Every grass has its flower.

Grasses are tenacious harnessers of the prairie.

This humble family survives the open plains and thrives in niches that others are too flamboyant to endure. Their incredibly deep roots protect them from drought, and their tall silica-rich stalks scatter the next generation. 

Though often thought of as a backdrop for peaking wildflowers, grasses are actually flowering plants themselves. They evolved to stand and spread under vast, harsh skies. While their fraternal twin the orchid family grew alluring petals and fragrances, the grasses grew into tall and limber pollen casters. Well after the first flowering plants and more recently than the dinosaurs, grasses diverged from other buds as minimalists. 

They found resilience in simplicity. 

Smooth brome, Bromus inermis

Without a need to attract insects to jumble their genes, grasses didn’t have to spend masses of energy on lavish pageantry. They dug their roots in deeper, grew a few more stickers, and when grazers or burns mowed them down, they came back sprawling. 

Minimal beauty

Their flowers stayed small and muted. They lost their petals and rearranged their bracing bracts into something more hardy. When pastures bloom, their shy brilliance pokes out of camouflaged grains. They exist as rows of envelopes, smaller florets, braiding themselves into a diversity of branching inflorescence

Illustration credit: Barnard, 2014.

Grass flowers adorn themselves with what looks like a string of pollen-covered lanterns. From within, a curious set of small internal leaves will swell, pushing feathery stigmas and powdery anthers out of the floret. 

Grasses are anemophilous, “wind loving.” Although their blooms are only half as vivid as their stalks, many make small colorful gifts to the breeze. The female pistil can come in silver, yellow or deep periwinkle, whereas the male anthers can flaunt yellow, orange, green, crimson and even lavender-purple. 

You can see them displaying their small wares right now along the grounds of the Arboretum: blue grama, big bluestem and brome all in their summer suede. 

Beginners to winners

Another reductionist adaptation is their use of spiny awls. You probably know them better as stickers. These extra bristles get caught in fur and socks to be pulled across the prairie. Some awls are bent, some are straight and some will even twist and untwist with fluctuations in humidity, screwing themselves into the earth. 

They may have replaced fragrance for practicality, but ultimately it’s had major payoffs. Swaths of pasture persist through drought, fire and storm. Twenty percent of all wild plants in the Great Plains are grasses. Not only do their populations outnumber any other group of flowering plant, their distribution is sweeping. By weight they account for 70 percent of all crops. 

Truly subdued prominence. 

Resources: Barnard, Iralee. Field Guide to the Common Grasses of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. University Press of Kansas, 2014

The Prairie Window Concert Series Is Good for You

I usually like to have data and science to back up what I believe and claim. But today, I’m going to go with a gut feeling and make a bold statement. The Prairie Window Concert Series (PWCS) is good for you. It will make improvements to your physical, mental, spiritual well-being…yeah, all of it.

If you are anything like me, I would expect you to approach this claim with skepticism. Therefore, I’ll include a couple of references in this post to loosely back up its premise and make both of us feel better. (See obligatory reference #1 after this paragraph). But with this claim, I profess it mostly because it feels right.

The Goodness of Music

I’ll start with how music is seemingly ever-present during some of the most revered time with my family and friends throughout the year. Vacation and holiday playlists always are special and highly anticipated. The Walnut Valley Festival (aka, “Winfield”) playlist is extensive and was put together with great care. When it starts playing late summer in anticipation of September, it brings about tingling excitement in our family like no other time of the year. Music is essential to these experiences and these experiences are good for me, so there you have it.

The next generation making music at Winfield (Photo by Jenni Koontz).

Whether I’m happy, sad, excited, somber, exercising or being still, I know of music to fit that particular situation. Americana, bluegrass, classical, country, rock, jazz, rap, honky tonk, Irish, new age, Zydeco, hip hop, and alternative are all proper contributors. Portable devices, powerful small speakers, noise-canceling headphones, feather-light earbuds, digital music collections, and limitless streaming services make it easier than ever to allow music to accompany us and accentuate any occasion. (Obligatory reference #2, How Music Affects the Brain) Usually, that music listening happens while multi-tasking on something else.

The Prairie Window Concert Series

Thanks to the Old Settler’s Inn and the Prairie Window Concert Series, I’ve been able to regularly enjoy the music of blues legend, Guy Davis, up close and personal.

When you specifically focus on live music, uninterrupted in an intimate, listening room setting with friends and family, the music experience can be even better. With the PWCS at Dyck Arboretum, you can engage your senses further with a stroll through a diverse and thriving landscape teeming with colorful flowers and pollinators.

Late summer is a great time to visit the Arboretum when flowers and pollinators are showiest.

At intermission, you can indulge in delicious Crust & Crumb fare. The culmination of these layers at a PWCS show has to be good for you.

Crust & Crumb loves you and is good for you (Photo by Sharon Entz).

28 Years and Counting

Miner and Valetta Seymour designed this experience to perfection in 1991 at the Old Settler’s Inn in Moundridge. (See PWCS History) The overall structure of the series, including Sunday afternoon shows to hear quality artists of various genres and enjoy good food during intermission, still thrives 28 years later. Talented artists bring their passions to the PWCS stage on eight occasions each season. They share their finely honed craft, passions, and dreams while trying to make a living doing something they love.

Today, I am excited to introduce the 2019-2020 PWCS lineup. It is loaded with immense talent that includes a number of new artists and a few familiar ones. Visit our website, learn more about the artists and enjoy their music. Join the growing group of season ticket holders and take advantage of our early bird discount, and consider becoming an underwriter. You will not only support this unique live musical arts experience in South Central Kansas, but you will have fun while engaging regularly with familiar faces in a music-loving community.

Dare I say, your happiness and well-being depend on it.

Design by Time and Color

The construction of our new HUB (Horticulture and Utility Building) meant a lot of new sidewalk installation to go with it. And whenever there is cement work around here, there is always a lot of disturbed turf grass and less-than-desirable fill dirt. Instead of reseeding more grass in the areas adjacent to the sidewalk and fighting the weed growth, I decided to put in a new garden. In only two short years, that garden has grown more quickly and successfully than I could have hoped! I designed it in a snap using just three main guidelines: light, color palette, bloom time.


I focused my design on purple. With the part sun conditions in the middle of the bed my bee balm, blue eyed grass and spike speedwell felt right at home.

Light

This space was a delight to design because of its unique conditions and shape. Long and narrow, it spans length of the sidewalk and changes gradually from full sun to full shade as you walk towards the HUB. It irrigated by the same system that keeps our fescue green and lush in that area. These factors gave me endless plant options — a garden situation anyone could design!

Starry champion or widowsfrill (Silene stellata) is a little known shade plant sporting fringed white blooms through June and July. Wonderful for adding a wispy, airy texture to the bed.

Timing the Blooms

I narrowed it down to mostly spring and fall blooming plants for this area. The adjacent sidewalk leads right to our FloraKansas plant festival, so I planned for the biggest impact at the highest traffic times. I have nicknamed this garden the ‘display bed’ because it allows our plant shoppers to see what the plants look like in the ground, actively growing in a garden before they buy them. This justifies the unusually high species diversity in this bed, breaking from my personal style of simplicity and mass planting.

In spring, copper iris blooms tower over the blue-eyed grass clumps. Purples and oranges always pair well together, and the foliage similarities between these two help carry on a grassy texture throughout the bed.

Pick Your Palette

Papaver orientale ‘Royal Wedding’ stuns in white and purple. The whites blooms in a garden help to blend and unify other colors that might clash.

Color was key in my plant selection. In this area we have a lot of fescue grass and pine trees. These all fall into the cool green spectrum of color. To contrast that, I chose lots of reds, pinks and warm purples to populate the garden space. Purple and reds are not colors I like to use heavily in garden design, but it really works against all the cool tones of that area.

Monarda “Cherry Pops” is still beautiful even as its blooms are fading.

I stuck with mostly non-woody plants so that I can mow down this bed in the spring without fear of damaging a shrub. The only shrubs I included were ‘Proud Berry’ Symphoricarpos — the pink matte-finish berries are too cute to pass up! I placed the shrubs in the back of the garden so they are out of the way for maintenance of the rest of the bed.

Designing a cohesive, attractive new garden bed can be simplified by giving a little thought to these three important factors. If the thought of balancing light, color palette and bloom time still sounds overwhelming to you, email us to schedule a landscape consultation. We are here to help!