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!

How do you connect with the land?

I really enjoy the work we do here at the Arboretum.  I am deeply rooted in the Kansas landscape. Having grown up on a farm, connecting with the land seemed like an easy thing for me. However, I never really noticed the small details and intricacies of the plants that grow here until I started working at the Arboretum.

Butterfly Milkweed and Compass Plant

The Arboretum is almost 40 years old.  From our founding, building relationships with the land was our foremost charge.  The 1981 mission was to “foster and appreciation of the natural beauty of Kansas”. Our growth since those humble beginnings is linked to the timelessness of our mission and connecting people to the Kansas landscape.   

As you know, connecting to the land has never been more important. With concerns of habitat loss, declining bird populations, fewer pollinators, or decreasing biodiversity, your connection will have a powerful impact as you learn more about your role in making positive changes. What you do will make a difference.     

Yellow Coneflowers, Giant Blackeyed Susan and Prairie Dropseed

Knowledge is powerful. Whether in personal or work relationships, in working with plants, or anything else, the more you know the deeper the connection grows. Relationships grow as we learn, relate and spend time interacting with each other or with the elements of nature that surround us. The Dyck Arboretum of the Plains’ mission to ‘cultivate transformative relationships between people and the land’ is all about building relationships through continuous learning.

It is my wish that each of you find a personal connection with the land that makes your life better. As you develop this connection, other positive impacts will naturally happen. Stewardship, conservation, appreciation, enjoyment and reflection are personal responses to a profound connection to the land. 

In the coming year, we invite each of you to share in experiences that inspire you and deepen your own connection to the land and with the Arboretum. It is our desire to make your lives richer as you find solace, comfort, joy, anticipation, and discovery in the events and activities centered around our mission. 

The stunning tallgrass prairie of the Flint Hills

Whether you support the Arboretum by giving financially, attending events, sharing about our work with your friends and family, or providing your expertise and energy through volunteering, your participation makes this place better. Your commitment to this shared mission deepens our relationships not only with each other, but also with the land. 

Appreciating Dormancy

December in Kansas is the time to enjoy textures in the landscape and appreciate dormancy. These textures have been present during earlier months, but they have been obscured by the bright, colorful eye candy that more dominantly draws our attention.

Blue sky envelopes switchgrass and Maximilian sunflower.

The waning purples, yellows, reds, and greens of fall have served their purposes of pollinator attraction and energy production and finally given way to the variously rich shades of brown in winter. These remaining warm hues of frugal colors make shapes and textures stand out more prominently in the prairie against itself and the sky.

Osage orange skeletons, dark accents of round-headed bush clover, and Indiangrass
Grey-headed coneflower

The previously perfect ovals of grey-headed coneflower seed heads, slowly release their grip on propagules, only to uncover another perfect oval.

Grey-headed coneflower
The reddish-brown seeds of Illinois bundle-flower look like wagging tongues as they rattle out of their pods in the wind.
Little bluestem

The white hairy pappus of a variety of grasses, asters, and goldenrods, which will eventually carry away its host seed in the wind like a parachute, is particularly eye-catching in the way it reflects light while held on winter stems.

Panicled aster

From a prairie management perspective, wintertime is the best time to see and root out invading tree stems with their obvious coarse textures that are otherwise hidden by greenery.

Bradford pears are notorious for invading natural areas.

As we approach the winter solstice and its comforting darkest depths, try to get out into a nearby natural area and find ways to appreciate the dormant textures in the rich variety of browns while you still can. A good way to do this is by attending our Winter Luminary Walk, December 6 and 7.

The interfering colors of spring will be here before you know it.

A Thanksgiving Poem

The past twelve months have been filled with personal challenges for me and I have not always been thankful for the many blessings in my life. Often we look at the problems we are dealing with, but neglect to see and be grateful for the gifts we have been given.

The other day I found this poem and it was a good reminder to me to not let the cares of this world keep me from being thankful. I am thankful for the relationships I have with family and friends. I am thankful for the people we serve. I am thankful for the work I do, and the beauty all around me. Trials can be turned to gratitude if we change our attitude.

We walk on starry fields of white
And do not see the daisies;
For blessings common in our sight
We rarely offer praises.
We sigh for some supreme delight
To crown our lives with splendor,
And quite ignore our daily store
Of pleasures sweet and tender.

Our cares are bold and push their way
Upon our thought and feeling.
They hang about us all the day,
Our time from pleasure stealing.
So unobtrusive many a joy
We pass by and forget it,
But worry strives to own our lives
And conquers if we let it.

There’s not a day in all the year
But holds some hidden pleasure,
And looking back, joys oft appear
To brim the past’s wide measure.

But blessings are like friends, I hold,
Who love and labor near us.
We ought to raise our notes of praise
While living hearts can hear us.

Full many a blessing wears the guise
Of worry or of trouble.
Farseeing is the soul and wise
Who knows the mask is double.
But he who has the faith and strength
To thank his God for sorrow
Has found a joy without alloy
To gladden every morrow.

We ought to make the moments notes
Of happy, glad Thanksgiving;
The hours and days a silent phrase
Of music we are living.
And so the theme should swell and grow
As weeks and months pass o’er us,
And rise sublime at this good time,
A grand Thanksgiving chorus.

– Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1896

HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM YOUR FRIENDS AT THE DYCK ARBORETUM OF THE PLAINS!

October Richness

Life flies by for all of us and it is easy to miss or forget what happens in a given month. When reviewing recent photographs on my phone, I was pleasantly reminded of all the richness that happened over the last four weeks or so. October in Kansas is that great fall transition period between summer and winter, hot and cold, green and brown, and fast and slow when there is SO MUCH to see. For those that feel that they endure the extremes of Kansas to revel in the moderation that comes with fall, October is your time.

I was reminded from these photos of our Dyck Arboretum of the Plains mission – cultivating transformative relationships between people and the land. Let’s review in the following photos the richness that can be found in that interface between the plants/wildlife of Kansas and the people that enjoy this place in October.

Monarch fallout.

October 1 brought a monarch “fallout” when their migration was interrupted by strong south winds. They momentarily took a break from their journey and sought shelter in our Osage orange hedge row.

Tagged monarchs.

Local monarch enthusiast, Karen Fulk, took advantage of the fallout to capture and tag monarchs with identification numbers that help other monarch observers in Mexico or elsewhere to better understand the speed and location of their migration.

Middle school students measuring tree height with the “rough estimate” method.

Santa Fe Middle School students from Newton were able to witness the end of the monarch fallout on October 2 and also enjoyed various activities on the Dyck Arboretum campus that included insect collecting, plant sampling and measuring tree height. The Dyck Arboretum’s Kansas Earth Partnership for Schools (EPS) Program curriculum has a lesson that teaches students how to measure tree height with five different methods including estimation, shadows, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.

Measuring tree height.
Lorna Harder teaching a 5th Grader about plant identification.

On October 6, former and current Dyck Arboretum board members hosted tours of their homes and land near Hesston for Arboretum Prairie Partners. Lorna and Bob Harder gave a tour of their solar photovoltaic-powered home and surrounding prairie landscape and LeAnn and Stan Clark hosted everyone for dinner on their patio surrounded by extensive native plant landscaping.

Lorna Harder leading a tour of the native prairie she is helping steward.
Director, Scott Vogt, welcoming Arboretum Prairie Partners to a meal on LeAnn and Stan Clark’s patio.

Hesston Elementary students took a field trip to the Arboretum on October 10 to conduct a leaf scavenger hunt, learn about monarch migration, observe different seed dispersal mechanisms and study insect diversity in the prairie.

Hesston Elementary students search for insects in the Arboretum reconstructed prairie.
Finding seeds, grasshoppers, beetles, flies, spiders, true bugs, and more.
Insect sweeping.
Students found a female striped wolf spider carrying its newborn young on its abdomen.
Grasshoppers are plentiful in the prairie during October.
Initial insect skittishness turned to fondness during the field trip.
Beehives at Earhart.

Earhart Environmental Magnet Elementary in Wichita, a Kansas Earth Partnership for Schools participating school, engages their students in environmental education with hands-on activities such as beekeeping. Students tend the bees, grow and maintain native plant gardens as nectar sources, and regularly camp on their grounds to learn more about the natural world around them.

Earhart students check a birdfeeder while searching for insects in one of their courtyard native plant gardens.
Earhart students found a preying mantis egg casing or ootheca.

On October 17, Walton Elementary (another Kansas EPS School) students came to the Arboretum to collect seed and study how seeds disperse. They each had a target plant they were searching for and from which they were aiming to collect seed. They did the same last year, germinated the seed in their greenhouse over the winter, and had a successful native plant sale in the Walton community.

College students observing a garter snake.

Bethel College environmental science classes visited the Arboretum on October 24 to learn about the native plants and wildlife of Kansas, natural resource management, and ecological restoration. When students become interested in and well-versed about the natural world around them, they will turn into more informed and better-educated environmental decision-makers of the future.

Bethel students found a Pandorus sphinx moth caterpillar crossing an Arboretum sidewalk.
‘Tiger Eyes’ sumac from an Arboretum plant sale was in autumn splendor on October 26 at my house.

Part of establishing a rich sense of place for people in any one location involves not only natural history connection cultural enrichment through the arts. The Dyck Arboretum’s Prairie Window Concert Series (PWCS) features eight live music performances each season. Our 2019-20 season was kicked off with October bookend performances featuring Mark Erelli on September 29 and recently The Steel Wheels on October 26.

Mark Erelli – the first show of the 2019-20 PWCS.
The Steel Wheels – the second show of the 2019-20 PWCS.

On October 29, a stunning cold front rolled through Kansas and chilling temperatures caused delicately-held leaves on trees like ash, maple, Osage orange, and ginko to fall within hours. Social media posts were featuring leaves dropping quickly that day all over Kansas to make for a memorable fall day.

Ginko leaves and ‘iron butterfly’ ironweed.

The 2019 Eco-Meet Championships will be held at Dyck Arboretum in early November. In late October, organizers and high school teams from around the state were visiting the Arboretum to prepare for the big event. The competition will allow some of the brightest science students from around the state to showcase their knowledge on subjects including prairies, woodlands, entomology, and ornithology.

Students from Smoky Valley High visited the Arboretum on October 31 to prepare for Eco-Meet.

The cold nights and relatively warm days of late October have allowed the grass and tree leaves to show off their bright colors that have been hidden all growing season by the green pigments of chlorophyll. Seed heads are opening and dispersal mechanisms that catch the wind or lure animals are on full display. Good ground moisture and warm temperatures are still even allowing for a bit of late-season flowering from some species.

Sugar maple.
Little bluestem.
Seeds dispersing from a common milkweed pod.
The fall prairie is loaded with seeds this season which is good for seed-eating mammals and birds.
It has been a mast year for trees and the ground under this burr oak was covered with acorns.
Late season flowering by Leavenworth eryngo.
Aromatic aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’.

I’ll leave you with a video (sorry for the terrible camera work) of one of my favorite sights of every October – when the aromatic asters are in full bloom and late-season pollinators belly up to the nectar bar on a warm fall day. Enjoy.

Video of Pollinators nectaring on aromatic aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’

Finding Value in the Undesirables

It is time to give some props to the plants that don’t always play nice in the urban landscape. Over the past month, I have enjoyed finding value in the undesirables.

In recent years, we have culled tall and aggressive native plant species from our plant sales because they become weedy and dominant in small manicured gardens. They out-compete shorter, slower-growing species for which we also find value. But even though some of these species may be landscape bullies, they still provide nectar for pollinators, food for seed eaters, vegetation for host-specific insect larvae, and beautiful flowers to please the human eye.

In some of the low-maintenance habitat areas here at the Arboretum, I’ve been recently admiring the profuse blooms and insect-attracting abilities of the following species:

  • Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis),
  • western ironweed (Vernonia baldwinii)
  • tall joe-pye weed (Eupatorium altissimum),
  • brown-eyed susan (Rudbeckia triloba),
  • tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum),
  • common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca),
  • compass plant (Silphium laciniatum)
  • prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum)
  • Maximillian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)
Canada goldenrod with a host of fly, beetle, and true bug pollinators.
Western ironweed with a beetle and a sweat bee.
Tall joe-pye weed with an Ailanthus webworm moth and a beetle.
Tall joe-pye weed with a wasp.
Tall joe-pye weed with a predatory wheel bug.
Brown-eyed susan with an ambush bug.
Brown-eyed susan with a checkered skipper.
Brown-eyed susan with a Horace’s duskywing.
Tall thistle with an eastern tiger swallowtail.
Common milkweed with large milkweed bugs.
Common milkweed with a milkweed longhorn beetle.

While I would not recommend these plants for the more manicured parts of your yard where you weed, mulch, and tend for a tidier look, consider these “undesirables” for more wild places around you. You will only find a couple of these species for purchase at our plant sales. But you can find all of them in the landscapes around our grounds and I will be happy to pick some seed for you to take home and disperse in your wild places. The insects and greater ecosystem around you will benefit!

What Do Pollinators Need?

One of my favorite past times during the fall season is watching pollinators work on the many wildflowers in bloom.   This morning there were dozens of different pollinators crawling all over the white flowers of Tall Boneset (Eupatorium altissimum).  It had everything from small flies to larger wasps to different bees and even a few butterflies.  They were all living harmoniously together atop this one plant.  It was fun to watch and listen.

That was one plant. Imagine how many plants are needed to sustain these pollinator populations.  With documented losses of habitat nation wide and documented losses of milkweeds (host plants of the migrating monarchs), what should our strategy be to help the plight of pollinators? 

It’s important to realize that we all need to participate and understand that the choices we make in our landscapes can make a difference. Yes, our landscapes can help pollinators no matter the size.  This one boneset plant was found by dozens of pollinators.  Sure – we will never replace the pristine prairies that once were here, but our smaller green spaces can still help support an abundance of wildlife.     

Here are six ways you can help increase declining populations of pollinators, including bees and monarchs:

1. Plant Pollinator-Friendly Plants

It goes without saying that pollinators need blooming plants and the plants need the pollinators. Having a diverse set of native plants in your landscape will be a good start to attracting pollinators to your yard.

Certainly, milkweeds are the best wildflowers for attracting monarchs to your yard.  We have seen several already migrating through on their way south, and some have been depositing eggs on our common milkweed plants. The wildflowers are the buffet these pollinators need for their survival. (Peruse our native plant list and sample landscape designs for some inspiration.)

Monarch butterfly on Asclepias incarnata, or swamp milkweed – photo by Brad Guhr

2. Plant with a Succession of Blooms

I recommend planting wildflowers that bloom at different times of the year.  A mixture of wildflowers coming into bloom and going out of bloom throughout the year provides a ready food source.  This approach mimics the natural prairie and the changing seasons.

Skipper butterfly on Tall Boneset Eupatorium altissimum

3. Create Habitat in your Yard

Layer trees and shrubs along with wildflowers and grasses.  These plants provide shelter from the wind as well as nesting sites and food for birds, butterflies, and bees. I like to leave old logs and small brush piles so these pollinators can overwinter in my yard. Remember, even a small garden can have a tremendous impact.

Bumblebee on Echinacea purpurea, or purple coneflower – photo by Janelle Flory Schrock

4. Provide Water

We all need water for survival.  Pollinators need it too.  A clean source of water such as a birdbath, basin, or hollow stone is enough water for pollinators.  These features also provide landing spots so that pollinators have a perch. Here are some great plants to complement your water feature.

Pearl crescent butterflies meet at the watering hole – Photo by Dave Osborne

5. Reduce Chemicals

There is growing research on the detrimental effects chemicals have on pollinators.  Any time we can reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals in the landscape, we are impacting wildlife in a positive way.  Allow insects to control unwanted pests.  Be willing to accept a few damaged plants, knowing that by not spraying you are saving much more in the long run.

Hummingbird moth on Liatris pycnostachya, or Kansas gayfeather – photo by Janelle Flory Schrock

6. Learn About the Plight of Endangered Pollinators

There is so much to learn about each type of pollinator.  When are they out in the garden?  What do they need to complete their life cycle?  Where do they migrate or how do they overwinter?  We have so much to learn about these important insects. (One good resource for this is this book, by Heather Holm, which we often carry in our gift shop. And, of course, MonarchWatch.org is a great resource.)

When it comes to supporting the life cycle of pollinators, you can be part of the solution.  Native wildflowers are the best option to help them prosper.  You will be amazed when you introduce just a handful of wildflowers to your landscape.  If you plant them, pollinators will come.

What is Land Stewardship?

The other day, I was reading an interesting article about modeling sustainability in our landscapes.  This particular article focused on botanical gardens and their importance as models for sustainable practices and stewardship of the land.  Obviously, it made me think about our own landscapes here at the Arboretum, how we manage and maintain them and how we can help encourage conservation and stewardship of our lands, waters and wildlife. It also made me keenly aware of my own feelings toward stewardship. How do I share my empathy for the land or my belief that the land is worth saving?

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills. Photo by Brad Guhr.

What’s your personal land ethic?

Certainly, a land ethic is a very personal thing. Stewardship is about a person’s relationship to the land. It’s about what you believe on the inside.  What I am willing and able to do right now regarding stewardship of the land in my little corner of the world, is quite different from what my neighbor is able to do, or even what you, the reader, are able to do.  We may feel driven to make drastic changes right now, but others may see those changes as excessive and unimportant in light of other issues they are currently dealing with. 

I am reminded of a quote from Aldo Leopold from A Sand County Almanac:

“Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Each of us has some sort of land ethic. Whether or not we can articulate it to someone else is another thing. 

Kansas Wildflower Exhibit
Arboretum tallgrass prairie garden in the Kansas Wildflower Exhibit

The stewardship spectrum

I like to think of stewardship on a horizontal plane.  On the one end of the spectrum are those who hold a deep reverence for the land.  They are compelled to actively incorporate practices into their lives, such as using native plants, harvesting rainwater, reducing/eliminating the use of pesticides and herbicides, mulching, creating habitat for wildlife, and other sustainable actions. They are caretakers of the land. 

On the other end of the horizontal plane are the novices.  These are the folks who want to do the right thing, but they don’t know how to get started.  This end also includes someone with a pristine lawn and tidy flower beds.  There is nothing wrong with this type of landscaping — remember that a land ethic is a very personal thing.  This landscape reflects their beliefs about how a landscape should look.

Those of us who see the value and beauty of a native landscape have the opportunity to model a paradigm shift in landscape practices and show a different land ethic that can be beautiful in its own way.    

Developing a connection to the land

So how do we move people along this horizontal plane from novice steward to sustainable steward of the land?  Whether here at the Arboretum or in your own back yard, the more people who see and experience nature up close, and connect with the land, the more progress will be made. 

This connection with the land is important. A deeper connection results in a deeper empathy for the world around us. Change starts at home in your own landscapes by modeling your convictions. 

“Conservation can accomplish its objectives only when it springs from an impelling conviction on the part of private landowners.” 

– Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
A small garden of native plants

People will want to change when they see change is possible.  If they see stewardship modeled for them, they will begin to embrace this change in their own feeling about the land. To care for the land, people must see that the land is worth saving. 

Those of us who see that stewardship is possible need to: model it for others, share it with others, help others, and support others as they gain understanding and confidence on their own stewardship journey.

“ A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.”

– Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac