, executive director of SHS,  is actively working to position it as a steward of Shaker’s past, and also it’s present and future. Ware explained to me, “The Van Sweringen brothers designed Shaker Heights on the garden city model in which the landscape was as important as the architecture. Their vision included beautiful winding streets with set back houses and deep gardens.” She added, “We are proud to present this garden tour with the help of our sponsors, particularly Liberatore Landscape Construction, Eastside Landscaping, Homestead Roofing and Aristotle Design Group.”

* In the interest of full transparency we readily reveal that co-chairs of the tour are Margaret Ransohoff, GC contributor and Catherine Feldman, GC editor 😉





Shaker Heights High School’s Audrey Stout Learning Garden

by Catherine Feldman

The Audrey Stout Learning Garden at Shaker Heights High School is a hidden delight that we were fortunate to discover.  Until 2012 the central courtyard of the school was entirely lawn, unused and ignored. Over the past four years students and staff have worked hard to create unique gardens there.

Students started with a few raised beds, but soon had wishes to cultivate a larger garden. Landscape architect, Jim McKnight, was called upon. After meeting with students to determine their needs and vision, he designed a formal hardscape within which the students’ burgeoning creativity could grow. The beautiful formal hardscape allows for different foci in different areas of the Garden.

IMG_3455Individual beds are devoted to plantings of African, Asian, European, and American origin, as well as customary modern vegetable farming: in total the Garden reflects the diverse population of the school.

Other features include espaliered apple trees along one face of the courtyard,


mushroom logs,


potato-buckets planted by the various elementary schools,

IMG_3447 a raspberry hedge, a nascent hosta collection and more.

All gardens are a work in progress, but this one is especially so. Since it is a student project, it will always reflect the changing interests of the current population and programming. So far, the high school’s International Baccalaureate program, the Special Education program, Science, Art, Politics and Literature classes (see the Ophelia garden), capstone projects and personal projects have all left their mark upon the space. Students also have participated in the local county fair and won ribbons for garlic, potatoes, cosmos, marigold and sunflowers. In total, about 500 students have their “hands in the dirt.”

The garden has also provided improved nutrition to students. Last year the garden produced 140 pounds of fruits and vegetables that was served by the school cafeteria to students and staff!

We can thank the family of Audrey Stout , a Shaker teacher, gardener and mother, who are the benefactors behind this very special garden.


Great credit goes to Paula Damm, School Nurse, and Stacy Steggert, Special Education teacher,  who have shepherded the project from its beginning.  Over the past four years they have inspired teachers and students to ever greater enthusiasm and participation in the garden and they hope that this integration of the garden into the school’s curriculum will continue to increase.

You, too, may see this garden on June 19th between noon and five in the afternoon as it will be open to the public during the the 2016 Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights tour.