Below please enjoy a quick stroll through some of my favorite landscape images of the front and back beds at HQ. If you follow me on social media (FB, TW, IG), you've seen the collages of client spaces as well as seasonal changes at HQ. My best to you all in this new year -- prairie up!
For all the angst, suffering, and downright conflict last year presented us, it also seemed to go by really fast. I walked the garden more times than ever in all seasons, and found great delight in discovering nuances I'd have glossed over if I had been busier -- even though I definitely was busy installing some 100,000 square feet of gardens this year.
Below please enjoy a quick stroll through some of my favorite landscape images of the front and back beds at HQ. If you follow me on social media (FB, TW, IG), you've seen the collages of client spaces as well as seasonal changes at HQ. My best to you all in this new year -- prairie up!
Here are the practical and the dreamy for the garden lover in your life. Or, what works well for me after much trowel and error. And NB -- these are Amazon links, but I encourage you to get them from local shops when you can.
Fireman's Hose Nozzle
Tired of sprinkler nozzle handles breaking off? Or ones with odd water pressure? Try a fireman's nozzle, especially this one which I've had for years with no problem at all. Takes a licking and keeps on watering.
Gardens hose are a necessary evil, which is one reason I try to design drought tolerant gardens. The coil, kink, are heavy, and take up lots of space. Not an expandable hose. While it might rip if dragged too much over sharp stones or metal, and shouldn't be left out over winter, I'm smitten. It shrinks to half its size when drained and is as light as a feather -- and seldom if ever kinks. Bam.
I don't need to try any other soil knife, or any other hand tool. This one saws through roots, cuts twine, treats clay soil like butter, and opens bags and boxes and more. #1 tool in the garden.
I've spent decades trying to find the perfect garden glove -- one I can use while planting, watering, cutting, or hauling stone. There is no perfect glove, but this one gets close. You'll find others that will probably work just as well from different brands, but what I like about this design is a complete coating on the back of the hand (think abrasion and water resistance). There's a cooler summer work glove option, as well as an insulated autumn / winter option.
These are garden design books that changed my perspective and helped me grow (I'd suggest my book but it's not a design book -- however, the next one will be, in 2022).
Planting in a Post-Wild World -- Thomas Rainer and Claudia West
The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden -- Roy Diblik
Field Guide to Wildflowers of Nebraska and the Great Plains -- Jon Farrar (ok, not a design book per se)
Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden -- Jessica Walliser
Pollinators of Native Plants -- Heather Holm
I've been thinking a lot lately about how we choose garden plants; it's almost always about how the plant looks. And one thing that happens is a gardener may choose a native that isn't meant to live a long time, but when it dies it leaves a hole and the gardener feels like they have a black thumb in year two and three. This happens a lot with early-succession plants, or colonizers.
I'm thinking about Ratibida pinnata and Rudbeckia hirta. The former is a short-lived perennial meant to vanish over time when it's in a thick, naturally-layered and resilient bed. If you use it on its own there are many problems: it's too tall (flops) and too open (weeds can easily compete underneath). In a tallgrass prairie it's one of the first plants to move in but won't stay around in large numbers until the area is disturbed, often via fire.
Rudbeckia hirta is more like a biennial, with basal foliage the first year that's good at weed suppression, and in year two it flowers but by late summer is getting leggy and / or dying back in ugly fashion. So if you have an open garden bed, Rudbeckia looks great for a while, and it will even reseed, but you have to wait two years to get a similar show again, and by then weeds are back and the bed may look lopsided.
And maybe a big part of the issue we have with plants like the above is that we tend to treat them as static, sculptural individuals. These plants evolved to grow in a rich, lush, layered, dynamic, ever-changing landscape. A traditional garden bed is too often the opposite -- specimens placed individually apart from others in single layers with wood mulch meant to look the same for a decade. For example, if you put a grouping of Ratibida pinnata (a tall plant) behind a grouping of shorter Asclepias tuberosa, it's going to 1) look weird and 2) behave in ways detrimental to the health and longevity of the bed. Those Ratibida are going to slouch over the Asclepias and fade away. These plants did not evolve in this kind of community.
One way to rectify the situation is to bring in sedges -- Carex radiata, Carex praegracilis-- or some bunchgrasses like Bouteloua curtipendula and Schizachyrium scoparium. What we're doing is building the layers and community, creating some buttresses for the taller forb, and ensuring weeds will have no long-term foothold or new space to move into. It's also going to look so much better -- fuller and more uniform in all seasons.
If you walk into a prairie it's more likely you'll see small groupings or even smatterings of individual Ratibida and Rudbeckia. Now, in a home garden where it's critical to up the aesthetic show, we can bring in more of each species in larger masses -- but we still absolutely have to have the main component of the wild community they came from, plant layers underneath and alongside, especially the grasses. We can up the layering and seasonal show even more by including Callirhoe involucrata, Liatris punctata, Pycnanthemum tenuifolium, Baptisia minor, and Solidago flexicaulis -- all weaving in and out of the sedge and grasses like we'd see in a prairie, but brought down to scale and floral impact for the home garden. If we don't have those other forbs in the mix, then in a few years (if we're dependent on the Ratibida and Rudbeckia) we'll have few to no flowers at all.
So let's bullet point the above:
With cooler weather comes seeding season. After a few hard freezes and before the new year is the best time to sow, giving seeds ample time to be stratified and break dormancy for spring germination. Following is a brief guide on creating a custom seed mix and sowing it by hand.
Generally speaking, a prairie-style seeding has the following ratios:
50 seeds / ft
50% grass (25 seeds / ft)
50% forbs (25 seeds / ft)
Let’s break the percentages down further on our 50/50 mix into functional groups that fill various ecological niches:
35% warm season grass
15% cool season grass and / or sedge
Why are we using these percentages? While some site and / or aesthetic goals will require different percentages, this is generally a solid breakdown to hit as many goals as possible at one time. The warm season grasses will do the bulk of the matrix work, while the cool season grasses and sedge will help with weed control and site stabilization in the shoulder seasons when they grow most actively. Legumes add nitrogen to the soil, while annuals provide first year weed competition, erosion control, and color. Perennial flowers will do the bulk of the aesthetic show, and within their 30% is a mix of early successional species as well as those that take longer to establish but that are also longer lived. Now, let’s take a look at a sample list and seed weights; do note that this is a very basic list using illustrative species and is not necessarily meant for application.
Since you’ll be buying seed by the ounce, you’ll need to know how many seeds are in an ounce; that information (along with more details on germination codes) can be found most easily online at Prairie Moon Nursery for each species you’re using.
Calculating seeds per foot
Here's a sample calculation for Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), assuming it alone would comprise the warm-season grass category:
50 seeds per foot x 0.35 (35%) = 17 seeds per foot
17 seeds per foot x 2,000 square feet = 34,000 seeds
34,000 seeds / 6,600 seeds per ounce = 5.15oz
For a 2,000’ area at 50 seeds per foot on bare soil, our seed list might look like this:
35% warm season grass (17 seeds/ft)
6,600 seeds per ounce, 17 seeds per foot, 34,000 seeds = 5.15oz
15% cool season grass / sedge (8/ft)
29,000 seeds per ounce, 4 seeds per foot, 8,000 seeds = 0.28oz
53,000 per oz, 4 seeds per foot, 8,000 seeds = 0.15oz
10% legumes (6/ft)
16,000 seeds per ounce, 3 seeds per foot, 6,000 seeds = 0.375oz
15,000 seeds per ounce, 3 seeds per foot, 6,000 seeds = 0.375oz
10% annuals (6/ft)
87,500 seed per ounce, 3 seeds per foot, 6,000 seeds = 0.069oz
2,700 seeds per ounce, 3 seeds per foot, 6,000 seeds = 2.2oz
30% perennials (15/ft)
11,000 per oz, 2 per foot, 4,000 = 0.36oz
5,200 per oz, 2 per foot, 4,000 = 0.77oz
4,300 per oz, 2 per foot, 4,000 seeds = 0.93oz
378,000 per oz, 2 per foot, 4,000 seeds = 0.01oz
Rudbeckia hirta (pioneer / early successional)
92,000 per oz, 2 per foot, 4,000 seeds = 0.043oz
16,000, 2 per foot, 4,000 seeds = 0.25oz
Ratibida pinnata (pioneer / early successional)
30,000, 2 per foot, 4,000 seeds = 0.13oz
55,000, 2 per foot, 4,000 seeds = 0.07oz
Total weight of pure live seed -- 11.162oz
There’s probably not a magic bullet on creating a custom seed mix. Generally, I’m trying to give you a middle-of-the road baseline which you can tweak. Warm season grass seed may do best with a late spring seeding -- but it also might not be practical, which is why doubling its rate in a dormant seeding may be a good idea. Seeds of any plant type can be eaten or washed away or just never do anything, so I subscribe to the more-is-better-if-you-can-afford-it scenario. When you buy seed you should see a tag that shows PLS (pure live seed); this percentage is calculated by taking into consideration seed purity, germination rate, and seed dormancy. You can use PLS to increase or decrease rates of each species based on the expected germination rate. See, it gets quite complex, and if it’s too much for you right now just know that the most important aspect in a seeding is diversity -- diversity of species, niches, and ecosystem function so we create resilience. The above list could easily benefit from increased diversity in habit, succession, bloom color, bloom time, and bloom sequence, for example.
In the end, we simply want to cover the ground ASAP and we want competition ASAP; the more plants we have with a diversity of functional groups, the sooner a garden can perform ecosystem services. Several studies of prairie restorations show that the ratio of survival from seed to mature plant is generally around 5-10%, so if you want 5 plants per square foot you’ll need to sow 50 seeds per square foot.
A person can do 1 acre tossing seed by hand in under a day, and most people reading this book probably won’t be sowing anywhere near this size. To get a more uniform seed distribution when hand sowing you’ll want to use a very slightly moistened or dry seed carrier, a medium that bulks up the mix. Most folks use compost, sand, sawdust, or vermiculite at a rate of 0.5 cubic feet (3.75 gallons) per 1,000 square feet. However, for small areas, you can eyeball it -- one handful of seed per 4-5 handfuls of carrier. I prefer vermiculite, which isn’t heavy like sand or compost and, to my eye, provides the most even seed distribution with the carrier (you can also see where your seed has landed very easily -- broadcasting on top of puffy snow that does not have a surface layer of ice on a sunny day also works well). You do not want to hand broadcast on a windy day -- generally, less than 10mph is good, and 0 is best. Walking with the wind to your back is also helpful as a light breeze can help carry the seed forward as you broadcast.
Divide your seed mix + carrier in half; walking one way broadcast the first half, then walking perpendicular broadcast the second half. Be stingy as it's better to have too much than not enough, but you won't hit every square foot and you don't necessarily have to. In the first growing season mow the area down to 4-6" when weeds get 8-12" tall. In the second season mow or trim the space at 12" tall to continue depriving annual weeds of flowering and setting seed.
No topic is hotter than how to avoid and / or work with weed control when they come with a stern letter. In my town, any report filed online by a neighbor must be followed up with an inspection and letter. Sometimes it really is a weedy landscape full of invasive threats, and sometimes it's a well-intentioned gardener who, for a myriad of reasons, has a garden that's a bit too wild.
I've written before on how plant selection and management is critical, and how gardeners often don't give these things enough research and attention. But if you are in a predicament where you can't start from scratch -- or do a significant makeover -- there are some strategies to employ which show your landscape has purpose, at least to the casual passerby.
Let's explore our garden at HQ, which has had its run ins with the law. And that's ok -- you can't change minds or policies by playing it safe with a monoculture of lawn. So first up, the oldest part of the 1/4 acre suburban lot:
Let's all agree that this is a "wild" garden by any standard definition of traditional suburban landscaping. There's no lawn for starters, but further, the plants are diverse, not tiered by height, and spreading organically. Some would call it messy, some would call it lush and healthy. I want you to put post-it notes or fingers over the wooden bridge, arbor, and fountain. What happens? It's a patch of (pretty? functional?) weeds. Someone has clearly let it go (I confess I have this year purposefully, as a way to repair damage and let the plants fill in some spots, teaching me what / how / where to manage next year -- a very different kind of gardening for sure).
But include those three hardscape features (bridge, arbor, fountain) and something happens -- the garden is shown to have purpose. It is an intentional space. Not only that, but these linear, hard objects give the eye some place to anchor upon, making the plants more legible. It's a simple trick, and while it won't please or convince everyone, it will likely convince those who matter most. Other objects one could use are sculptures, benches, and trellises.
This second image is our front yard, and the plants were chosen even more intentionally because it is a more visible space (it's not behind a fence). So to start off, read the posts I linked to above about plant selection and management. While plant choice and management -- thinning, adding -- count for a whole lot, so does a six-foot-wide lawn pathway moving up the middle of the two beds and up around the front of the house. That delineation serves as a place for the eye to rest and to be anchored, and a welcoming access point to move through the wilder landscape; it also ties into the rest of the lawn-dominated suburban neighborhood even if the lawn is not 100% perfectly-manicured fescue. In addition, there is a small sign saying that this is a pollinator garden with a website for more information.
These small strategies can go a long way toward both avoiding and working with weed control. So while your first priority is likely to be removing really tall plants or those that flop over onto sidewalks -- and some that have spread too easily -- your second priority is to include a bench, an arbor, a path, a sign, or a sculpture to show intentional gardening and not just laziness. If we're going to change minds we can't forget that especially in lived, urban areas, there are still de-facto gardening rules -- and playing with them, bending their seeming constraints, can lead to some real creativity, satisfaction, and ecosystem function (wildlife habitat, storm water runoff mitigation, soil stabilization, air cleaning / cooling...). Prairie up.
Our goal is always to put the right plant in with the right plant communities. In a hybrid approach where ornamental layers are placed purposefully with plugs, and a matrix of grass is sown in, the realization that plants are not static but dynamic will soon become evident. It’s our ability to embrace that dynamism and competition that sets apart natural gardens from their traditional counterparts.
In a smaller garden we’d be wise to choose plants that are generally behaved clumpers -- they won’t spread too much by runners or sowing. But even site conditions can affect these plants, as clay soil and dense, layered vegetation will inhibit plant reproduction (in general) while loamy or sandy soil with less plant competition will encourage it (in general). If the majority of plants that are best suited to your site tend to have aggressive natures, it’s best to use ALL aggressive plant species so they butt heads, collide, and help keep each other in check.
We also shouldn’t place plants based on their mature size. If a plant tag, aka thorough internet and book research, shows a full grown plants gets 3’ wide we should still plant it 12” from its neighbor. Why would you do that, especially when plants cost money and losing even one can be like a shot to the heart? Because our goal is to cover the ground ASAP, preferably in the first year and definitely by summer of the second year. Place your plants based on size at the time of installation; over time, the more robust species and specimens will out compete the lesser ones, and that’s ok as long as the ground stays covered in the future.
Once those plants get going and are competing healthily it’s time to crack open a hard lemonade. You can crack open another one when you start seeing plants move around and find their own way -- which is exactly what we want as they fill in, create layers, and augment the design we kickstarted. You can always thin and transplant -- that’s what gardeners do -- but you’ll be surprised and even thankful at what the plants teach as they shuffle, thrive, and falter. Let that dynamic purpose have its way, especially since you planned for it by using multiple layers and plants suited for the site. You’ve also planned for plants to fill niches -- layers of succession and layers of seasonality, as well as layers in time.
Consider Rudbeckia hirta, a freely-self sowing biennial that can often be the scourge of the garden creating a monoculture. However, you can be a Rudbeckia whisperer. Black-eyed susan as first year basal foliage that is well-suited to erosion control and shading out weed seeds in the soil surface. You’ll even get a few first-year flowers to appease neighbors and bees. In the second year the fuller flower flush will appear alongside some of the early-establishing perennials, and in year three -- once the perennials have really started to fill in -- the Rudbeckia seeds will have less light in which to germinate. If you seeded in a bunchgrass matrix, the grasses will now allow the black-eyed susan to create little charming stands or solitary spikes of flowers, in balance with the competition provided by the grasses.
One final strategy to consider when using a matrix is based on how grasses tend to dominate in both a prairie and a garden. In some ways we want lots of grasses, as they are effective at erosion and weed control while providing critical wildlife habitat. Still, we obviously want flowers (and so do pollinators and spiders and birds). Something to consider when choosing forbs is to select plants the spread by rhizome or root runners, as well as those that tend to produce good amounts of seed. That last point is counter intuitive to what we explored above, about not using free-seeding flowers in a small bed; and that still holds true for a small bed. But in larger areas approaching several thousand square feet, we want to have at least a few plants that cast their seed around -- and maybe we especially want those that drop seed near the mother plant to create larger colonies, masses, and drifts.
You can see there’s a lot to consider, but I wouldn’t want to do without at least 40-50% grass cover because of their many benefits to ecosystem function -- either using them in intermingled or matrix designs. If you find grasses starting to tip the balance too much, say 70%, management like early summer mowing, dormant forb overseeding, and definitely planting more plugs in fall will all turn the tide.
*The above is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Reprairie Suburbia: An Introduction to Natural Garden Design (2022).
Here in eastern Nebraska this growing season has been met with a late April snow, cool / moist May, very hot and dry June into July, then an early fall in August but still fairly dry. The plants keep plugging along, even if some are shorter than usual (Eutrochium, Vernonia, Silphium). Please enjoy some images of HQ. If you want to stay on top of all the plants, gardens, and wildlife we run across, Instagram is the way to go!
The other night I was reading part of a book I bought as research for my unwritten Oklahoma memoir (because I apparently like to think about 5 different projects at once). It was a collection of accounts from Native Americans who survived the 1868 Washita Massacre led by Custer on peace chief Black Kettle's encampment along the Washita River in western Oklahoma -- a massacre that happened an hour upstream from where my family homesteaded three decades later.
Returning Cheyenne who fled the event found mutilated bodies stripped naked and placed in sexually suggestive poses. I'd tell you more details but I can't stomach it.
This level of violence hasn't ended though. Maybe it takes on different forms at times and becomes more subtle and sinister. We live in a violent culture founded by violent means. Every luxury is given to us through a series of violent acts in a supply chain of subjugation and irreverence and supremacy.
I completed a rough draft of the new garden book's first chapter yesterday morning, a chapter that explores what prairie is and its ecological history using this material as the basis for a lesson on garden design. But then I realize -- garden design is a luxury given to us through a series of violent acts. This house I live in and land upon which I garden, the plants erased, the plants grown with fossil fuels in pots produced by fossil fuels shipped with fossil fuels extracted in sensitive and often public ecosystems sold for cheap. I don't know how long it might take for a lush, natural garden filled with native plants to undo the damage done by our privilege, but I suspect it won't occur in my lifetime or my son's. If ever.
Is gardening an escape from such "dark" thoughts, something to soothe and heal our emotions and get us through? Of course. But if that's all it is then it is an act of denial, of turning one's head or sticking it in the sand, ultimately making gardening hollow and almost as egregious as what we do to other species and to one another.
If having our hands in the soil is to make the kind of difference we intend it to have, we need to reckon with the history and reality of what we do, where we are, and how we live. That's not unpatriotic or destructive -- it's liberating as we sabotage the power structures that limit our compassion and strength.
If you planted a garden 2-3 years ago and you still see lots of wood mulch, then you need more plants. You're probably still seeing a decent number of weeds at this point, too (mulch isn't a magic weed bullet and, if too thick, often creates an ideal seed bed). So, you know, more plants. More layers. More density.
And if you are planting a garden today think about where you do AND don't want to be in 2-3 years:
1) Only put down 1" of mulch if you're using it. More mulch = less plant sowing while generally inhibiting forb and grass growth.
2) Put plants on 12" centers (12" apart) and no more.
3) Consider mixing potted plants and seeds to increase coverage. In spring sow grasses and annuals among what you planted. In mid to late fall consider a dormant seeding of perennial forbs among what you planted. (Maybe what you plant is the highly designed part, or plants that need a head start because they work on roots first like Baptisia and Amorpha and Silphium).
What do you do if you're on a constrained budget?
1) See #3 above. The best advice is to plant the architectural plants -- trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers -- that take longer to establish and serve as the backbone for the design. You may also want to plant aggressive species and let them start to self so or run asap.
2) Get plugs. Most landscapers and nurseries get their plant material from wholesalers, and that requires a business license. But you can also get them (if you're east of the Great Plains) via Izel Native Plants which works as a middleman for wholesalers to sell to the public. That means if you need plants in quantities of 32 and 50 you can get them for a much better per-plant cost.
I struggle with finding the middle ground for advocacy. On the one hand are folks concerned primarily about plants as being hosts for insect larvae, yet not paying enough attention to the designed community of plants and how that creates the needed habitat for egg laying to even occur. And then on the other hand are folks who focus on the designed plant community while privileging flowers as being critical for adult pollinators, yet not paying enough attention to producing more insect young via host plants.
These two groups can broadly be labeled as wildlife enthusiasts and landscape designers, respectively. They both "get it" but from different ends of the spectrum that are essentially the same. The former group tends to eschew tenets of design -- succession, community, form, texture -- while the latter tends to eschew wildlife reproduction in favor of color and ambience. (These are broad generalizations, so forgive me if you don't agree or fit in neatly on one end of the spectrum -- I'm just making partially unfair blanket observations to get to a point.)
My new book will attempt to better align these two perspectives, as both are critical for the success of urban gardens that both appeal to and involve people and wildlife together. It is critical that people find nature-inspired gardens beautiful, while it is just as critical that wildlife find them beautiful as well. Just because one has host plants does not mean the garden is beautiful to wildlife, and just because one has a diversity of flowers doesn't mean the garden is beautiful to wildlife.
Take monarch butterflies who must have milkweed to reproduce -- especially in spring and summer. They also must have a community of plants that both provide habitat for other species in the same food web as well as providing ecosystem services year round (cleaning water, amending soil, cooling the air, preventing erosion, creating winter habitat for hibernating insects and bugs, etc). And a critical part of that plant community is nectar plants for adult migrating monarchs come later summer and into fall, especially a diversity of aster and goldenrod species among others (late boneset, ironweed, blue sage, sunflowers, etc). However, growing certain milkweed species will result in plants that may spread too aggressively or become too tall, or otherwise might need selective thinning to maintain a design that isn't a threat to the mow and blow crowd.
Sure, plant Asclepias syriaca, but it tends to work better aesthetically in a larger landscape or as a few individual stems in the back or middle of a border. Shorter, more clumping-like species such as A, tuberosa may work, or even those that are short yet also seem to self sow around like A. verticillata. And among these milkweed ensure you have layers of diverse native plants that provide flowers (and host larvae of other insect species) from April to October, along with an intermix of sedge and grass -- and even a clump of shrubs and trees -- that mutually support one another and even more wildlife than just one butterfly species all year round.
I suppose my greatest concern is this: that we might garden for one species at the exclusion of others while justifying that exclusion with whatever validates our point of view. That can be unkempt wildness without a nod to structural diversity and necessary aesthetics (uber gardening for one butterfly species even), or a focus on flower color and diversity for human appreciation / acceptance that may primarily support adult insect species at the exclusion of a diversity of plants that produce insect young. Are these ideologically-opposed perspectives? Heck no. But the balance can easily get out of whack as passions grow. Creating gardens that are as beautiful for all species together, at once, is a hard task that requires focus, knowledge, and in many respects a type of gardening that balances the very fine line of too wild and not wild enough. That's the gardener's dilemma in a world of mass extinction and climate change, where one species has privileged itself at the expense of others. How much do we "garden," and what does "gardening" look like in a world we've reshaped in our own image?
We moved to our home in 2007, and for a few years I mowed and fertilized and even watered diligently. Then I just got fed up with spending an hour every week in the heat as I watched an adjacent 1,500ft garden fill in and support wildlife. Until 2015 I neglected the back lawn, some 3,000ft or so, and as a result the tall fescue got a little patchy and weak. It burned bad every August and, in 2013-2014 some prairie grasses began moving in. Ok, I thought, the landscape of benign neglect was telling me something.
So in the fall of 2015 I scalped the back lawn hard, planted a few hundred plugs, and sowed some prairie grass and forb seed.
In the spring of 2016 I mowed short to try and keep the fescue back and allow sunlight on to the soil surface more for seed germination. About June I stopped. I read somewhere that if you let a fescue lawn go to seed it weakens the grass; I'm not sure if that's true (let me know), but I do know that by the end of the first year I had little bluestem and sideoats grama in almost every square inch.
In 2017 biennial forbs really came on and totally smothered the lawn. The two workhorses were mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) and black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta). These guys seemed to do a number on the fescue in the first half of the year, totally shading, outcompeting, and generally smothering -- of course, I did sow them fairly thickly. By the end of the season the warm season grasses had taken over the job, and in all but the shadiest areas where the warm season native grasses did not take as well, the fescue lawn all but vanished. But I still had a dearth of perennial flower younglings from what I could tell, so I kept planting a few dozen plugs here and there every spring and fall -- which I still do as I tweak, replace, augment, etc.
In the annual mow that occurs every March, both the thatch layer and what the mower left behind is very thick, so I hand rake all 2,500ft every two years. I want to encourage all the flower seeds I know are out there from the past few years -- as well as the seed I kept throwing out -- and it paid off in two ways. First, in 2019 I had a massive abundance of various aster species and and an increase in slower growing forbs like Baptisia. More and more seedlings seemed to appear throughout the summer, and by fall I had a very showy aster display. However, that aster abundance primarily occurred right at the edge of a shade line from my neighbor's trees on the south side. Out in the full sun area, forbs that like it dry and sunny were growing fuller (while the warm season grasses were thick and lush.
This year is perhaps the thickest the space has ever been, and that's with a lack of June rain and tons of early heat. Forbs are starting to move in from that southerly shade line and are, surprisingly, affecting the density of little bluestem and sideoats grama around and under them. I want and need that grass layer -- that green mulch -- which is a superb weed barrier and soil moisture regulator, so I'm thinking it might be time for some sedge: Carex radiata or Carex blanda that can grow in the shade of taller forbs. Or, I need to do a June trim of many forbs.
I can say this for certain -- I have too many ironweed (Vernonia spp) seedlings. It really went to town this year germinating, and if I'm not careful I'll be left with an ironweed and indiangrass meadow.
I need to do a more formal survey of species density and diversity. While it's certainly not a prairie reconstruction, it is a garden that needs to mimic some of the attributes of a restoration. The primary plants I've added this year are groundcovers such as wine cups (Callirhoe involucrata) and wild geranium (Geranium maculatum).
I've also added some spreaders like Coreopsis palmata and Pycnanthemum virginanum to provide larger floral masses or drifts at low to mid level heights that match the stature of the shorter warm season grasses.
If I had to do this all over again I'd have killed the lawn in one fell swoop and employed a greater degree of patterns with which the garden could grow from. However, it has been fascinating to watch the plants convert lawn for me in slow motion, and to observe general behaviors in what amounts to a hodgepodge I'm backwards designing as I observe succession and competition. In the end, the ground is covered, the primary weed threat is manageable and woody (red cedar, siberian elm, grey dogwood), and there's always something moving in the plants: snake, rabbit, spider, dragonfly, bee, beetle, bird.
You can have a lush, gorgeous, wildlife supporting garden in shade. You can have native plants and not just the default hosta or astilbe. You can have a low maintenance space that requires no fertilizer, no supplemental watering, and only one annual mowing. But you'll have to replace some of the plants that bunnies eat.
Below is a quick trip through one client's front yard makeover: how we did it, what we used, and what issues have arisen after one year. The space was installed in May 2019 while the after images come from May 2020.
This Lincoln landscape is in an older, urban neighborhood that's well maintained (from a traditional mow and blow perspective). The front yard has several mature oak trees that provide shade to 85% of the beds, except for one corner that gets a few hours of late afternoon and evening sun. In that corner we placed more sun-loving forbs.
You'll notice the white flags, which will be the path, and blue flags that show the edge of the main area. We hope to extend that area further down hill in the future and take out more lawn; as the client says, their goal was to have less to mow and provide more for pollinators (as well as have lots of sedge -- but we'll get to that soon). I was also convinced to leave a few of the hosta on site, and I'm glad I was as they aid in some first year texture until the new native forbs get established.
We spray killed the lawn to limit soil disturbance; limiting disturbance means fewer weed problems, and dead grass provides a weed barrier, erosion control, and a temporary mulch for the first year. I usually arrive about an hour before my crew to start laying out plants. In this case I had about a dozen forbs and five species of sedge. For the sedge, I interwove and interlocked large groupings of Carex albicans, blanda, brevior, eburnea, and radiata. Each sedge provides different growth styles and texture, along with variable seed heads in early summer. Some of the shade forbs we used include:
Phlox divaricata (woodland phlox)
Aquilegia canadensis (wild columbine)
Geranium maculatum (wild geranium)
Anemone virginiana (tall thimbleweed)
Thalictrum dioicum (early meadow rue)
Solidago flexicaulis (zigzag goldenrod)
Symphyotrichum lateriflorum (calico aster)
Polygonatum biflorum (solomon's seal)
Asarum canadense (wild ginger)
The sedge has grown far more quickly than I anticipated -- partly because the soil is loose and rich, and partly because these species are adapted to shade. This good shade under oaks also increases soil moisture in the cool growing seasons (spring and fall) while keeping weeds down. Rabbits have gone after young forbs somewhat aggressively, so until those plants get established and start spreading, chicken wire cages have been employed. Other than that, the garden requires only an early March mow and no watering.
Can't have a meadow under mature trees? Sure you can. A sedge meadow.
Weed mitigation is one of the most important aspects of creating a low-maintenance pollinator garden. Often, this mitigation needs to start weeks and months before the first plant goes in the ground in order to clean up a space gone feral. But what happens when weeds keep popping up, especially in that important first year after planting when weed management is critical?
Don't pull weeds if you can help it. What happens when you do?
1) You expose dormant weed seeds embedded in the soil that come up with that weed, and then they germinate and you have more weeds.
2) That wound in the bed, full of exposed soil, is the perfect growth medium for a weed seed to blow in on and germinate.
Just as in site prep as in weeding, the less disturbance you can create in the soil the better. This is why we are not advocates of tilling or sod cutting.
Sometimes it's best to deadhead weeds as they flower, especially if they are annuals like foxtail, either by hand or mowing; often in the first year of a meadow or prairie garden, mowing keeps weeds down and prevents them from competing with the native plants while the latter work on roots. Some deeply-taprooted, perennial weeds won't even budge, and you might have to kill them via other targeted means.
As for dandelions, let's welcome them in our beds. Not so much because they provide a good nutritional source of pollen for bees (they don't), but because they provide a solid green mulch and their taproots help open up clay soil. Green mulch is the key, because we don't tend to see wood mulch in prairies -- and there's a reason for that. Wood mulch can never work as effectively as green mulch, and can certainly never create the kind of ecosystem function (think runoff mitigation) or habitat that plants can. A densely layered garden is shading out weed seedlings while taking soil nutrients away from weed seedling's roots -- there's just no room to get a foothold.
We design gardens to get as much green cover as soon as possible. This may mean planting on 10-12" centers, or combining seeding with plugs. The latter looks like this: we design drifts and masses of forbs by planting plugs, then we sow in a matrix grass often alongside annuals and biennials. Sowing annual flowers with the matrix grass means we get even more cover sooner, but we also have some first year color since even perennial plugs will take a year or three to bloom. On some sites with very aggressive perennial weeds, it might be worth experimenting with very aggressive native plants.
Overall, try to refrain from yanking a weed and think about what it will take to restore ecological balance to your garden by using plants, otherwise you will be intensively weeding the rest of your life.
Most importantly, realize that every site presents unique challenges and opportunities -- there's seldom a one-size-fits-all solution. And even when we think there's a solution, nature throws a curve ball and we have to adapt after planting and rethink management.
Don't give up. Don't think it's too hard. This takes time. The garden you are making is one of the most important places for wildlife in your neighborhood. Keep at it. Learn. Let the space teach you. Evolve and thrive.
In a recent newsletter I shared with folks a plan to DIY prep garden spaces over the summer, just in case nurseries and landscapers had to shut down this spring and could not reopen until later in the summer or fall. Autumn may actually be the best time to plant -- with less weed competition, more steady rains, and cooler temps that reduce both human and plant stress during install.
I mentioned that in considering lawn removal or bed prep, herbicide may be needed to kill grass or to make repeated controls over extremely weedy areas. For the latter, you want to kill off the current vegetation, allow weed seeds to germinate and reach several inches tall, then kill off again and again; performing this regimen helps exhaust the weed seed bank, a bank that would otherwise ruin the aesthetics of the design, impede establishment for plants you do want (and paid good money for), as well as reducing management time the first year or two when weeding will take up 99% of your garden life. [A note on weeding post planting -- it's best NOT to use chemical control if you can avoid it since you might damage "good" plants or harm wildlife. However, pulling weeds simply brings new weed seeds to the surface. Clipping or mowing weeds before they bloom will reduce weed seed production and may be the best method of weeding as the garden establishes.]
What ensued after the newsletter were many emails, some using swear words, pleading with me to not recommend the use of any herbicides for any reason at all. I can not make that kind of sweeping recommendation at this time. And if you are willing to hear me out, here's why:
In summary, the benefits of spray killing lawn or weedy beds to prep for a new garden are:
In the end we ALL have the same goal -- to revive wildness wherever we can while being wise stewards of nature in the places we live, work, and play. We will get there. We have to .
Post Script ---- In reply on various social media channels, a common refrain from folks has been that wood mulch is a stupendous weed inhibitor. First, wood mulch has to be re-applied every 1-2 years, and if you apply it too thickly it's simply a topsoil layer that weed seeds love to germinate in. On clay you don't want a thick mulch layer otherwise the soil drowns, which means the mulch is so thin weeds still have an easy go and / or it washes away into storm drains.
Second -- and more importantly -- wood mulch inhibits self sowing and plant spread. We want our garden plants to spread ASAP in order to create both an ecological community and to out compete weeds (not to mention slow erosion, sequester carbon, shade / cool our homes, etc). Wood mulch keeps plants in a perpetual state of establishment -- a common refrain espoused by landscape architect Thomas Rainer. In my design practice, we often use a combination of plugs and seeding to create a dense, layered bed quickly, something wood mulch would negate. Working with plants in this way certainly requires greater knowledge about how plants act together in communities, as well as their life cycles above and below the soil line, but learning about them in this way is worthwhile and pays massive dividends. What did nature do before the timber industry invented wood mulch in the 1970s and 80s? Plants. Plants. Plants.
As a garden designer I prefer to start from scratch -- I have a vision that's built from a client's vision, and it's often simpler to have a clean slate. Sometimes it's even more cost effective and ensures greater success. But for some clients the bones of their space works as is, especially many of the plants. So following are some things I may discuss with such a client on site and I hope they help you plan any changes you intend to make this year or next.
1) The first thing we need to know is what you like about the space and what you don't. What are some of the aesthetics you prefer, the textures and areas, the paths or seating areas. What plants are you less fond of, what management issues are you having, what are your goals for the space long term, from ecological function to maintenance to how the use of the space has evolved over time. Making lists are fantastic here.
2) Then I ask point blank: what plants do you want to keep, what plants are you fine seeing removed. This step is fun because it gives us a chance to think big and dream (and it reminds me of those weekends when, as a kid, my mom came into our rooms and closets with a trash bag and said "let's get cracking"). Often the plants that stay have sentimental value, provide a specific aesthetic experience the client values, or is a behaved species that doesn't have to go right now (even if it's not doing much for wildlife). On the other hand, plants that can go often look worse as the summer progresses, have little interest for humans and wildlife, or are aggressive.
3) If we're removing plants the garden design and install process may take longer. This isn't the case for shrubs and trees that can be cut down and ground up, but for aggressive species or weedy areas it often is the case. For older gardens that have gotten out of control, it can be beneficial to spend an entire growing season (mid spring to mid fall) continually removing unwanted plants. What this means is we may be pulling or spraying, allowing seeds to germinate again and again over months to exhaust the seed back in the soil so maintenance after install is a little easier. (Some plants with underground root stores can only be killed with spraying, so be prepared for the means justifying the ends.) Weeding the first year after install is the #1 issue for any new garden, and if we can keep on it then -- and even curtail it before -- we are doing ourselves and the new plants a big favor.
4) Of course, now is also the time to think about fixing retaining walls or sidewalks or washed out areas with drainage issues. This is often where we'll contract with a specialist. Any new hardscaping is best done before planting and will even alter how the plant design will turn out and mesh with the space.
5) Speaking of drainage and soil, there's also other site conditions to consider, especially when older plants are removed. Erased trees or shrubs may create new growing conditions -- think sunlight and water availability in the soil -- which changes our plant pallet. Even the removal of aggressive species plays a role, as well as if we leave those species in place because we'll want to choose aggressive natives that can hopefully better compete with the in-situ plants.
There will always be other aspects that crop up during a site visit as well as when the project develops, but this should help you think about where you want to go and what the process will be whether you work with a designer or DIY the garden.
It's easy to get excited about a new plant when you're gardening for wildlife in your local ecoregion, and that's especially so when the plant is small or just one or three of a kind. But often plants perform differently in home landscapes compared to the wild where there's more competition; even so, some plants just like to be the boss of others, especially when there's open space filled with wood mulch.
There are a few general habitat and design rules for small spaces that are pretty much universal (but can absolutely be broken in the right circumstances):
Following are some popular native forbs and grasses whose use might be reconsidered if your garden bed is a few hundred square feet, along with some alternatives. Keep in mind that these plants are commonly native east of the continental divide, but can otherwise serve as proxies or examples for other areas.
Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
The foliage is lovely in early summer, as are the autumn seed heads and fall leaf color, but it will self sow heartedly and flop in autumn. A good alternative is a shorter bunchgrass like sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula). Both grasses are clumpers that cover the ground plain, which is great for green mulch aficionados.
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Monarchs lay a lot of eggs on this host plant, but it will get tall and it will most certainly spread via underground runners until you have a milkweed stand and not much else. Try purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens), Sullivant's milkweed (Asclepais sullivantii) or butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) depending on if it's a part sun (A. purp), full sun and moist (A. sull) or full sun and dry (A. tub) site in your landscape.
Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)
Tons of insects come for the masses and masses of late summer blooms, and the fall color is a nice yellow. In ideal soil -- moist and loamy -- it will colonize fully. With drier conditions and clay soil, alongside other plant competition, it will mass and drift more modestly. I don't have an alternative, but can say that with plant density and root competition it's worth a try to contain.
Maximilian Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)
It'll get tall but more importantly it'll run. In its native tallgrass that's a good thing because it's a very beneficial plant for insects and bugs. A Coreopsis might be a good alternative.
New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
It's going to get leggy and then it's going to get too tall and flop in almost every garden. The former is solved with dense underplanting, but you can't do much for the rest unless all your plants are tall to buttress one another. Maybe consider aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) or smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve); the former prefers it drier while the latter is more adaptable.
Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
I think it was Sting who sang about fields of goldenrod. Maybe not. I've never had to plant canadian goldenrod because it blows in, and once it gets going it runs all over the place. Both showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) and zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) clump fairly well in tight-knit plant communities, but they will spread moderately if in beds filled with mulch. Zigzag is considered a shade plant, but I've found success in sunnier spots where it spreads less, even though I would not call it aggressive even in ideal conditions or moist shade.
Gray-Headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)
This one is a common issue. Evolved to thrive in the tallgrass prairie where it has other tall plants to lean on, as a specimen it grows quite tall then bows down in a most penitent fashion. Better to stick with pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) or even Mexican hat (Ratidiba columnifera), but the latter acts more like an biennial unless it's allowed to self sow as it prefers.
I’m often asked what are the easiest native plants to try. That question might be asked by folks new to gardening, those transitioning to native plant communities, or those with lots of experience looking to make things simpler.
There is no clear answer. The easiest native plants are those fitted to your site conditions and the other plants growing alongside them. And sometimes “easy” means you don’t have to water, the plant doesn’t spread too much, or the plants doesn’t get too tall and flop over messily. These three scenarios don’t have blanket answers, but I could say that, in order: 1) match the plant to soil and drainage; 2) match the plant to site conditions and other plants; 3) maybe the plant is in the wrong spot, tended too much, or isn’t in the best plant community.
We’ve first got to take our cues from wild plant communities -- observing how specific species perform together in specific scenarios. But we also have to know that when we try our best to match these realities in suburbia -- at home or at work and school -- the outcome will always be a bit different. For example, the soil life and profile is changed and the environmental stressers are somewhat novel. But that doesn’t mean we can’t translate well and help support the same fauna (like insects) that use both wild native plant communities and their urban analogues.
Here’s a plant community that tends to work more often than not on sunny, dry clay sites around homes (50% sun is good, too, especially on a western exposure):
There are many reasons these plants work well together, from human aesthetic concerns to filling ecological niches and layers. The grasses, mallow, and alumroot all work as a ground cover or green mulch. The forbs serve as seasonal color and resources for pollinators of various species. There’s different texture, structure, and height for humans to enjoy. Many of the plants look good in winter. Some plants have fibrous root zones, some are tap rooted, and others have corms -- this mixing ensures plants don’t always compete at the same levels for nutrients, but also helps stem erosion and rainfall absorption as the soil layers are amended. Well, I could REALLY go on about all of this, but that’s for another time. If you crave more specifics please ask away.
Ultimately, the above plants are fairly low worry, adaptable, and thrive with loving neglect. You still have to "garden" of course -- weeding, thinning, replacing, cutting back in spring, etc -- but the above short list does tend to be fairly reliable.
What a year for the gardens -- plenty of rain in spring (too much) helps in some cases, and then we had not enough in fall. In any case, here are some of my favorite images captured around HQ this year, many of which you have seen or will see in various other posts. Which one is your favorite?
Implementing a native plant pollinator garden can quickly become complicated, especially when you're new to a lot of the design and ecological principles at play (plant communities, layering, root growth, bloom succession, reproduction methods, etc). From choosing the wrong plants for the site to matching those plants to one another, these are issues I've explored before on this blog. But it's not all that complex (well maybe it is), especially once you learn a few basic principles and dive in after you've done some healthy research. Let's attempt to distill what makes a natural pollinator garden beautiful for wildlife and people, all while requiring less management (water, mulch, fertilizer) than a typical garden.
LEARNING ABOUT PLANTS
So yes, you have to research plants. You can't just trust a plant tag or even a sales person, especially because when you put a little legwork in you learn way, way more. So let's say you've just picked up a pale purple coneflower, Echinacea pallida. The plant tag likely says it needs full sun and dry soil. That tag can't fit enough pertinent info on there to help you garden with more success, such as: what TYPE of soil; how it actually performs in various conditions; what wildlife it literally grows. Is it even native to the local ecoregion? Go online and type a search in for "Echinacea pallida." Websites that I've found the most helpful in learning about plants here in flyover country include:
Prairie Moon Nursery
Missouri Botanical Garden
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Once you've read about the plants from these sites -- and even a local / regional book, such as Field Guide to Wildflowers of Nebraska and the Great Plains -- you'll know more than most folks and you can plant with much more ecological confidence.
What you'll discover about Echinacea pallida is that it has a deep tap root, and planted as a plug it will take 1-2 years before flowering as it works on that tap root. You'll learn it prefers leaner, drier soils but can thrive in the moisture swings of clay soil. You'll learn it's a clumper that, in bare soil, will lightly self sow. Since it has a deep taproot it works well among other plants that have more fibrous root zones, that way the plants aren't always competing for the same resources. You'll learn its flower stalks get taller in more rich soil and that its basal foliage stays relatively short to the ground, with long, fuzzy leaves. Since its foliage isn't all that dense or large, other plants that require more sunlight -- including ground covers -- will do well right next to it. You may even discover in your reading that the dried flower heads, nearly jet black, remain all winter, and how cool they look with a backdrop of short prairie grasses (like little bluestem) as the winter sun filters in behind them.
KEY ASPECTS OF PLANTS & NATURAL DESIGN
So, what are some of the key aspects of a plant you should be looking for when creating your small urban garden?
1) Reproduction -- does it spread by seed or rhizome or both, and how aggressively?
2) Root Growth -- does it need room to spread or can it be happy with a limited vertical window?
3) Foliage Density -- the larger the leaf and more profuse the number, the more soil is shaded. That's good for suppressing weeds (as are plants with fibrous root zones)
4) Mature Size -- for your specific site conditions. A specific plant in full sun, plenty of moisture, and loamy soil performs much differently than when placed in gravelly loam or clay or part sun even if they adapt to both sites. Echinacea pallida is a good example -- tall and floppy in rich, moist soil where it's by its lonesome, but more suited to leaner soils with plant competition.
5) Flowering -- what time of year does it flower? Humans want flowers every day of the year -- and so do adult pollinators -- so plan for bloom succession in your garden using a variety of plant species (including grass and sedge).
6) Winter Interest -- does it have any special autumn and winter physical characteristic you might want to plant for?
7) Host Services -- which species of insects and bugs use the plant as a host for their young? Which use it for nectar and pollen? How do other fauna use the plant?
Learning about these seven aspects of a plant will help you plan the garden. For example, in 100ft you don't want more than one aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) since it tends to act like a small shrub getting 2-3ft wide and tall on average, especially in richer soils. On the other hand, you want more than 2-3 nodding onion (Allium cernuum) because the bulb takes a while to reproduce and the plants remain fairly inconspicuous for years -- so a grouping of 7-11 might be a good idea.
In general, you want a plant every 12 inches or less. You might want a thin 1 inch mulch layer after planting depending on soil type. However, you don't have to use wood mulch -- you could use a sedge as a base layer (Carex albicans or Carex blanda might work well), or you could sow in a low bunch grass like sideoats grama (Boutelous curtipendula). Why use a green carpet / green mulch / matrix beyond the fact we're mimicing natural plant communities and want less maintenance? Because one aspect of color theory is that an even baselayer of green -- especially when it's the same hue of green -- creates a legible calm upon which we can engage with and find a landscape legible or attractive.
If you want flower color ASAP in year one -- as well as weed suppression -- consider sowing annual forbs alongside the sideoats grama; plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) or clasping coneflower (Dracopis amplexicaulis) work well and fade out over time as perennials get going. A lot of garden designers have started using the biennial black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta) as a nurse crop and weed competitor with its good basal foliage and self sowing habit; plus it all but disappears after 3-4 years as other plants fill in densely.
PUTTING THE PLANTS TOGETHER
So in a 100ft garden in 50% to 100% sun, medium to dry clay soil, a plant list -- massed by species -- for much of the Midwest and east might look like this (adjust for your region):
5 prairie alumroot (Heuchera richardsonii) -- mid spring bloom, dense / large-leaved basal foliage, tends not to spread
3 dwarf wild indigo (Baptisia minor) -- mid spring bloom, open shrub-like foliage, taproot, black seed pods, tends not to spread, slow to establish
7 pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) -- early summer bloom, taproot, black seed heads, light self sowing
5 purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea) -- clumping, thin foliage early-summer bloomer, light self sowing
11 nodding onion (Allium cernuum) -- short clumps of midsummer flowers, upright / thin foliage, bulbs slowly reproduce
5 dotted blazingstar (Liatris punctata) -- thick clumps of mid to late summer flower spikes, corm (tubor-like root), tends not to spread
3 zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) -- early fall bloom, slowly spreads by rhizome if adequate competition
1 aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) -- mid to late fall bloom, shrub like habit that shades out soil
If you askew wood mulch and weeds (wood mulch does NOT prevent weeds), place 50-75 sedge in the space. Or you can sow in a few handfuls of sideoats grama and some of the aforementioned annual and biennial forbs in spring to early summer.
The key to the plant list and design is this -- to mass the perennial forbs listed above. People scared of plants not lined up like a firing squad tend to view massing / clumping as a more legible and intentional space. Coincidentally, pollinators flying overhead can easier spot a clump of coneflowers instead of just one or two. And by the way, do not cut down this garden in fall or winter.
Another aspect of this plant list is that there's a diversity of heights, structures, and textures -- something we humans expect and enjoy in a planned garden. But that diversity of plants also means more opportunity for a variety of wildlife to use them in various ways, from feeding their young to getting nectar / pollen to winter seeds to shelter during hibernation and pupation.
What else can be said for this plant list? Zigzag goldenrod can be aggressive in the right conditions (loamy soil, less competition), but in a dense planting on 12 inch centers -- and many of those plants have similar root zone habits -- it's kept more in check while providing what we and pollinators desire. The blazingstar and onion will be happy since their corms and bulbs occupy their own zone in the soil. Indigo and coneflower will put down taproots below firbous grasses. There's a lot to consider but here's a secret -- observing these species in the wild (in prairies) will tell you a lot about IF they will grow together and HOW they will grow individually. When using plants that come from the same wild community we are one step ahead of the game in creating a sustainable space that's beautiful to both people and wildlife equally.
So what do you think? Is this helpful? Tell us what you've learned and what you might try differently.
Here are some images of the fall gardens at HQ over the last week (click to embiggen). I wish October lasted twice as long!
Benjamin Vogt's thoughts on prairie gardening in Nebraska. With a healthy dose of landscape ethics, ecophilosophy, climate change, and social justice.
In a time of climate change and mass extinction how & for whom we garden matters more than ever.
"This book is about so much more than gardening."