Jeanne Nolan is Gardening From the Ground Up

Just as a chef starts a meal with only the finest ingredients, quality soil is an important component of a strong and healthy garden. Growing heirloom and organic fruits and vegetables in soil filled with lead residue defeats the purpose, says Jeanne Nolan, founder of the Glencoe-based The Organic Gardener Ltd., and author of From the Ground Up: A Food Grower’s Education in Life, Love, and the Movement That’s Changing the Nation.

The fall and winter months are a great time to plan a garden. First, make sure the soil is healthy. “You can easily find out if there is lead in your soil by getting it tested,” says Nolan. “The University of Illinois at Chicago Extension ( offers a list a places where you can send just a couple of tablespoons as a sample and they’ll do an analysis for you.”

The way Nolan speaks about gardening might give the impression that she was raised on a farm. That’s hardly the case, and the book recounts her story of growing up in Winnetka and leaving home soon after she graduated from New Trier High School in search of an opportunity to get closer to nature. Through her experiences, she learned which crops play well together, which ones don’t and why good sunlight and soil are integral to the growing cycle.

Nolan feels that she is living proof that anyone can learn to garden. “Just about anybody, anywhere, can garden and grow several crops,” she notes. “Gardening is very forgiving. Something will always grow.”

These days, Nolan is putting the plants to bed for the season at The Edible Gardens, a 5,000-square-foot garden of beautiful, organically grown vegetables, fruits, herbs, grains and flowers she operates in Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo as one of Green City Market’s primary educational outreach programs. She also works with residential clients, organizations and restaurants to build organic gardens in their backyards or on rooftops, and with several schools to introduce gardening into their curriculum.

The grow-your-own trend is spreading fast in the Chicagoland area and beyond because people want to be part of an environmental solution that also enhances their quality of life. Nolan is happy to share what she’s learned with others and offers “Ten Lists of Ten Essentials for Every Aspiring Gardener” in the back of her book, which includes How to Grow a Food Garden in Ten Steps and Ten Ways to Tackle Weeds and Pests Without Chemicals.

“Oh, and if your soil test comes back showing lead and not healthy to grow vegetables? No worries. Build raised beds,” says Nolan, undeterred.

Meet Jeanne Nolan at upcoming book talks and signing events. Visit for a list of local appearances.

To win a free copy of Jeanne Nolan’s From the Ground Up: A Food Grower’s Education in Life, Love, and the Movement That’s Changing the Nation, visit

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