Finding More Meaning in Our Food

We talk quite a bit about landscaping with native plants in this Dyck Arboretum blog space. Native plants have productive flowers and fruits, which benefit our sustainable landscape aesthetics and provide habitat for wildlife. The initial establishment process of prairie garden planting, watering, mulching, and tending is very similar to food gardening. I spend a fair amount of time gardening with both native plants and food, and I’m wondering why we don’t utilize more of both in our landscapes.

The practices of raising native plants…                  Photo Credit: Brad Guhr

…and food plants are not all that different.                  Photo Credit: Brad Guhr

Everybody needs, wants, and loves food. Most of us in the U.S. eat food three times per day, if not more. The amounts and kinds of food we eat relate to our culture, income, and health. Food is critical to our human physical well-being, and I would even argue that food is an important part of our emotional and mental well-being. Agriculture is also deeply related to the health of our Kansas environment and economy. Food just plain matters.

Searching for Meaning

I view eating food on a spectrum of connection and enjoyment. On the least connected and lowest enjoyment end of the spectrum, I would order from a fast food pick up window or open a can of tuna and loaf of bread to gain quick, easy calories for a meal. On the other higher connection and enjoyment end of this spectrum, I would grow/raise, sometimes home preserve, prepare, share, and eat a meal over a couple of hours with family and friends. And I would enjoy all the love that went into that meal – from the garden to plate. I definitely find more happiness, meaningfulness, and even entertainment in the latter end of the spectrum, but it also requires more effort, education, and time. In this regard, I think our society, in general, would benefit from doing more rituals of hunting, gathering, growing, and preserving of our own food.

Food acquisition and preservation rituals can bring people calories and joy.  Photo Credit: Brad Guhr

Every calorie we eat has its own story and sum of energy required to get it from farm to plate. We learned a great deal about this topic during our spring 2011 Locavores on the Prairie Symposium. Barbara Kingsolver explores this topic in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Few of us in this world of increasingly accessible food will spend an entire year eating food raised from within a 100-mile radius of where we live as the Kingsolver Family did.  But doing so would certainly cut down on the size of our carbon footprint and add to our enjoyment of food if we could eat food sourced as locally as possible.

The Problems – Poverty and Disconnect

Poverty – The U.S. may be a developed country, but poverty and/or a variety of other barriers here (disabilities, single parents working multiple jobs, substance abuse, etc.) lead to food insecurity and prevent families from getting adequate, quality food. In my home City of Newton, KS, 80+ percent of kids in a number of the elementary schools qualify for free or reduced fee breakfast and lunch programs. Backpack food assistance programs organized by the Kansas Food Bank and supported by local churches and organizations try to help fill some of the calorie voids for families with elementary-aged children. However, these backpacks do not meet all nutrition needs and are filled with mostly dried or preserved foods that can sit in storage for long periods of time until consumed. The adults in these homes may not have the resources or abilities to grow/raise/hunt/gather/buy adequate supplies of food nor model those healthy behaviors for the children in the household. Not only are these children not getting the calories they need, but they also are not learning the good food-raising habits to pass along to future generations either.

Disconnect

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.” ~Aldo Leopold

Advancing technologies in agriculture, transportation, and food preservation make it even easier for people in urban areas with adequate resources to have food wherever and whenever they want it. There is a tradeoff though…people are becoming increasingly disconnected from the food they consume. The first food-related part of Leopold’s famous quote above is coming true. We know less and less about the origins and journeys of our food.

“Eating is an agricultural act.” ~Wendell Berry

Aldo Leopold biographer, Curt Meine, introduced me to this Wendell Berry quote at a 2017 Land Ethic Conference in Baraboo, WI entitled “Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide”, and it certainly resonates with me. According to a 2016 U.S. Census Bureau Report, 81% of the U.S. population is urban, and 19% is rural. This disparity continues to grow. This statistic tells me that fewer and fewer people (including children) know where their food comes from. Fewer and fewer people (including children) know how the growth, transport, production, and processing of that food impacts their environment and their health. But everybody (including every child) wants a clean environment and personal health. There is a growing disconnect here.

Can we fit more food plots into the human part of this spectrum?             Photo Credit: Curt Meine

There Is Hope

Schools would be an excellent place to teach some of these important life skills of growing food. Schools can help empower students to combat the food-related problems created by poverty and disconnect. Growing food plants alongside native plants in school gardens would not be very different from what we already promote through our Earth Partnership for Schools Program. Growing Kansas-adapted flowering prairie plants that can attract beneficial insect pollinators and predators next to tomatoes, squash and peppers – while adding pleasing aesthetics – can only be a good thing, right?

Fortunately, we do not need to start from scratch in this endeavor, because inspiring examples are already out there to guide us. The following people are passionate and experienced in their successful efforts to teach kids and local communities how to grow their own food.

Stephen RitzGreen Bronx Machine, New York City, NY – “We are a whole school approach to education rooted in health, wellness, and mindfulness.” By getting kids to grow, consume, and distribute food using school gardens, he is helping improve student grades, attendance, and performance. Through the Green Bronx Machine, Stephen is cultivating minds and harvesting hope. Using urban agriculture aligned to key school performance indicators, the program grows healthy students and healthy schools to transform communities that are fragmented and marginalized into neighborhoods that are inclusive and thriving. A visual component of their gardening projects includes vegetables growing via indoor towers.

Stephen Ritz                      Photo Credit: Green Bronx Machine

Will Allen – Growing Power, Milwaukee, WI – The story of Growing Power is an interesting one. Former professional basketball player, author and genius grant winner, Will Allen, grew up on a farm in Maryland. Through the entity Growing Power, which he started with the priorities of growing compost and mentoring youth, Allen became one of the most influential nationwide leaders of the food security & urban farming movement. Turning vacant lots of Milwaukee into vegetable-growing gardens, Allen’s organization successfully raised compost, worms, tilapia through aquaponics, bees, chickens, goats, and more. Growing Power dissolved in 2017 due to mounting debt and Allen’s retirement, but for more than 20 years, through workshops, internships, and leadership programs, Growing Power inspiringly trained and exposed thousands of people to a more community-based relationship with their food.

Will Allen                    Photo Credit: Darren Hauck for The New York Times

Michael HowardEden Place, Chicago, IL – In the Fuller Park neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, Michael Howard has helped turn a former dump site into an oasis of food production and biological diversity that promotes nature conservation and urban agriculture. Their story is helping transform the conversation in this area from lead poisoning and urban blite to nature conservation and urban agriculture. Environmental education at Eden Place focuses on undoing cultural disconnect and scars of the past through hands-on food production and habitat restoration. New funds and programming are focused on bringing stronger science proficiency for students, teachers, and families.

Michael Howard                      Photo Credit: Mike Nowak

Jared Hall – Coleman Middle School, Wichita, KS – An inspiring local example of kids learning about community-based food systems can be found at Coleman Middle School in Wichita. 7th Grade Science Teacher, Jared Hall, makes science fun with hands-on, project-based learning endeavors, including a honey-making beehive in the classroom, vegetable gardens just outside the door, and chickens and rabbits on the playground. Hall is teaching economics, entrepreneurship, botany, and ecology in the process and his students are having a great time while learning.

Jared Hall                           Photo Credit: Coleman Middle School

I attended the Kansas Rural Center 2018 Farm & Food Conference last week and learned that there are many more inspiring sustainable food examples out there to learn about and emulate. Mary Hendrickson, Rural Sociology Professor from the University of Missouri, taught us about the sustainability of Community-Based Food Systems. Donna Pearson McClish of Common Ground in Wichita taught us about food deserts in south-central Kansas and what she is doing to combat them. Terrell Dyer and Aaron Marks of Project RALLY in Kansas City presented about how their urban gardening program is focused on Respect, Accountability, Love, Leadership, and Youth.

The Future of Food

There are good ecological reasons for mixing native plants with food plots as highlighted in the Xerces Society Book, Farming with Native Beneficial Insects.

Polyculture farming solutions have been a successful message of the Land Institute for decades. But these are topics for future blog posts.

Stay tuned for possible food-laden tweaks to the Kansas Earth Partnership for Schools Program in the future.

A New Mission Statement for the Future

Our Dyck Arboretum staff and board (with facilitation from our member and consultant, John Simmering) have been doing a lot of self review over the last year in search of a new mission statement for the future. Our two-part mission statement for the past 36 years has been as follows:

The Dyck Arboretum of the Plains promotes, through education and stewardship, the conservation and use of plants native and adaptable to Kansas.

The Arboretum maintains gardens and prairie plant collections for education and conservation, providing a natural setting for reflection and appreciation of nature.

 

While it was relevant in the early days of the Arboretum, for what we have evolved to today, this old mission statement has become restrictive. It doesn’t recognize the relationships we develop with our supporters through music, history, culture, the arts, rentals, healthy bodies, and environmental stewardship. This old mission statement is also quite long, hard to remember, and mixes mission with vision.

Evie and Harold Dyck’s dream for the Arboretum has brought us through 37 years of changes. Now we’re expanding on their mission and vision.

Our consultant gave us guidance to make our new mission statement simple, inclusive in scope, and unrestrictive in geography. After many meetings, round table discussions with members and supporters, surveys, individual staff reflections and feedback sessions with our board, we came up with the following new mission statement:

Dyck Arboretum of the Plains cultivates transformative relationships between people and the land.

In the following, I’ll pick apart and explain, using visual aids, more of the meaning our staff used to describe each of the words in this new mission statement and offer photos from our archives that might further illustrate each of these thoughts for the public.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For further interpretation of what we do at Dyck Arboretum, one can turn to our vision and initiatives. A vision statement should further flesh out details regarding how we support our mission and the initiatives detail what we actually do to carry out that vision. Our vision and initiative statements are a work-in-progress, but along the way we’ll share what we have been working on and welcome your input.

 

VISION

To support our mission, we have four elements in this DRAFT of our vision statement.

Education – Introduce people to the native landscapes of Kansas, promote ecological diversity, encourage citizen science, and re-connect people to nature.

Community – Enable people to find a sense of place, encourage empathy for diversity of people and organisms, and create both active and passive community engagement experiences.

Arts – Be a source of diverse educational experiences and provide innovative and creative pathways to help people connect to our mission.

Organizational Sustainability – Model sustainable management of staff, instructure and finances, for long-term health of the Arboretum.

 

INITIATIVES

The principal initiatives that help us carry out our vision include prairie conservation and native/adaptable plant landscaping, maintained gardens with contemplative spaces, spring and fall FloraKansas native plant festivals, tours of the Arboretum, visits to important locations in Kansas, landscaping classes and private landscaping consultations, a winter lecture series, a spring education symposium, school field trips, and our Kansas Earth Partnership for Schools Program. Other initiatives that introduce new people to our mission, develop relationships in community, and help us establish a sense of place here at Dyck Arboretum include our Prairie Window Concert Series, Winter Luminary Walk, Go Green Leprechaun Run, visual art displays, a gift shop, and rental of our facilities and grounds.

Thanks for following what we do and for helping support our mission. The relationships we cultivate with you are what we are all about!

 

10 Lessons for Urban Native Plant Meadows

Katie Kingery-Page

I heard a great presentation this last Saturday entitled “10 Lessons for Urban Native Plant Meadows” by Katie Kingery-Page, Kansas State University (KSU) faculty member in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional & Community Planning. Ms. Kingery-Page was the keynote speaker at the Kansas Native Plant Society’s Annual Wildflower Weekend and her message fit perfectly with the weekend’s theme of “Native Plants in City Settings”.

I find Katie’s background of fine art, landscape design, and ecology intriguing. When she introduced herself as someone who sees landscape architecture as the design and stewardship of the exterior built environment and that doing so with native plants grounded the experience through a sense of place, I knew that her presentation was going to speak to me.

Katie’s insights in this presentation were based on her experiences with “The Meadow” Project in front of the Beach Museum of Art on the KSU campus. From 2013-16, Katie and her team of volunteers converted a half acre of neglected turf into a native plant meadow. Her 10 lessons learned from this process were as follows:

 

1. Build A Coalition for the Life of the Project

It takes all kinds of people to complete a big project, and she showed a diagram of a “volunteer tree” she created.

Flow chart of people critical to the project.

2. Know the Place

Their planting list started with an extensive Flint Hills species template of the plants found at nearby Konza Prairie and was carved down to the resulting planting mix. Hackberry trees removed from the planting site were milled into everything from benches to mushroom-growing media.

Schematic diagram of prairie and forest-based planting mixes. (Image by Katie Kingery-Page, 2013)

3. Let the Team Guide the Values

Their team developed a mission statement and goals including that the site would integrate art and science and be a living laboratory that would minimize the usage of water and chemicals. An outcome of this plan was to forego the conventional use of killing existing vegetation with glyphosate and instead turned to compost smothering and mechanical scraping.

 

4. Develop A Thick Skin…Use Your Tricks

Have patience and don’t expect an instant landscape. Using flashy, early successional flowering plants such as the annual species Plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) – the “bacon of plants” – helps distract onlookers that might otherwise see the weedy nature of the early stages of a planting.

Early successional, flowering “bacon” or “eye candy” plants Plains coreopsis (yellow) and beebalm (Monarda fistulosa). (Image by Katie Kingery-Page)

5. Tell the Project Story

Stories of these projects need to be told and can be done so through various media. Photos, drawings, and interactive touch tables at the Beach Museum were all used to tell The Meadow Project story.

Root development and above ground biomass increase over time, which also leads to increased soil porosity.

6. Connect to Volunteers’ Joy

Volunteer efforts were critical to the success of the project and instead of “work days”, they had “convene with monarch days” where learning experiences were an attractive part of the labor-filled get-togethers.

 

7. Put A Price on Labor

Weeding is skilled labor amounting to “surgical plant removal” and it should be rewarded. However, if money can’t be given, then at least try to find ways to acknowledge the people helping.

 

8. Embrace Imperfection

Native landscaping is perfectly imperfect and the inevitable weeds can be seen as beautiful too. Learning strategies that aid perception of such projects include maintaining a mowed edge that is critical to the perceived success of otherwise “messy” native landscapes.

All ages are welcome to weed. (Image by Richard Dean Prudenti)

9. Make Your Project for the Message of Conservation

Such projects are multi-faceted in their environmental benefits, and assessment measures should broadly include plants, soils, stormwater, wildlife, and more.

Restoration vs. Conservation – Katie used to use the word “restoration”, but there is a danger in implying that this process can fix all impacts to a diverse remnant plant community. Perhaps “conservation” is better with a focus on ecosystem functions such as soil structure, stormwater infiltration, etc.

10. Be A Champion…Stay All In

Katie learned early on from school gardening projects that such endeavors need project champions to carry the project through.

“The Meadow” Project. Long view toward the Beach Museum of Art. (Image courtesy of K-State Communications and Marketing)

____________________

The 10 lessons in this presentation were familiar to me in a variety of ways. From 2003 to 2008 at Dyck Arboretum, our staff and an extensive team of volunteers and college student interns collected seed from local prairie remnants and planted the 13-acre Prairie Window Project. Distinct examples come to mind of our project that relate to each of these lessons and I’ve blogged about various interpretations of that project over the years. It would be fun to come up with our own 10 lessons as well. I can tell you that, similar to The Meadow Project, it included the “design and stewardship of the exterior built environment and that doing so with native plants grounded the experience through a sense of place.”

Cicada Killers

“Hunting, warring, patrolling, tunneling, they do more in two months–the length of their adult lives–than periodical cicadas do in 17 years.” ~Tim Heffernan, The Atlantic

The insect world never ceases to amaze me. I had a new experience with insects in my yard a few evenings ago. A cicada making a ruckus landed on the ground right next to me in my garden. I quickly realized that it was in a tussle with a large wasp. I had heard about cicada killers before, and it didn’t take long to deduce that I was seeing my first one take down its prey. The cicada struggle didn’t last long as the sting and subsequent paralysis happened in seconds. The cicada killer shortly flew and when checking back later, I noticed that the cicada was gone too.

A cicada killer taking down a cicada.

A friend recently posted a great article about cicada killers. Do yourself a favor and read Tim Heffernan’s 2013 brief article on cicada killers in The Atlantic. This article explains the cicada killer’s interesting adult 2-month life, soil-burrowing nest habits, process for taking down cicadas, hatching of their larvae in a cicada’s live but paralyzed state, and the flies that can also parasitize the cicada killers themselves.

Harmless to People

“With bodies up to two inches in length, huge jaws, and glossy black paint jobs streaked with yellow, they are unmistakable, and more than a little intimidating.” ~Tim Heffernan, The Atlantic

Cicada killers are fascinating insects, and you should add them to the list of insects around you that make you say “oooooh”, rather than “ewwwwww!” They may look ominous, but they really are harmless to people.

In addition to taking in the fascinating information in Tim Heffernan’s article, I want you to take away that this insect holds minimal danger for people. Their large size relative to other wasps is due to the fact that they need to wrestle a large cicada to their nest. The warning coloration is probably some form of mimicry that they have evolved to look fearsome like their yellow jacket and hornet relatives. My hope would be that folks could minimize the knee-jerk reaction of reaching for the can of wasp killer whenever they see any wasp, but especially a non-threatening cicada killer. Don’t fall into the societal stigma that causes many people to recoil when they see an insect, and especially a wasp.

The Hymenoptera Order of insects (wasps, bees, and ants) has long been maligned in our society. A quick search for “movies about killer insects” shows that we love to be terrified of insects.

I’d like to encourage a respectful and non-aggressive approach to all insects in general. So, to finish on a calming note, I’ll leave you with an image of a cuddly monarch butterfly caterpillar that I took right outside the Arboretum Visitor Center door this week munching away on common milkweed.

But be careful, it is filled with poisonous cardiac glycosides and if you were only 2 inches tall and you ate it, it could kill you. Aaaaaggghhh!

A deadly monarch caterpillar.

Visit A Favorite Place – Chase State Fishing Lake

June is almost here and it is time for the prairie to shine. The prairie gardens we promote in our urban landscapes feature many prairie elements that start to look really nice this time of the year as well, but sometimes it is most enjoyable to visit the source prairies. One of the best locations to do this in Kansas is the Flint Hills physiographic region and specifically, Chase State Fishing Lake (CSFL).

An anvil cloud approaching CSFL

I’ve probably been there at least a couple of dozen times in the last 15 years and have found something new and fascinating each time. Years of seed collecting for our Dyck Arboretum prairie reconstruction introduced me to this place, and subsequent trips have had me return with Arboretum members, interns, family and friends as I seek to share this unique Kansas gem with as many people as possible.

My son, Ben, searching for treasures at CSFL

CSFL has its human-made construction marks, including the access road, dam, reservoir and spillway. These amenities promote easier access and recreation opportunities including camping, fishing, and swimming. The spillway highlights a series of limestone shelves where, during times of higher water flow, cascading waterfalls are a powerful sight to see. During low flow times, the shady dripping falls and clear shallow pools are a delightful destination during a hot summer day. There is nothing like a watershed made up entirely of prairie to provide a reservoir of pristine water for fishing and swimming.

CSFL spillway during high flow

My spouse, Sara, and I at a section of the CSFL spillway falls

The lake edge is a great location to witness the history of this place dating back to approximately 70 million years ago in the late Cretaceous period when Kansas was under an inland sea. Exposed sedimentary limestone features fossils including gastropods, bivalves and crinoids. During seed collection forays, my boys in their younger years would spend hours looking for fossils lakeside and I have to smile when I occasionally find crinoids around the house from their collections.

Fossils in limestone at CSFL

The wildlife is plentiful at CSFL. I don’t typically spend much time seeking it out during visits, but the diverse prairie ecosystem is teeming with insects, spiders, mammals, reptiles, and birds. Even though wild populations of bison are gone from the Flint Hills, evidence of buffalo wallows from hundreds and even thousands of years ago are still visible as small round compacted wetlands on the prairie ridge tops. It wasn’t till after a number of trips there that an accompanying herpetologist friend turning over rocks while I was collecting seed, alerted me to the fact that a diverse world of snakes and scorpions could be found under foot if you just look for it.

A focus of mine during some visits has been documenting prairie birds and butterflies. Bird species such as upland sandpipers and Henslow’s sparrows and butterfly species such as arogos skippers and regal fritillaries may have become rare throughout the Great Plains in general, but these species still thrive in the expansive prairies of the Flint Hills.

My first ever and only confirmed sighting of the rare arogos skipper occurred at CSFL

Regal fritillary butterfly (Speyeria idalia) on tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum)

Maize High School students observing the abundance of insects…

…and spiders at CSFL

The crown jewel of CSFL, in my opinion, is the prairie vegetation. Hundreds of species of grasses, wildflowers, sedges, vines, shrubs, and trees makeup the diverse skin and lifeblood of this Flint Hills landscape. Searching out flowers and seeds of these species is a like a deluxe scavenger hunt from March to November. A good reason to visit in early to mid June is to enjoy the stunning shows of butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) among dozens of other species blooming at the same time.

Flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata)

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Finally, there is no better place to take in the grandeur of the relationship between the land and the sky. I’ve been fortunate to watch a thunderstorm roll in at CSFL and I can only imagine what it is like to witness a prairie fire there. With few to no trees to impede your view of the horizon, a ridge top there is an exquisite place to watch the sun rise and set. With only the sound of the wind and the dickcissels, meadowlarks, and grasshopper sparrows to serenade your visit, I find it one of the most enjoyable and even spiritual natural places in Kansas.

A tour group enjoying the last hours of daylight on a ridge top at CSFL

Prairie sunset at CSFL

Spring-Blooming Prairie and Woodland Plants

Spring-blooming prairie and woodland plants are among the first to take advantage of warmer soils and days with increasing sunshine. Even though it has been a cold and slowly developing spring, the green shoots of spring bloomers are emerging and starting to produce colorful flowers that feed early pollinators and brighten sunny to partially-shaded landscapes.

The following 16 species are some of my favorite spring prairie and open woodland plants that also serve as landscaping gems, flowering in April and May:

a. Baptisia australis var. major blue false indigo full sun
b. Callirhoe involucrata purple poppy mallow full sun
c. Clematis fremontii Fremont’s clematis full sun
d. Geum triflorum prairie smoke full sun
e. Koeleria cristata Junegrass full sun
f. Oenothera macrocarpa Missouri evening primrose full sun
g. Penstemon cobaea penstemon cobaea full sun
h. Penstemon digitalis foxglove beardtongue full sun
i. Pullsatilla patens pasque flower full sun
j. Tradescantia tharpii spiderwort full sun
k. Verbena canadensis rose verbena full sun
l. Amsonia tabernaemontana blue star part shade
m. Aquilegia canadensis columbine part shade
n. Heuchera richardsonii coral bells part shade
o. Senecio plattensis golden ragwort part shade
p. Zizia aurea golden alexander part shade

 

SpringFlowersBlogV2

There are so many benefits to be found in landscaping with native plants. They will greatly enhance the biological diversity and ecology of your yard by providing food for insect larvae and flower nectar for pollinators. Small mammals and birds feast on the abundance of available seeds. Predatory insects, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles will find food in the abundance of available insects. Even the smallest of native gardens can be a mini wildlife sanctuary.

 

Black swallowtail butterfly (male). Golden alexander is a host plant for the black swallowtail caterpillar.

Native plant gardens connect us to our natural and cultural history and give us a sense of place. Even if you don’t use your home landscape today as your grocery store, home improvement store, and pharmacy, Plains Indians and European settlers certainly did not too long ago. The plants and animals of the prairie were critically important to human survival.

The deep roots and unique traits of native plants make them very adaptable to our Kansas climate and provide sensible and sustainable landscaping. Once established, these plants need little to no supplemental water and require no fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides if properly matched to the site.

Even if you are only interested in colorful garden eye candy, this list of spring flowering native plants will provide a beautiful array of flowers to brighten your spring landscape. You can find these plants at our FloraKansas Plant Festival!

 

Photo Credits

 

Landscape Scale Prairie Gardening – Thinking Bigger

If you follow our blog, you are probably thinking about creating a prairie garden, are in the process of creating one, or have already done so. One of the reasons you might be participating in this enjoyable ritual is because you want to increase wildlife habitat for insects, birds, small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles in your home landscape. Indeed, if you increase native plant diversity in your landscape, you will attract more wildlife.

I want you to consider going a step further and thinking about how your landscape, which is increasing in biological diversity through your prairie gardening habits, relates to the greater landscape of your neighborhood. The study of landscape ecology tells us that ecological function generally improves as you increase the size and diversity of a particular ecosystem. For example, three landowners in succession creating prairie gardens will create more storm-water holding capacity and wildlife attraction than only one of those landowners doing so. And if those three adjacent landowners happen to be situated next to a stream, a park, a hay meadow on the edge of town, etc., the ecological function of those combined green spaces will increase.

In her 1993 book Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Back Yards, Sara Stein tells inspiring stories about how she converted from traditional chemical and water-intensive suburban landscaping to a style that included more native plants, more habitat for wildlife and more connectivity with other green spaces. She promotes contiguous greenway corridors that allow for greater wildlife diversity and freer migration through urban areas. This was a very influential book that helped push me toward the pursuit of an advanced degree in ecological restoration.

I recently learned about an intriguing resource created through a collaboration between two entities I greatly admire – The Nature Conservancy and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Habitat Network brings people together to explore the effects of new conservation practices in urban, suburban, and rural landscapes. The Habitat Network website is a free citizen science resource that invites people to map their outdoor space, share it with others, and learn more about supporting wildlife and improving backyard habitat in cities and towns across the country. It takes the concepts of powerful GIS mapping software and puts them into a user-friendly, public platform that anybody can use. This looks like a great tool that I look forward to exploring and reporting on in future blog posts.

 

A captured image that helps describe the Habitat Network mapping process.

So, while I start mapping habitats and measuring the ecological value of Dyck Arboretum of the Plains and my home landscape, consider picking up a copy of Noah’s Garden and spend some time with Habitat Network yourself. Let’s think bigger, explore how we can document and expand our beneficial ecological footprint through landscape scale prairie gardening, and consider ways to convince others to follow our lead.

This is a conversation to be continued…

 

Inspiring Landscapers

This Saturday, February 24 at our Native Plant Landscaping Symposium, 10 inspiring landscapers will share their native plant gardening stories.

 

A common thread of these landscapers/gardeners (I use these words interchangeably) is that they have each uniquely contributed to my approach and style of landscaping over the years. I have been drawn to their passion for gardening and landscaping. They are botanists, ecologists, master gardeners, landscape artists, and inquisitive students of gardening. Most of them have had successful careers in areas other than landscaping. Yet each considers landscaping a labor of love and finds great joy in working with plants that shape the landscapes around them. Their enthusiasm is infectious. I look forward to hearing their brief prepared stories with photos all being told in a one day symposium format where they can also answer questions. While it is difficult to fit these individuals into specific landscaping categories, I have generally ordered them in speaking sequence from wild and ecological to horticultural and manicured.

I won’t have time to give them each the full and flowery introduction that they deserve. But I will say a bit about their styles and approaches that have influenced me over the last 25+ years.

The Speakers

 

Dwight Platt was my major professor at Bethel College where I studied biology and environmental studies in the early 90s. He introduced me to Lorna Harder, then curator for natural history at the Kauffman Museum. The two of them were responsible for developing the oldest prairie reconstruction in Kansas on the museum grounds, and I was able to serve as a prairie intern with them before graduating. My appreciation for the diverse ecology of the prairie and how prairie plants can be incorporated into landscaping started with them. They inspired me to pursue further education in ecological restoration and landscape architecture.

Kauffman Museum Prairie

Dwight and Lorna’s home landscapes utilize many native plants with a focus on attracting biological diversity to those landscapes. Bob Simmons carries a similar approach. His intimate knowledge of host plants and what butterflies they attract guides his approach to landscaping as well. All three of these folks are passionate knowledge seekers of the birds and butterflies around them. They are regular attendees of annual bird and butterfly counts in Harvey County that contribute to citizen science.

Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillar on Host Plant

My work at Dyck Arboretum with the Earth Partnership for School (EPS) Program has opened my eyes to the power that native landscaping can have inspiring children. Developing prairie gardens on school grounds offers fun learning opportunities through hands-on, project-based learning. High school science teachers Jay Super (Maize) and Denise Scribner (Goddard) are award-winning educators that have displayed how prairie gardening offers a useful learning tool for their students.

Goddard Eisenhower High School Prairie Garden

Locally grown food is important to our health and well-being and I have long been intrigued by the mixing of vegetables and native plant gardens in our landscapes. The Sand Creek Community Garden in N. Newton has been an example for me in recent years of how growing vegetables and tending native prairie gardens are mutually beneficial. Attracting pollinators and insect predators can only help food plots and they certainly add interest to gardening experience as well. Duane Friesen was the main organizer of this community garden seen as one of the best in Kansas. And as my father-in-law, Duane has also taught me much of what I know about growing vegetables. Joanna Fenton Friesen has a real eye for designing beautiful gardens with native plants and has been an organizer for the perennial flower beds at the community garden. They each have inspiring home landscapes with vegetables and native plants as well.

Sand Creek Community Garden

Pam Paulsen, Reno County Horticulture Extension Agent, is one of the top education resources in Kansas and she has immense knowledge about vegetable gardening, pollinators, and natural pest management. She is also an avid student of the prairie and a great photographer.

Aesthetically arranging native plants in organized assemblages adds enjoyment to landscaping. It also makes native plant gardening, often seen as unkept and weedy, more palatable to the general public. My colleague, Scott Vogt, has a horticulture degree and has helped influence me in this regard by encouraging plantings in groupings. Duane and Joanna with their eyes for aesthetics and surrounding native gardens with edging and mulched trails have also been influential.

A Clumped Planting at Dyck Arboretum.

Two gardens that I have enjoyed visiting in recent years have been the home landscapes designed and tended by Laura Knight (Wichita) and Lenora Larson (Paola). Their displays of not only native plants, but adaptable perennials and annuals too have expanded my understanding and appreciation for sustainable landscaping. They also have an appreciation for art in the garden, beautiful walking paths, water features, and weeding – all elements that enhance the garden aesthetic experience. Lenora also pays close attention to choosing plants that offer either nectar or food for insects.

Lenora Larson’s Garden

I hope you will join us Saturday and experience even a fraction of the inspiration that I have received from these gardeners and landscapers.

Know Your Native Plant Families

As we approach our Native Plant Landscaping Symposium on February 24, where speakers will tell stories about their favorite native plants, they may make reference to using certain families of plants. Thinking about the organization of plants in this way makes landscaping with native plants even more interesting.

In a way, native plants are like people. The closer people are in genetic relation to each other, the closer they resemble each other. Family members share skin color, body type, hair texture, and facial features. While a unique name is given to each person to recognize their individuality, part of that name is kept the same and recognized both with close and distant relations. These closely-bonded people develop similar habitat preferences and interact with their environment in similar ways.

In 1758, Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus developed a Latin naming system for plants and animals. Each plant or animal was given a “genus” (generic name) and “species” (specific name). Plant families include genetically related plants share floral structures, leaf arrangements, and stem shape. Multiple genera can make up a family. Along with the scientific name, people have also given each plant species many common names or nicknames.

Asclepias incarnata, otherwise known as swamp milkweed or marsh milkweed, is a member of the DOGBANE FAMILY.

For example, plants in the DOGBANE FAMILY have five-parted flowers, opposite leaves, and a milky juice in the stems and leaves with a bitter-tasting, toxic compound that protects the plants from being eaten by insects (excluding monarch butterfly larvae). In this family, the milkweed genus (Asclepias) has 22 different species in Kansas. You may not recognize from their common names that butterfly milkweed and green antelopehorn are related, but when you see their Latin names, Asclepias tuberosa and Asclepias viridis, you will know better.

Kansans have many good reasons for landscaping with native plants. Some of the best benefits are: 1) they provide natural beauty throughout the seasons, 2) they attract pollinators and other wildlife that are part of the food chain, 3) they offer drought-tolerant, environmentally-friendly plants to work with, and 4) they represent our state’s rich prairie natural heritage. By learning more about native plant families, you can add more diversity to your garden, creating a wider range of habitat for wildlife.

Additional plant families commonly found in the prairie, which are well represented at our plant sale, include:

SUNFLOWER FAMILY

Includes the largest number of species in the prairie; many flowers or “florets” in one head with both inner disk florets and outer ray florets.

Echinacea pallida, otherwise known as pale purple coneflower, is a member of the SUNFLOWER FAMILY.

BEAN FAMILY

These “legumes” have a distinctive five petal flower, form bean pods, and fix nitrogen into the soil thanks to special bacteria living on the roots.

Baptisia australis, also known as blue wild indigo or blue false indigo, is a member of the BEAN FAMILY.

MINT FAMILY

These plants have square stems and opposite leaves that create aromatic oils. Most garden herbs are in the mint family.

Salvia azurea, also known as blue sage, is a member of the MINT FAMILY.

GRASS FAMILY

Flowers are colorless and wind pollinated, and stiff fibrous stems help carry fire when dormant. Most agricultural crops are in the grass family.

Schizochirium scoparium, also known as little bluestem, is a member of the GRASS FAMILY.

 

Each summer at our Earth Partnership for Schools Institute, we begin our week-long K-12 teacher training with an introduction to plants through an exercise called “Plant Families”. This is a great way to give some organization to the understanding of how plants are named and classified. I think you will enjoy having access to this resource – check it out and have fun while learning your plant families! (Plant Families EPS Curriculum Activity)

Teachers examine grass flowers while learning about plant families.

 

2017 Dyck Arboretum Year in Review (Limerick Style)

End of December, in its last week,
dormant plants means the prairie’s asleep.
From our 35th year,
the events we will cheer,
this time when darkness is peak.

Winter Lecture Series

For wildfires, bird sounds, and butterflies,
folks brought open ears and wide eyes.
Learn new facts and stats,
about birds, bugs, and bats,
The 2018 Series will make you wise.

Spring Symposium: Living A Land Ethic in Kansas

Our members for an ethic take a stand,
with Kansas animals and plants in demand.
Farmers and ranchers spoke,
Teachers and leaders invoked,
a clear message – take care of the land.

Leprechaun Run

Around the Arboretum we ran,
to catch the bearded leprechaun.
Costumes were so green,
time away from the screen,
great fun for each child, woman, and man.

Landscaping Classes

Good folks want to limit their grass.
Mowing’s such a pain in the…rear.
Just add native plants,
attract birds, bees, and ants,
biodiversity you will amass.

Wisconsin trip to give talks at Aldo Leopold Foundation Land Ethic Conference

I paid my respects to Leopold.
A story that he simply told –
take care of the land,
to the future we’ll hand,
An ethic that’s worth more than gold.

Summer Soiree

Nice food and a speaker we did host,
sitting inside so that folks would not roast.
Stayed out of the sun,
silent auction was fun,
we love our supporters the most!

Weddings

In a setting where native plants live,
brides and grooms their vows they did give,
Their families were happy,
words may have been sappy,
discord we hope they’ll outlive.

Arboretum Grounds Management

Nice grounds that our members admire,
demand work with a rake, mulch and fire.
Native plants will create,
space for insects to mate,
and landscapes of which you will not tire.

Spring and Fall FloraKansas Plant Sales

Choose a forb, grass, sedge, shrub or tree.
We love to see a good buying spree.
Plant sales feed our mission,
and bring home the bacon,
friendly advice here is given for free.

Earth Partnership for Schools Program

Native plant lessons teachers do hear,
a program that is in its 12th year.
the kids lend a hand,
their lessons are grand,
prairie gardens on school grounds endear.

Field Trips

Kids come to learn things about prairie.
New names like bluestem and ground cherry.
Plant roots go so deep,
flower nectar so sweet,
insects are our friends and not scary.

Concerts

Great music in a prairie garden setting.
Enjoy tunes in nice seats without sweating.
Plucked strings are a treat,
harmonies are so sweet,
Crust & Crumb breads at break you’ll be getting.

Eclipse Trip

We drove to the corn state to see,
a brief view of the sun worry free.
All eyes in the air,
such shows are so rare,
wearing dark glasses was key.

Luminary Walk

Our grounds after dark are a sight,
gentle glows given by candle light.
Festive notes please the ear,
tasty treats add good cheer,
bundle up so you don’t get frostbite.

Thank you for being part of our Dyck Arboretum family

Our staff love our jobs that is clear,
volunteers and members we hold dear.
With a mission so true,
we’ll work hard for you,
Season’s greetings and happy new year!