Art in the Garden

Great art picks up where nature ends.” ~Marc Chagall

As inhabitants of the Great Plains prairie, we are motivated to landscape with native plants for a variety of reasons. We are especially inspired by what pleases us visually.

The Dyck Arboretum of the Plains has been developing a strong connection with the public through the arts. For the last five years, our Prairie Window Concert Series has promoted enjoyment of music in a prairie garden setting, and for at least 15 years, we have been featuring visual art on our grounds and in our buildings. In the spring of 2013, we held a well-attended Prairie Inspired Art Symposium.


Native plants provide so many appealing visual traits in their flowers, vegetation, seed heads, and pollinators they attract. Visual art in the garden gives yet one more way of enhancing the visitor experience. The following works of visual artists are featured at Dyck Arboretum.

Norman Epp (Denver, CO) – Norman’s works are created from reclaimed materials, are friendly to the environment, and nurture a spiritual concept that “being human is to actively be “one with nature”.” The piece Paean A Priori is made of Kansas limestone and can be found just south of our visitor center.


Paean A Priori (by Norman Epp)

Paul Friesen (Hesston, KS) – Long-time professor at both Hesston and Bethel College, Paul has produced for Dyck Arboretum native material sculptures made from Osage orange (Prairie Sentinel) in the Visitor Center and Kansas limestone (Bearer of the Ammonite) on the pond island, respectively.


Prairie Sentinel (by Paul Friesen)


Bearer of the Ammonite (by Paul Friesen)

Conrad Snider (Newton, KS) – Making use of large clay pieces for which he has constructed his own special kiln, Conrad has produced three installations for Dyck Arboretum. Two pieces honor the donors that helped fund our Visitor Center and Prairie Pavilion. A Sense of Place is a spatially-scaled mural representing the mile sections that consist of the Arboretum watershed between West Emma and Middle Emma Creeks and the unnamed Pavilion piece accentuates our symbolic twining vines of support.


A Sense of Place (by Conrad Snider)


Donor Recognition Mural, Prairie Pavilion (by Conrad Snider)

The 12-pieces of Prairie Fence, made of clay, Osage orange, and steel along our walking path symbolically represent the barriers that exist between urban and natural areas. Featuring quotes by both nationally renowned and local conservationists, these “fences” are made to appear weathered and deteriorating, because at Dyck Arboretum we are working to break down these barriers.


Prairie Fences (by Conrad Snider)


Prairie Fences (by Conrad Snider)


Prairie Fences (by Conrad Snider)

Hanna Eastin (Newton, KS) – As artist-in-residence and Hesston College faculty member, Hanna worked with students to create and install ceramic and steel pieces that reside along our Prairie Window Project rain garden.


Rain Garden Installation (by Hanna Eastin and students)

John Merigian (Newton, KS) – A 13-foot tall temporary installation (Contender) made of Corten steel.


Contender (by John Merigian)

Let us not forget the art found in architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright, considered by many to be the greatest American architect of all time, was very artistic in his architecture. He believed in designing structures that were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture or sometimes “prairie style.” This style echoed the wide, flat, treeless expanses of the Plains where structures look as if they naturally grow from the site.While the Arboretum cannot claim to have Wright architecture, many of our structures certainly embody elements of his elegant and natural style.

Visitor Center and Prairie Pavilion – Use of native limestone and low, horizontal lines help these two facilities fit nicely into the prairie landscape (designed by Schaefer, Johnson, Cox, Frey Architecture).


Visitor Center (by SJCF Architecture)


Prairie Pavilion (by SJCF Architecture)

Prairie Shelter – A favorite shady spot tucked in next to our natural amphitheater with an overlook view of the pond (designed by John Miller).


Prairie Shelter (by John Miller)

Cedar Gazebo and Leaf House – These two structures developed out of available natural resources including eastern red cedar posts (cut from a nearby prairie restoration project), cedar boughs, and community tree leaves. These structures are seen as semi-temporary on the landscape since they are dynamic and will weather more quickly over time (designed by Scott Vogt and Gerry Selzer).


Cedar Gazebo (by Scott Vogt)


Leaf House (by Scott Vogt and Gerry Selzer)

Our Visitor Center entrance and art gallery has rotating displays of wall hanging works from local artists. The current featured artist is Barbara Haynes. (Wichita, KS).


Dyck Arboretum Visitor Center Entrance Gallery

Come to the Arboretum and experience how the Kansas prairie and our permanent as well as temporary art installations can be pleasing to you.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” ~Henry David Thoreau


Four Ways to Highlight Elements of Your Natural Landscape.

Many people come to the Luminary Walk each year and enjoy the prairie landscape illuminated by Christmas lights.  It is amazing how a few lights can make the natural landscape come to life at night.  Typically, the winter landscape is cold, harsh and lifeless, but warm glowing Christmas lights can invite you in and provide visual interest.  Here are some ways we use lights to warm up our prairie garden.

Up-Light Trees, Shrubs and Focal Points: 

As trees and shrubs lose their leaves, some remarkable architecture is revealed.  What we perceive as a barren, stark landscape in the winter has beautiful, often unnoticed shapes, forms and branching structure.  The simple use of well-placed lights such as spot lights under trees and shrubs brings these plants to life.  Shop lights with an incandescent light bulb are what we use, but LED can be used as well.  Weaving strings of lights through evergreens or draping lights over shrubs illuminate their round shapes.  I have even wrapped tree trunks and branches with strings of mini lights.  Icicle lights, rope lights, lath wrapped with mini lights, and shooting stars are just a few alternatives to traditional mini lights.


Outline Paths

Strings of mini lights along a path or placed on plants next to the path edge are a fantastic way to lead you through your garden.  I have even used rope lights to brighten a path or bridge.  If you are going to be in the garden at night, why not light up your way?


Less Is More

Too many lights is too commercial in my opinion.  I tend to err on the side of putting out less rather than more.  Focus on a few focal points within the landscape.  Accent the most important elements with lights, but don’t overdo it.  Too many lights will only distract from the natural beauty of your landscape.

We have also been using more LED lights.  They use far less energy than conventional outdoor lights and can be connected together in longer lengths.



Avoid Using Colored Lights:

I know this is a preference, but I really believe white lights make everything seem much brighter. At night, they really stand out more than other colors.  Warm, white lights illuminate plants and focal points naturally.  Red, blues and greens are not normal, authentic and look fake in my opinion.


Bald Cypress


I find new ideas from the web.  People more creative than me are always coming up with ways to illuminate the natural elements in the landscape.  I try to keep it simple by accenting points of interest.  Look at the lights from different perspectives to get the positioning right.  By adding just a few lights you can enjoy you landscape even when it is sleeping for the winter.





How to Plan an Eco-Friendly Wedding in Kansas

Dyck Arboretum, Sculpture by Conrad Snider

Many of the folks who plan weddings in our prairie garden are concerned with reducing the ecological footprint of their big day, an effort I applaud and encourage. For an organization like ours, “going green” is more than a catch phrase or marketing gimmick. Each decision to create more joy and beauty with less waste is a decision to “use [the land] with love and respect.”

And yet, I realize that planning an eco-friendly wedding can be a daunting endeavor. Luckily, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel – here are six ways our 2015 weddings succeeded in treading lightly on their wedding day:

1. Reduce consumption of disposable goods.

I get it. Disposables save a lot of time and energy – they are lighter for carrying in to the venue and they don’t require washing at the end of the night. However, using your grandma’s vintage china – even just for the head table – adds a pop of color and style, especially if you want the vintage look.  If you can’t afford to rent fancy china, or don’t have the crew to clean it up later, consider at least using SOME real dishes and cloth napkins. For the rest, make sure whatever disposables you use can be rinsed and recycled. (Or even better, go bio-compostable / biodegradable.)

Eco-friendly wedding Dyck Arboretum


2. Repurpose found items for decorations.

Kelsey and Ben, who were married here in early June, get the prize for most creative collection of repurposed items. For tableware, they mismatched vintage china and glassware, giving their “English tea luncheon” an eclectic, elegant look. In addition, they made fewer flowers go further with their test tube centerpieces – huge impact with relatively few cut flowers. Go a step further and pick the flowers yourself from your mom’s or grandmother’s garden, or from a roadside ditch! (See next tip for more on this!)

Eco-friendly wedding Dyck Arboretum


In September, Anna and Justin used a very creative selection of items from home on their tablescapes, including various jars, tins, spools of thread, old medicine bottles and vases. These, combined with burlap and a bright cobalt blue piece of fabric for a table runner, tied everything together very nicely.

Eco-friendly wedding Dyck Arboretum


3. Use alternatives to hot house flowers.

If you have several guests or members of the wedding party coming early to help out, put them to work the day before the wedding and have a flower-picking party! Abi and David did this in August and the results were simple, but stunning. Do some research to find out what wildflowers typically bloom in the roadsides or in your friends’ gardens during the month of your wedding (or visit our Pinterest boards to see what blooms here) and plan your color scheme accordingly. Be flexible and open to using what you can find – and be sure to ask permission before you pick!

Eco-friendly wedding Dyck Arboretum

Also, consider using fabric and/or wooden flowers, like Leah did this past October. If you want to keep your bouquet, this is a great way to ensure that your “roses” will be as good as new at your 25th anniversary!

Eco-friendly wedding Dyck Arboretum

4. Minimize travel.

Several of the weddings held here this year had fewer than fifty guests attending and many more had fewer than one hundred guests. In my experience, these are some of the most joy-filled celebrations we’ve had here at the Arboretum.

There are two steps in minimizing the amount of miles traveled to your wedding. First, choose a venue that is as close as possible to the majority of your family and friends. Then – and this is the hard part – edit that guest list down as much as you can. It will be challenging, but if you can keep your numbers down, you’ll be decreasing the size of your wedding’s carbon footprint enormously and you’ll help your overall budget as well. Most importantly, you’ll decrease your stress on the day of the wedding! (Many of our couples have a wedding in Kansas and then travel to another location later in the year for a second reception.)

Eco-friendly wedding Dyck Arboretum


5. Plant a tree.

One traditional element of a wedding ceremony is the lighting of a unity candle. With our Kansas winds, this can often prove challenging for an outdoor wedding. Often, we like to suggest a “unity plant” as an alternative. It fits with the mission of the arboretum, and after you add water and soil to your plant during your ceremony, you can either take it to your new home and plant it there, or – if you aren’t settled yet – you may donate it back to the arboretum and we will plant it here on our grounds.

Eco-friendly wedding Dyck Arboretum


6. Support a venue with a mission you can believe in.

Choosing a venue is one of the first and most important decisions in the wedding planning process. It is also one of the best opportunities to make a positive impact with your eco-friendly wedding. There are so many unexpected venue choices to consider, such as a national park in your area, or a local farm operation, or a small, non-profit, prairie garden. 😉 Do you see where I’m going with this? When you choose a venue both for its beauty and for its broader ecological purpose, you aren’t just paying for a rental space, you are supporting the mission of that organization.

Every time I introduce a new couple to the Arboretum, I always share with them our mission, which is to promote, through education and stewardship, the conservation and use of plants native and adaptable to Kansas. In a nutshell, we are about connecting people with the prairie in every way possible. Every couple that chooses the Dyck Arboretum as their wedding venue is contributing to this mission and leaving a piece of their story with the wider Arboretum community. For that, we are exceedingly grateful.

Not-So-Sweet Smells of Fall

Fall is a wonderful time to be the Arboretum grounds keeper – watering duties slow down, weeds are relenting, and I can wear my favorite sweaters to work. Brisk mornings and the coppery hue of the landscape make for a pleasant work week.

But wait … what’s that smell?

Working in many different areas of the Arboretum has led me to discover some autumnal aromas that are downright unpleasant. It isn’t the cinnamony smell of pumpkin spice latte on the wind, but a stench of skunk and old cheese! Early fall moisture and warm days bring out the worst of smells in some of our flowers and shrubs, causing me to cringe when working near the fetid few.

If you have visited us recently, perhaps you too are wondering about the foul air. Wonder no more! I introduce to you the top three smelly plants at the Arboretum:

1. Cypress (Cupressus arizonica)

While cypress trees traditionally have a pleasing aroma, this variety emits an odor redolent of skunk. The icy blue foliage may be off putting at first sniff, but if you rub the needles between your fingers the scent becomes influenced by citrus and spice, making it somewhat less offensive and almost forgivable. Almost.

(Left) Arizona Cypress tree in the Northwest corner of the Arboretum. (Right) Cypress foliage

(Left) Arizona Cypress tree in the Northwest corner of the Arboretum. (Right) Cypress foliage

Many evergreens have strong scents, and they get their classic “Christmas” smell from gummy resins, which contain high concentrations of terpene alcohols and acids. Unfortunately, this tree smells less like Christmas and more like roadkill.


Penstemon digitalis seed pods near Dyck Arboretum Visitor's Center

Penstemon digitalis seed pods

2. Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis)

Penstemon is a showy spring bloomer that produces reddish, tear-drop shaped seed heads. But when you decide to cut those seed heads down for clean up or collection, I suggest pinching your nose! The bloom doesn’t have a strong scent, but the smell of the seeds and pods has been likened to animal vomit, or very acidic urine. The seeds themselves, though tiny, seem to make the biggest stink – after handling seed, it takes many rounds of hand washing to remove the tangy, kitty-litter smell from your fingers.


3. Rough-leaved dogwood (Cornus drummondii)

Dogwoods grow in dense thickets and are a popular choice for creating natural borders. Because of their thick cover, they are attractive to wildlife and nesting birds. But they are not attractive to the human nose. Dogwood leaves smell ever so slightly of curdled milk. In calm, humid weather, walking near our dogwood plantings can feel as if you have a dirty gym bag on your face. Luckily, as cooler weather sets in, the foul air around these plants seems to dissipate.

So, why the big stink? For flowering species, exuding sweet smells is a signal to bees and butterflies that nectar is ready. No two floral scents are alike in molecular makeup, allowing for specific pollinator attraction. Most plants that give off an unpleasant balm are attracting a less charismatic type of pollinator – flies and beetles. If not for pollination purposes, a malodorous plant may be using its sour perfume as protection from herbivores such as rabbits and deer.

Whatever the reason, I won’t hold the smell against them…but I may choose to avoid pruning them for as long as I can get away with it!