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!
(From time to time I post thoughts in the spirit of the old blog which ran for a decade with a mix of subjects related to gardening, plants, nature, and environmental philosophy / literature. Today I share two thoughts with you that may be part of a new, larger project. This first section is a long thought that's been rolling around in my head for years -- this is my first stab at it, and to be honest, I'm a bit uncomfortable with the subject, especially in these warped nationalistic times:
There's a vein that runs through native plant detractors that is very disturbing to me, one which I don't condone on any level or think has any validity -- it's just frightening, in fact. Some clutch on to it for comfort and trot it out when the discussion devolves into emotion only. I'm talking about calling native plant proponents racist. The assumption equates plants with people, the culture of plants and ecosystems with the culture of people (white, western most likely), which is a way to practice dominion over nature.
Let's get one thing straight -- when a native plant advocate is labeled as racist it's a defense of privilege. We've assumed a hierarchy of species on this planet, constantly defending it with art, industry, & commerce. When our compassion for other species matches or supersedes compassion for humans, that's not racism -- that's liberation.
Native plants are social justice for all species. There is nothing racist about fostering equality for other species; however, human supremacists would lead you to believe there is. Those with privilege are threatened by decolonizing traditional horticulture, a horticulture which is grounded on new plant introductions, whether discoveries from around the world or new selections and crosses. Privilege is placing a plant in an ecoregion it did not evolve in, with fauna it did not evolve with, primarily because a human wants it there.
I think what's at stake is this idea that using only or primarily native plants in gardens is constrictive and speciesist, namely speciesist against human freedom / domination / privilege / supremacy. And then somehow the conversation devolves into an accusation of racism or purity along the lines of Nazi Germany. That's ridiculous hyperbole and an insult to those who suffered and still suffer under totalitarianism -- human and other. (For more on debunking the Nazi connection to native plant proponents, see this excellent piece and especially its links.)
A new garden ethic is not about denying human rights or freedom but expanding those of the plants & animals around us who are vanishing because we have been racist toward them, colonizing their culture and forcing it to conform to ours or die. If this feels threatening or makes you angry so you lash out, then we've hit the nail on the head, haven't we.
Make no mistake, fighting for justice on behalf of plants, animals, and ecosystems is directly related to the fight made for women, people who aren't white, people who aren't straight, people who live in poverty, people who don't practice Christianity, etc. When we allow for the freedom of wildness in our cities, for example, we are providing social justice not only for birds and bees and butterflies and milkweed, but for those humans who have no other access to nature but who benefit through cleaner air, cleaner water, and increased mental health.
In the end, we all agree on one primary point -- biodiversity is threatened at a level never before witnessed by humans because we are the cause. As we move forward to mitigate mass extinction / mass genocide, it's important we remember that native plants aren't divisive among the silent majority -- 99% of the tallgrass is gone, but the wildlife that uses it are still among us hoping for a revolution of compassion and an end to human supremacy.
And here are some thoughts on language -- how we use it to go down two different roads in garden thinking:
1) Knowing the names of fauna means we have to consider their rights more thoughtfully in garden design
Here's a new theory based on a growing sample size: when we learn the names of fauna in our gardens -- spider, beetle, bee, and wasp -- we learn their life cycles and what they need to thrive. But this will then also mean our gardens (how plants are arranged) and plants (origin and ecosystem services) will often need to change, which is a direct challenge to human privilege. This is why some garden designers get worked up or outright defensive when asked to i.d. a species because, in part, the garden design process has been complicated by considering other species alongside our own. While naming is considered a classic act of ownership in environmental philosophy, in this case naming may be a gateway to equality.
2) It matters how we discuss gardens because our words reflect, inform, and develop our values.
If, for example, we discuss gardens using primarily words like "texture," "form," and "color" we aren't necessarily valuing nature or wild interactions within it like we may assume we are. When we idealize plants as objects, putting them on a pedestal of visual gratification for us, we are practicing not only privilege but supremacy (the same idea goes for calling plants and gardens "magical"). This practice gives us tacit permission to see other species and the garden in a way that primarily if not totally benefits us alone; instead of gardening as part of a web, we garden as the top of hierarchy.
There is no reason a garden can not be beautiful to both humans and countless other species, but if the texture, form, and color are not appealing to specific species of fauna then the garden is not performing its primary role. Unfortunately, knowing what species of fauna are using the garden, and how they are using it, requires a more intense, complicated, and research-based step that prevents the garden from being an easily digestible painting we walk by and admire for a moment.
In a time of mass extinction it is not enough to discuss or design gardens purely for aesthetic value; doing so is an archaic and destructive way that continues a colonialist mindset over place and cultures for the benefit of a powerful minority. If we can't evolve our words, how can we evolve our knowledge and compassion for nature in meaningful ways that cultivate a deeper beauty beyond flower color and leaf form?
Nature doesn't cut down spent flowers or rake up leaves each autumn, and if we're going to garden for wildlife and less maintenance -- for bees and butterflies and aching backs -- then we need to take nature's lead in the way we garden.
When you walk in a prairie or forest each October there won't be animals putting detritus into compost piles or plastic bags to be hauled away, and I challenge you to get a picture of that occurance. Removing spent material from the garden is removing fertilizer, rich topsoil, habitat, and food -- or simply put, it's gardening against nature.
Do you see how trees drop leaves around their root zone? Yes, unless it's super windy. But trees are smart -- they are fertilizing themselves. This is one reason many organic lawn care firms advocate mulching leaves over a lawn (and mulching the lawn during the growing season), because dead leaves are rich in nutrients. The same goes for perennial flowers and grasses in a garden -- leave most of what you cut down in the garden, breaking it up a little by hand if you want to. You can do this in fall but, as we'll see below, it's better to wait until spring.
Leaves and other plant bits are broken down naturally over time by soil life, incorporated into the soil by bugs and micro organisms and bacteria and worms and ants and moles. This adds fertility to the soil and increases water penetration and storage -- it's the cycle of life. When you remove leaves and stems from the garden you are literally removing healthy soil.
Leaving flower heads full of seed can be critical for winter songbirds whose resources dwindle as the season goes along. Seeds tend to be high in fat content and lots of other good nutrients critical to a bird's ability to produce both energy and heat in the colder months. Of course, once spring comes, flower stems and grass clumps used for food and shelter from snowstorms become prime nesting material.
Plenty of creatures overwinter in garden litter, from queen bumblebees to mourning cloak butterflies to black swallowtail larvae to all manor of frogs, spiders, beetles, and bugs. Inside plant stems may be larvae of native bees, since roughly 25% of native bee species use cavities found in wood or stone as nesting sites. This is one reason why, in early to mid spring, you should leave 12-18 inches of stem when cutting back the garden -- you will soon see swarms of bees coming to lay eggs in hollow stems or to excavate pith before egg laying begins. After a few weeks the "ugly" dead stems will soon be covered by new green growth as insects keep doing their thing.
It's important to see the garden not just as a human space, but also one for other species and for nature in general -- think 50/50 at a minimum. Of course, gardens are about beauty for all species and certainly for us garden makers, and so the question has to be asked: in the depths of winter when there's less obvious beauty, would you rather see a flat moonscape or a rich tapestry of texture, form, and hues of color (brown is a color) with birds flitting in and out? Don't treat your garden like a living room after the kids go to bed, putting all the toys back on to shelves and in storage bins. Let nature be natural and enjoy the show.
No, it doesn't cause hay fever (that's our native ragweed), so let's get that out of the way first. Goldenrod pollen is heavy and sticky, not airborne like ragweed's pollen, so to have an allergic reaction to goldenrod you'd most likely need to be in physical contact with it.
Which is exactly what insects and various bugs want. This group of plants is like a 20 course meal. While goldenrod pollen has become less nutritious since the advent of the industrial revolution due to air pollution and climate change, it is still critical to the health of various insects and especially solitary native bee moms caching their larval nests with food. From bees to migrating insects, to beneficial predators relying on the hive of activity around blooming goldenrod, this group of plants could not matter more in both large landscapes and smaller urban gardens. Here are a few that are worth trying for a variety of site conditions and that won't spread nearly as aggressively as Canadian goldenrod (Solidago canadensis).
Oligoneron rigidium (Solidago rigida) -- Stiff Goldenrod
You do not want this in rich, loamy, moist soil as it will become far too tall and flop. In the prairie where it's try and ultra competitive, you'd rarely see it top three feet, but in a pampered home garden four to five is common. One of the earlier blooming goldenrods in late summer to early autumn, the flat-topped umbels are perfect perches for a variety of species -- including monarch butterflies who seem to favor its nectar. Stiff goldenrod is ideal for dry, sunny sites and benefits from similarly-tall plants to support it and increase root competition. Check the 100 or so species known to use this goldenrod.
Solidago flexicaulis -- Zigzag Goldenrod
Another case of the more rich and moist the soil, the more tall and potentially floppy it gets. However, this shade-loving, dry-loving goldenrod is an ideal creeper for tough locations under trees or on the north side of a building. It's also incredibly fragrant (I like to tell people it smells exactly like my dearly-departed grandmother's perfume). Usually about two feet tall and spreading to several feet over many years, this plant will bring in the pollinators where the sun don't shine.
There are a plethora of goldenrods to fill our third slot, so let's cheat. There's showy goldenrod (S. speciosa) with a nice upright flame of blooms, but it can get 4-5 feet tall even in dry, sunny locations (shorter if faced with more root competition). Missouri goldenrod (S. missouriensis) looks like Canadian goldenrod but is only 2-3 feet tall and less aggressive, preferring it dry and sunny. If you have a larger area that's wetter and you just need something to go go go, try grass-leaved goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia), which takes full to part sun in medium to moist soils but will spread. If you have blazing hot sand or gravel soil try the 2 foot tall old field goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), perfect for slopes or barren areas where little else will grow; here's the list of pollinators noted to use S. nemoralis.
A mid to late summer culling of blooms might seem beneficial, but there are several instances when leaving the flowers is the better option.
There are instances when cutting back a plant to produce more blooms for us and pollinators is a good idea. For example, late summer and fall flowering perennials can be sheered back 50% before July 4 to increase color for us and pollen / nectar for insects. Think asters, goldenrods, ironweeds, et cetera. That sheering also reduces the mature size of a plant, often leading to a more compact specimen.
Stop deadheading and let nature take the lead -- it might be wonderfully surprising and rewarding for all of us who enjoy the garden.
I am frequently asked what my favorite native plant is and my new response is: whatever replaces some lawn. The other frequent question is how can we help gardens avoid weed control. Actually, it's more like someone says they got a violation notice and the image of their landscape shows why -- lots of overgrown plants that are mismatched and misplaced, and no design cues to care that show intention (walking paths, benches, art, signs, neat edges etc).
But here's the top mistake, or at least the one I'm feeling today -- mismatched planting. Specifically using plants that get too tall.
In a traditional garden border tall plants go in the back with tiers coming forward where groundcovers eventually dominate the edge. Now, this style can still be done with native plant landscapes (although we'd prefer a more ecological approach), but too often a "native plant landscape" appears to give folks a cart blanche to just plant whatever wherever.
I think of Ratibida pinnata, grey-headed coneflower, as a prime example. Out in its natural habitat of the tallgrass prairie this pioneer species often has big bluestem and indian grass to lean on, but bring it into a garden bed and it's treated like a specimen often marooned in wood mulch around shorter plants. You bet it's going to look out of place. One strategy is to surround it with other tall forbs to support it, but then you've created a garden of 4-6' tall plants -- and if this bed is in your front yard it's going to look overgrown to a lot of people with more traditional expectations. And just wait until the tall plants start leaning for the best light. With less competition in a manicured garden, plants like R. pinnata will be in heaven -- that's why we need to consider mimicking how plants grow and compete together naturally in more difficult circumstances.
Obviously we want to mimic wild conditions and bring in plant density and layers for all the wonderful ecological and environmental benefits, but in a smaller suburban or urban lot we do have to think about what natural plant communities might translate better. One strategy is to walk nearby prairies and observe how plants are growing and with whom they're growing. Here in eastern Nebraska you'll find little bluestem and sideoats grama going strong with Liatris punctata, Asclepias tuberosa, Pycnanthemum virginianaum, Callirhoe involucrata, and various sedge species. Not only do their root zones work with one another, they all stay in respectable sizes even in a more pampered garden setting.
At the heart here is choosing plants that have similar growth styles (shape, robustness, spread) and that intermingle to cover the ground. If the average height of these plants is 18-24" then you can go in and add a taller Liatris aspera or Eryngium yuccifolium for a pop of architectural je ne sais quoi. And perhaps an ancillary angle to this topic is -- at least at first -- limiting plant species especially in smaller beds so as not to visually overwhelm the space, adding diversity as you go along in the years and learn how the plants grow. Every garden is different.
What do you think? What has your experience been when bringing "wild" plants into the urban / suburban garden?
What are some of the challenges bringing nature back to suburbia? As a designer I've learned a lot from experimenting in my home landscape, and these lessons have improved my knowledge and success for clients. We all have to start somewhere, and it's often messy at first -- which is ok.
In autumn of 2014 I had a friend bring a sod cutter and remove much of our 600ft front yard. Part of the impetus was I hated to mow and water -- the lawn always burned in summer anyway -- and because a dozen dandelions provoked a neighbor to report me to weed control. So the two driving impulses were 1) I hate mowing and 2) you ain't seen nothing yet. In the nearly five years since, I have received no weed control violation notices for the front yard (but I did for the back meadow).
There have been a lot of ups and down in managing the space for both functional and aesthetic success. After we removed the sod I discovered, to no surprise, compacted clay which resulted in my spending almost a week trying to dig in the hundreds of plugs I had. In the first 2 years I had nothing but a mulch bed, and by year three black-eyed susans -- while stunning in bloom -- had colonized so much of one bed I had to weed out 50% of them.
Below is my original plan from the earliest days of my tinkering with garden design on a semi-professional level -- oh what I've learned since!
I was trying to mass and repeat, drift and repeat, but I did not take into adequate account how long it would take some species to establish (Baptisia, Amorpha) and how others naturally colonize naturally, especially in the early years (Rudbeckia, Schizachyrium). What I've learned here is that species like Rudbeckia, which self sow in open areas liberally, should be used as an early succession species to help combat weeds. That first year I had tons of weed pressure, even in 3" of wood mulch, along with remaining grass roots spreading quickly. But in the areas where Rudbeckia was taking hold there were far fewer weeds. I employed the Rudbeckia strategy to 2,000ft out back with great success -- especially since I direct sowed it into the fescue lawn which had no chance beneath Rudbeckia hirta and Ratibida columnifera.
One fall I tried adding Carex brevior to the grass matrix (which would replace the mulch over time) of little bluestem, sideoats grama, and prairie dropseed. In winter #1 I lost a lot of sideoats grama and dropseed, which taught me that warm season grasses don't enjoy being planted toward the end of October unless it's going to be an unseasonably warm fall -- they just don't have enough time to get rooted in. Luckily, the Carex immediately got out competed by little bluestem, and I say luckily because the sedge would have been too tall, too early for the small space.
It's taken 4.5 summers now to get a sort of balance among the plants as they've taught me what they want or how they need to order themselves. The neighbor's every-morning water schedule means half of the west bed remains too damp for drought tolerant plants that struggle and grow smaller than their counterparts on the east bed, so I've had to adjust and replace species, careful to keep some sort of aesthetic balance. Little bluestem has probably colonized a bit too much, but the autumn show is spectacular and the taprooted plants don't mind since they plow down below the fibrous roots of little blue. That same thinking applies to bulbs (Allium) and corms (Liatris)
I still have plenty of gaps, especially where our burgeoning vole population has had an autumn / winter snack, as is the case with any Liatris species. Last fall I added a lot of Heuchera richardsonii for May blooms and to add a clump of texture to areas that were becoming too grass dominated. I also added Eryngium yuccifolium for some height, replaced Liatris (I'm stubborn), and tossed in another Callirhoe involucrata groundcover since it looks stunning weaving among grasses and keeps blooming almost all summer long. I'll be adding some Geranium maculatum this fall for April bunches of color, and then it will naturally give way to the summer perennials.
What has this conversion taught me? Plans are only best guesses -- sites vary, weather changes, plants teach as they die or proliferate. I've edited out plants and tried to bolster others that provide the right color or texture at the right time. Every July I have to trim back grasses along the sidewalk so pedestrians don't get brushed by strangers, and I keep up on weekly mowing (even though it's down to 10 minutes or less I still despise it).
What's next? I have a growing love / hate relationship with the "small" dogwood cultivars along the sidewalk. I coppice them every winter but it makes no difference as they easily put on 6ft of growth every season when I want them at the advertised 3-4' on the plant tag. They provide superb privacy and bird habitat, but they also make the front yard look too overgrown; in contrast their winter red twigs are just phenomenal in a sunset or snowfall. What resulted from the great Rudbeckia cull was a dearth of flowers in early and mid summer, so each fall I add forbs where there are gaps, and am constantly fighting an invasion of black medic which has overtaken the central lawn pathway. I want to remove and replace the lawn with fresh sod; and yes I left some lawn on purpose to tie into the neighborhood because it provides both a sense of connectivity and helps frame the wilder spaces.
That's my story.... what's yours?
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."
The Deep Middle
Gardening & writing in the prairie echo