Lurie Garden’s mow-down will be proceeded by the collection of plant material for Columbia College Chicago’s paper-making explorations.

At the beginning of March Lurie Garden plants that have been standing all winter are cut down to make way for spring. This cut-down is done by mowers that mulch the plants and put it back onto the ground. However, this year a small amount will be taken to Columbia College to be cooked and mashed till they are fit for making paper.

Milkweed, red switchgrass, little bluestem, northern sea oats and baptisia are collected for Columbia College Chicago papermaking uses.

Milkweed, red switchgrass, little bluestem, northern sea oats, and baptisia are collected for Columbia College Chicago papermaking uses.

To identify which plants will be set aside for this purpose, Professor Melissa Potter who teaches hand papermaking at Columbia College Chicago and is a co-founder of Seeds InService walks around the garden snapping plant stems. If instead of a clean break, long stringy fibers are clinging to the stem it will probably make for good paper.

Prof. Melissa Potter goes through the garden before the cut-down to assess the plants for papermaking viability.

If the stems produce long stringy strips when broken, this is a good sign the plant will be well suited for making paper.

2018 was the first year of this relationship between Columbia College and Lurie Garden. Bundles of the garden’s plants sat in the papermaking studio and were used throughout the year for the college’s undergraduate-level papermaking courses, graduate-level exploratory work, as well as to add to the papermaking studio’s impressive library of handmade papers and papermaking knowledge base.

On the walls of the papermaking studio at Columbia College Chicago hangs a collection made by papermaker Cecile Webster showing the array of characteristics handmade papers have when made from the various parts of a plant.

This collaboration brings a new dimension to the garden’s ideal to be a resource to all of its neighbors. Professor Potter’s work extends the life of the garden’s plants and the ultimate desire to bring nature’s beauty into lives while educating the public. Not only do her students learn about the plants native to the Chicago region, but the products of their work are beautiful alone and are potential substrates with a multidimensional story that starts in Chicago’s Lurie Garden.

The mow-down is typically scheduled in early March.