Inspiration for a Prairie Landscape

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, One clover, and a bee, And revery.

The revery alone will do, If bees are few.

Emily Dickinson

Maybe it’s the swaying grasses in a gentle breeze or pollinators clustered on the top of a coneflower on a warm spring day.  A primrose opening in the evening like a beacon in the night.  The vibrant combination of black-eyed Susans and blazing stars growing harmoniously with little bluestem. Or the vital role native plants play in the overall healing of the land. 

Whatever your inspiration for creating a prairie landscape, hold onto that dream, but also prepare yourself for a surprise. In my experience, when working with native plants, the resulting benefits of your effort will surpass anything you can imagine.

Connection to the Land

There is something special about native plants. They grow with you in a sense. As their roots grow deeper, you begin to understand the importance of the landscape you have created.

If you live in the prairie, a prairie landscape creates a sense of place.  It reflects your connection to the native landscape. This connection is good for you, but also good for the land.

Butterfly milkweed and compass plant

Assist the Environment

Over the past decade, there has been a renewed interest in native landscaping. These plants are naturally adapted to our soils and climates. If properly sited, they require less care, have fewer problems, and create habitat and year-round beauty. A prairie habitat attracts many different forms of wildlife, including birds, butterflies and other beneficial insects. 

The prairie is an important part of the web of life in the vast Great Plains.  Your native landscape, though small, is one part of a patchwork prairie that, when pieced together, has tremendous environmental benefits. 

Aesthetics that Reflect the Prairie

There is a paradigm shift happening on what is considered appealing in the landscape.  Not only what is attractive, but what is acceptable to have in your landscape. More and more people are moving away from the traditional lawn by replacing them with vibrant landscapes of diverse wildflowers, grasses, trees and shrubs. 

Often we start growing a prairie landscape for what it does for us.  However, the special beauty these plants provide will attract a host of other admirers, including our neighbors.

Liatris punctata and Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’

Economic Impacts

It’s difficult to quantify the savings you gain after a native landscape is established.  Savings of time, water, chemicals, and fuel for your mower are long term savings from your investment in native plants.  As these plants work in harmony with nature, you benefit in many different ways.  These plants will bring a smile to your face as you see the beauty and the return on investment they bring.

Each landscape is a personal choice that expresses your interests and vision. Whether you are planting a small foundation bed with natives around your home or reclaiming an overrun pasture, you have decided that you want more from your landscape.  This timeless landscape is so vital to our environment. 

Gaillardia aristata, Blanket Flower

If you are motivated to start a native landscape and need help with your landscape design or have questions about where to start, attend one of our Native Plant School classes or read previous blog posts about design or pollinators.  We would be happy to help. 

Spending Time Outdoors in 2020

I don’t know what your resolutions are for 2020*, but one of mine is to spend more time outdoors.  Whether working in the garden, fishing along a stream or simply taking a walk with a friend or loved one, there are not many activities that can benefit us more than spending time outside away from screens. 

I would like to encourage you to start 2020 off right by determining to intentionally get outside to connect with the land.  I realize there are additional perks, but here are five benefits of spending time outdoors:

Improved Sleep

It is well documented that people are not getting enough sleep.  Our harried schedules and longer work days don’t usually allow for much time outdoors.  Spending too much time indoors away from natural light disrupts our circadian rhythms, which changes our sleep patterns. We can synchronize these rhythms by spending more time outdoors.  Take in the sun for a better night’s sleep.

Increased Psychological Health

I’m reading a book this month that promotes the many benefits of moving.  Not moving to a new city, but physical movement. It doesn’t really matter how you make it happen, but simply reminding yourself to get outside and then intentionally going for a walk has incredible physiological and psychological benefits.  It boosts the good chemicals in our bodies to help us reduce stress and anxiety while sustaining a positive self-image.  A little time outside helps to keep everything in balance, mind and body.   

Increased Vitamin D Intake

There is a balance we need to take, but exposing your body to the sun around the noontime helps increase vitamin D in our bodies.  There is evidence that low Vitamin D levels in the body increase the risk of certain cancers and heart disease. Sunshine helps keep our bones stronger and lifts our spirits.  It only takes 10-15 minutes of sun exposure several times each week to do some good.  So make a point to get out into the light – just don’t take in too much sun.

Woodland phlox in the open woods

Increased Enjoyment of Nature

This a big one for me.  Every time I force myself to get outdoors and closely look at nature, I am amazed.  The intricate beauty of a coneflower in bloom, diverse pollinators, Mississippi Kites flying around, snow collecting in switchgrass, birds earnestly searching for food before a rainstorm and so many more experiences help signal my body to slow down.  I can’t explain it, but it works every time. 

Monarch Butterfly Eggs on Milkweed

Take in the Fresh Air

Whether it’s the freshness after a rain (Petrichor), lilacs blooming in spring or newly turned soil, the smells of nature are subtle, but powerful.  The fresh air of the outdoors has tremendous calming qualities and often conjures up memories from the past.  Step outside to breathe some fresh air!

What are we waiting for?

I think most of us know all about these and other benefits from experience. And yet, if you’re like me, we struggle to remember those benefits when we most need them. Ironically, I don’t get enough outdoor time even working at the Arboretum.  But when I do, I have found that it is good for my mind, body and soul. That is why in 2020, I am striving to spend time enjoying the outside world.  I encourage you to join me.

Penstemon cobaea

*From Wikipedia , 2020 (MMXX) is the current year, and is a leap year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar, the 2020th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 20th year of the 3rd millennium, the 20th year of the 21st century, and the 1st year of the 2020s decade.  2020 is really a cool year when you think about it. 

Nature Book Reviews for Winter

This is the time of year I get the most reading done. With no vegetable garden to tend and little watering to do, I finally have a little time to cozy up with all the books I have been neglecting through the year. Specifically, books related to nature and the environment. If you want to stay connected with nature through these long, cold evenings, choose one of these great reads. And don’t forget to join our nature book club! Here are a few book reviews to pique your interest.

The Ogallala Road

by Julene Bair, buy it here

This non-fiction story follows Bair through struggles and self discovery as she grapples with the fate of the family farm. A story many Kansans can relate to, Bair is torn between her love of the land and the destructive agricultural practices her family uses to make their living. Set in western Kansas, readers are treated to sunny vistas of shortgrass prairie, colorful sunsets and relaxing horseback rides. Though at times I felt the prose was lacking, the story never lost its grip on me. An important warning cry for the Ogallala aquifer, and a call to action to protect this precious resource.

Published in 1992, this books continues to provide perspective into human civilization’s contentious relationship with planet earth. Made mostly of dialogue, the reader enters an “adventure of the mind and spirit”. Through simple, well-paced conversations between teacher and pupil, we get a fresh look at our agricultural society, and how humans might have arrived at such a violent relationship with the land that sustains us. Sure to spark conversation, this is an impactful, thought-provoking book. It continues to color my thoughts and actions long after I returned it to the shelf.

I won’t give away too much since this is on our nature book club list! Lab Girl is a non-fiction account of Jahren’s life and work in the natural sciences. An accomplished geobiologist, she offers a story that is part memoir and part love story – a love of plants. Hope Jahren dives deep into the mysterious and life-giving qualities of plants, soil and seeds. It’s not a quick-paced book that enthralls you, and at times I wished it moved along at a faster clip. But it may just be the perfect book for late winter, when you’re dreaming of summer and the return of green things.

Keep a look out for more book reviews this winter and early spring. I am on a mission to finish a new book each month so long as the cold weather holds!