On vacation in early July, some friends and I explored Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin. Rocky and rainy, with lushly forested slopes, it is a very different landscape from my beloved Kansas. While hiking I saw many of my favorite shade plants living in situ, outside the confines of our carefully cultivated gardens. To spot them in their natural habitat is always a thrill!
Jack-in-the-Pulpit was growing along the hiking path ringing the lake. Easy to confuse with poison ivy because of its three leaves, colonies of them grow in part sun locations. In early spring their fluted blooms appear, inconspicuous in yellow and brown. In hot locations they will conserve their energy and go dormant for the summer.
Ferns were growing out of every crag, reaching their delicate fronds upward. Kansas does actually have many of our own native ferns, but they are much harder to find than those in wetter climes. I was really having a hard time keeping up with our hiking group because I was so fascinated by the diversity of ferns around us! I saw christmas ferns, lady ferns and wood ferns all in less than a mile’s walk.
I also saw groups of coral berry (Symphoricarpos) growing in the understory, their fruits shining in the dappled light of afternoon. There are lots of cultivars of this plant quite suitable for sunnier locations. They make wonderful bushes for foundation plantings or filler amongst other shrubs.
Luckily you don’t have to go all the way to Wisconsin to see these beauties. All the plants listed in this post will be available at our fall FloraKansas Native Plant Festival fundraiser! Call or email Arboretum staff for more information.
It has been an interesting year weather-wise, to say the least. We have seen monsoon flooding and sweltering heat. I would like to say that this is another typical year in Kansas, but I don’t know what typical is anymore. So with all the highs and lows, wet and dry, what will grow here? How can you choose trusted plants with confidence, knowing that they are right for your site?
Plants are the best teachers
The simple answer is to look to nature to show you the way. Plants are the best teachers. So go ahead and choose plants that you believe will grow without much input on your part. After a year or two you will have a pretty good idea which plants grow best. You will need to plant more of the plants that are thriving and find a new space for those that are struggling. Every good gardener has had their share of plant failures, but they keep finding new plants that work. Don’t get discouraged, this is all part of the process of growing plants in a harsh environment.
Every Landscape is Unique
The other thing to keep in mind is that every landscape is different. What works for your neighbor may or may not work for you. The plants they use may not be your cup of tea. Choose plants you like and appreciate to make your landscape uniquely yours. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does need to bring you joy, fulfillment and increase your confidence to try new things.
Start with a small area and slowly expand it. This way your garden doesn’t overwhelm you. From weeding, to watering, to maintaining your garden space, establish a garden you can manage with just a few hours each week. More than likely, it will not be perfect the first time, but with trial and error you will discover the types of plants that work in your areas.
A Reflection of You
From those humble beginnings, you will have a space that
reflects your interests and tastes. Here
are a few of my favorite “go to” plants.
I confidently use these plants because they are quite adaptable and
provide consistent color, texture and/or bloom.
Some of these plants may work for you too.
Grasses for Sun
Switchgrass: Panicum ‘Northwind’, ‘Ruby Ribbons’, or ‘Purple Tears’
Prairie dropseed: Sporobolus heterolepis
Blue grama: Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’
Little bluestem: Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Twilight Zone’, ‘Standing Ovation’, or ‘Jazz’
Feather reed grass: Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ (Not native, but it has nice form and texture)
Wildflowers for Sun
Aster: Aster ericoides ‘Snow Flurry’, Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’, Aster lateriflorus ‘Lady in Black’, Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ or ‘October Skies’
Ornamental onion: Allium ‘Millennium’
Blue star: Amsonia hubrichtii, amsonia illustris and ‘Blue Ice’
Coneflowers: Echinacea angustifolia, pallida, and paradoxa. Hybrid varieties are nice if properly placed.
Rattlesnake master: Eryngium yuccifolium
Blazing stars: Liatris aspera, punctata, pycnostachya and spiccata
Primrose: Oenothera missouriensis
Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’
Wild quinine: Parthenium integrifolium
Black-eyed Susan: Rudbeckia missouriensis, fulgida, maxima, or triloba
This humble family survives the open plains and thrives in niches that others are too flamboyant to endure. Their incredibly deep roots protect them from drought, and their tall silica-rich stalks scatter the next generation.
Though often thought of as a backdrop for peaking wildflowers, grasses are actually flowering plants themselves. They evolved to stand and spread under vast, harsh skies. While their fraternal twin the orchid family grew alluring petals and fragrances, the grasses grew into tall and limber pollen casters. Well after the first flowering plants and more recently than the dinosaurs, grasses diverged from other buds as minimalists.
They found resilience in simplicity.
Without a need to attract insects to jumble their genes, grasses didn’t have to spend masses of energy on lavish pageantry. They dug their roots in deeper, grew a few more stickers, and when grazers or burns mowed them down, they came back sprawling.
Their flowers stayed small and muted. They lost their petals and rearranged their bracing bracts into something more hardy. When pastures bloom, their shy brilliance pokes out of camouflaged grains. They exist as rows of envelopes, smaller florets, braiding themselves into a diversity of branching inflorescence.
Grass flowers adorn themselves with what looks like a string of pollen-covered lanterns. From within, a curious set of small internal leaves will swell, pushing feathery stigmas and powdery anthers out of the floret.
Grasses are anemophilous, “wind loving.” Although their blooms are only half as vivid as their stalks, many make small colorful gifts to the breeze. The female pistil can come in silver, yellow or deep periwinkle, whereas the male anthers can flaunt yellow, orange, green, crimson and even lavender-purple.
You can see them displaying their small wares right now along the grounds of the Arboretum: blue grama, big bluestem and brome all in their summer suede.
Beginners to winners
Another reductionist adaptation is their use of spiny awls. You probably know them better as stickers. These extra bristles get caught in fur and socks to be pulled across the prairie. Some awls are bent, some are straight and some will even twist and untwist with fluctuations in humidity, screwing themselves into the earth.
They may have replaced fragrance for practicality, but ultimately it’s had major payoffs. Swaths of pasture persist through drought, fire and storm. Twenty percent of all wild plants in the Great Plains are grasses. Not only do their populations outnumber any other group of flowering plant, their distribution is sweeping. By weight they account for 70 percent of all crops.
Truly subdued prominence.
Resources: Barnard, Iralee. Field Guide to the Common Grasses of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. University Press of Kansas, 2014
I usually like to have data and science to back up what I believe and claim. But today, I’m going to go with a gut feeling and make a bold statement. The Prairie Window Concert Series (PWCS) is good for you. It will make improvements to your physical, mental, spiritual well-being…yeah, all of it.
If you are anything like me, I would expect you to approach this claim with skepticism. Therefore, I’ll include a couple of references in this post to loosely back up its premise and make both of us feel better. (See obligatory reference #1 after this paragraph). But with this claim, I profess it mostly because it feels right.
The Goodness of Music
I’ll start with how music is seemingly ever-present during some of the most revered time with my family and friends throughout the year. Vacation and holiday playlists always are special and highly anticipated. The Walnut Valley Festival (aka, “Winfield”) playlist is extensive and was put together with great care. When it starts playing late summer in anticipation of September, it brings about tingling excitement in our family like no other time of the year. Music is essential to these experiences and these experiences are good for me, so there you have it.
Whether I’m happy, sad, excited, somber, exercising or being still, I know of music to fit that particular situation. Americana, bluegrass, classical, country, rock, jazz, rap, honky tonk, Irish, new age, Zydeco, hip hop, and alternative are all proper contributors. Portable devices, powerful small speakers, noise-canceling headphones, feather-light earbuds, digital music collections, and limitless streaming services make it easier than ever to allow music to accompany us and accentuate any occasion. (Obligatory reference #2, How Music Affects the Brain) Usually, that music listening happens while multi-tasking on something else.
The Prairie Window Concert Series
When you specifically focus on live music, uninterrupted in an intimate, listening room setting with friends and family, the music experience can be even better. With the PWCS at Dyck Arboretum, you can engage your senses further with a stroll through a diverse and thriving landscape teeming with colorful flowers and pollinators.
At intermission, you can indulge in delicious Crust & Crumb fare. The culmination of these layers at a PWCS show has to be good for you.
28 Years and Counting
Miner and Valetta Seymour designed this experience to perfection in 1991 at the Old Settler’s Inn in Moundridge. (See PWCS History) The overall structure of the series, including Sunday afternoon shows to hear quality artists of various genres and enjoy good food during intermission, still thrives 28 years later. Talented artists bring their passions to the PWCS stage on eight occasions each season. They share their finely honed craft, passions, and dreams while trying to make a living doing something they love.
Today, I am excited to introduce the 2019-2020 PWCS lineup. It is loaded with immense talent that includes a number of new artists and a few familiar ones. Visit our website, learn more about the artists and enjoy their music. Join the growing group of season ticket holders and take advantage of our early bird discount, and consider becoming an underwriter. You will not only support this unique live musical arts experience in South Central Kansas, but you will have fun while engaging regularly with familiar faces in a music-loving community.
Dare I say, your happiness and well-being depend on it.
The construction of our new HUB (Horticulture and Utility Building) meant a lot of new sidewalk installation to go with it. And whenever there is cement work around here, there is always a lot of disturbed turf grass and less-than-desirable fill dirt. Instead of reseeding more grass in the areas adjacent to the sidewalk and fighting the weed growth, I decided to put in a new garden. In only two short years, that garden has grown more quickly and successfully than I could have hoped! I designed it in a snap using just three main guidelines: light, color palette, bloom time.
This space was a delight to design because of its unique conditions and shape. Long and narrow, it spans length of the sidewalk and changes gradually from full sun to full shade as you walk towards the HUB. It irrigated by the same system that keeps our fescue green and lush in that area. These factors gave me endless plant options — a garden situation anyone could design!
Timing the Blooms
I narrowed it down to mostly spring and fall blooming plants for this area. The adjacent sidewalk leads right to our FloraKansas plant festival, so I planned for the biggest impact at the highest traffic times. I have nicknamed this garden the ‘display bed’ because it allows our plant shoppers to see what the plants look like in the ground, actively growing in a garden before they buy them. This justifies the unusually high species diversity in this bed, breaking from my personal style of simplicity and mass planting.
Pick Your Palette
Color was key in my plant selection. In this area we have a lot of fescue grass and pine trees. These all fall into the cool green spectrum of color. To contrast that, I chose lots of reds, pinks and warm purples to populate the garden space. Purple and reds are not colors I like to use heavily in garden design, but it really works against all the cool tones of that area.
I stuck with mostly non-woody plants so that I can mow down this bed in the spring without fear of damaging a shrub. The only shrubs I included were ‘Proud Berry’ Symphoricarpos — the pink matte-finish berries are too cute to pass up! I placed the shrubs in the back of the garden so they are out of the way for maintenance of the rest of the bed.
Designing a cohesive, attractive new garden bed can be simplified by giving a little thought to these three important factors. If the thought of balancing light, color palette and bloom time still sounds overwhelming to you, email us to schedule a landscape consultation. We are here to help!