It is that time of year again! Volunteers and staff are preparing for our annual Winter Luminary Walk event. This means stringing hundreds of extension cords and thousands of Christmas lights throughout the Arboretum. It may seem ridiculously early, but we often start this process the day after Halloween. (Do you think a Monster Mash/White Christmas remix would ever be a radio hit?)
Where to Start?
Many folks wonder how we begin when there is so much area to cover. I like to start every year by stringing lights around the pond. This is an easy job that gets me mentally warmed up to spend the next few weeks working with lights and wires. Because we have been doing this for so many years, we have a pretty good idea of how many strands it takes to get around the pond (31) or tied onto the leaf house (3) or draped in the small prairie near the Visitor Center (18). We have some lights labeled for specific areas. Others are stored on spools so they can easily be unrolled and installed.
Many public gardens throughout the US put on holiday light shows, and each is dazzling in their own way. Here at Dyck Arboretum we have a unique approach: we aim to highlight the natural landscape rather than cover it with colorful, flashy displays. We keep our style simple and classic. For example, we use only warm white Christmas lights, under-mounted spotlights, and thematically relevant features. Foregoing busy, strobe-like displays or loud music, we invite visitors to appreciate the forms and shapes of native trees in the quiet of a prairie night. You may hear an owl hooting as you stroll, or the sound of water trickling into the stream.
Over the years we have trialed many new features to keep Luminary Walk feeling fresh, even to repeat visitors. Some years we have lighted ‘swans’ floating on the pond and ‘bison’ grazing in our prairie. Other years we installed shooting stars high above our lawns and have created arbors, tunnels, and pendulous hanging ornaments. The only way to know what we are up to this year? Come and see for yourself!
We hope this event can be a fun and festive time to meet with family and friends at a socially distant, outdoor venue. Visit the event page for ticketing and for information about how this event will be COVID-conscious, specifically:
adding event hours to reduce crowding
capping ticket sales per half hour
closing our facilities to indoor traffic
reducing the need for volunteer set up and take down
One week ago today was the 50th Anniversary of the first Earth Day demonstration in 1970. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts are lasting results of that first Earth Day! Yet much more remains to be done, and it can’t happen on just one day of the year. Earth Day reminds us that every day is Earth Day.
As gardeners and stewards and of our immediate environment, we are already making a difference in our own backyards and communities. As we explore and connect with nature each day, we are establishing a care ethic to make positive decisions for the environment, present and future.
Support biodiversity at home
This year, Earth Day recognized the enormous challenges – and vast opportunities – of climate action. So, what better place to start climate actions than in our native prairie gardens? Native prairie gardens are – by their very nature – pollinator gardens. They attract an abundance of pollinators (and other small creatures as well) throughout the growing season. In so doing, they help conserve biodiversity, protect species threatened by climate change, and restore ecosystem balance.
But native gardens do so much more to mitigate climate change. They hold and conserve water, store carbon in extensive root systems, build fertile soils, and help maintain cleaner air. In tending native gardens, we benefit as well by experiencing beauty, joy, and a sense of well-being.
Pollinator Garden Resources
You can celebrate Earth Day every day by joining Earth Day 2020’s campaign to Protect Our Species. Because the Monarch butterfly is currently vulnerable and declining, it is one of ten species directing the Earth Day Network’s conservation efforts in 2020. Earth Day 2020 provides an informative Pollinator Garden Toolkit, and Pollinator Garden Worksheetto help you plan or add to your pollinator garden.
Then, attend the online FloraKansas Native Plant Festival, with its large selection of hearty, native flowers, grasses, trees and shrubs suitable for a diversity of habitats. If you have questions, FloraKansas has experts available too!
Connect to the broader community
Last, but not least, invite your neighbors, friends and family to join you in your efforts to create pollinator-friendly spaces. Garden by garden, we can create a mosaic of native habitats that benefit a broader community of both pollinators AND people!
Photo: A native metallic green sweat bee Agapostemon sp gathering pollen from wavy-leaf false dandelion Microseris cuspidata. (Lorna Harder photo taken 20 Apr 2020)
Opportunities to conduct citizen science are all around us and doing so can add great value to our lives. You can refer to an earlier blog post (Get Rich and Happy with Phenology) to see how much I enjoy scientific pursuits in my spare time. These activities include various elements of plant conservation, and looking for/identifying butterflies and birds.
I discussed in this past post that phenology is the observance of cyclical and seasonal natural events. Citizen science is a method of observing and documenting phenology. The Oxford English Dictionary defines citizen science as “scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions.”
Kansas is flush with great people and resources when it comes to conducting skillful citizen science. Nowhere is this more obvious to me than in the Kansas birding community. I know a number of committed folks who will spend entire weekends and even vacations focused on the pursuit of observing and identifying as many birds as possible. The especially skilled and driven birders identify more species in a day than most people will recognize in a lifetime. Some may consider these folks a bit wack-a-doodle-doo, but I consider them inspiring contributors to citizen science. I will strive to be more like them in my empty nest years (yes, pun intended), which are coming soon.
The drive for many birders to scientifically document nature around them then extends to the follow-up data sharing. This is where personal enjoyment in bird watching becomes important citizen science. And this is also where I get to the reference in my title for this blog about “plugging in”.
With mobile devices making the Internet available almost anywhere and with ever more nature-based reporting platforms coming available, sharing findings about animals and plants has never been easier. Here are some online reporting options for you to check out:
A popular reporting platform is eBird, created by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology in 2002. Through this platform, birders can report their findings and track data according to their life lists, county/state/country lists, etc. Ornithologists world-wide are using eBird data to better understand population ranges, changes in this data related to climate change, and so much more.
Butterfly tracking is also gaining popularity. A good platform for reporting findings about monarch butterflies is through Monarch Watch. With their trending decline over the last couple of decades, monarchs are a popular focus for butterfly monitoring. Through Monarch Watch, citizen science data inputs for the public can include host plant emergence in the spring, and larvae and adult monarch sightings. They even detail how to tag monarchs for further tracking. Developing habitat for monarchs and improving available native nectar sources is also good for all butterfly species.
Check out a recent edition of On T.R.A.C.K.S. (V25:1), a publication produced by the good folks at Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism for more ideas about citizen science reporting. This information-packed issue provided the topic idea for this post. Tt goes into much greater depth on many of the resources I refer to. This issue also highlights and further describes additional electronic platforms related to documenting biodiversity in general, plant flowering and seeding, climate change, precipitation, frogs, ladybugs, and even litter.
Happy Kansas Day! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to spend more time studying and reporting on the natural world of Kansas. Now, get out there, plug-in for citizen science, and have fun in the process!
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.
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!
As the calendar year comes to a close, it is a natural time to reflect on the events that shaped 2019 at Dyck Arboretum of the Plains. I reviewed the last 12 months of the staff calendar and social media posts, made a list of activities our staff have been involved with, and plugged that list into a word cloud generator. Here is the resulting image:
This image brings back a flood of fond memories of 2019. I have so enjoyed working alongside fellow facilitators Scott, Janelle and Katie as these experiences have come and gone. But what gives me the greatest joy is how these events have been made possible and experienced by SO MANY MORE than the four of us.
Our Dyck Arboretum board of directors, volunteers, members, underwriters, event patrons, Hesston College staff, interns, business partners, and collaborating organizations are the glue that hold this word cloud together. I couldn’t be more grateful for how you have so enriched our year. You, who make up this diverse community of people, are an essential element of our mission to cultivate transformative relationships between people and the land.
So, whatever role(s) you have played in helping make this 2019 cloud of activities happen, I want to say a most heartfelt THANK YOU. Your involvement is essential to the Dyck Arboretum community and we look forward with you to the year ahead!
This week, is National Public Gardens Week. All week we are celebrating, with other public gardens around the country, the unique role botanical gardens and arboreta have in our communities and neighborhoods.
In the last month we have been preparing for and hosting many different events and celebrations, including our spring FloraKansas Native Plant Festival, during which we sold over 15,000 plants. During graduation weekend, there were several graduation receptions and parties, and in the next two weeks we will host four weddings, a college alumni luncheon and the Kansas Native Plant Society board meeting.
We are happy to be part of this community. Your support helps us fulfill our mission to cultivate transformative relationships between people and the land. We are truly grateful.
Over the past several weeks, I have been reflecting on how/why I got into this crazy world of horticulture. I think it started by working in the vegetable garden and then planting trees around our family farm. Like most teenagers, I grumbled, but at some level I enjoyed it. I had the opportunity to get my hands dirty and establish plants that I watched grow and mature. It started simply, with a little curiosity and enjoyment of being in nature.
The Dyck Arboretum of the Plains Earth Partnership for Schools (EPS) program takes the same approach. Through the training of teachers, we are able to introduce generations of students to the wonders of prairie plants and the pollinators and wildlife they attract. Children are naturally curious and these school prairie gardens are an oasis and teaching tool in science, math, music, art, biology and so much more.
For many of these students, these prairie gardens may provide the first opportunity for them to plant a plant or watch a monarch butterfly on their milkweeds. These students are the next generation of land stewards. The more they understand and appreciate the land, the more they will be able to care for and protect it for future generations.
We believe the EPS program, which is celebrating its thirteenth year in 2019, is vitally important in shaping future leaders who are aware of and connected to the natural world around them.
As part of our membership in the American Public Gardens Association, we have the unique opportunity to participate in a one-week-long, flash fundraising campaign, called the MYGARDEN campaign. We are seeking funding support for the upcoming EPS summer institute. This year we are hosting over 30 teachers from 12 schools. Help fund their participation in this inspiring week of training. To date, over 40,000 Kansas students have been impacted by the EPS program. Your gift will have an impact now and into the future as more children become stewards of the land.
We have below zero wind-chill temperatures today, making it not very conducive to being outside as a polar vortex grips the Great Plains and Midwest. But we are fortunate at Dyck Arboretum to have warm, comfortable facilities in which to share our mission to cultivate transformative relationships between people and the land.
At least a few examples of storytelling come to mind through which we are able to engage our membership in winter – stories about cultural history, musical arts, and the natural world, which help us continually seek a sense of place here in Kansas.
Wichita Nation Civilization of Etzanoa
Nearly 200 people (the most ever to attend our Winter Lecture Series) were riveted to a fascinating lecture last night from Wichita State University archaeologist, Dr. Donald Blakeslee. With more than 43 years of experience, no living archeologist has spent more time studying the Plains Indians. He reported on his cultural anthropology detective work in uncovering the roughly 400 year-old stories of a former thriving city of Etzanoa, which was likely populated by 20,000 Wichita Indians and was located at what we know today as Arkansas City.
Dr. Blakeslee showed photos of original maps, Spanish explorer journal entries, artifacts of hunting points, hide scrapers, bison hide hole-making tools, and more. He exhibited aerial maps of encampment sites they have located and where they still plan to explore. Donald showed photos documenting the tools they use from primitive shovel-testing methods to high tech, expensive 3-D modeling laser devices. Drawings of artistic renderings of what the Wichita Nation lodges and agricultural gardens probably looked like only enhanced Dr. Blakeslee’s storytelling.
Music of Moors & McCumber
Personal stories of family life, travels, history of places, and the culture of our times are all part of a Prairie Window Concert Series (PWCS) experience. The duo of James Moors and Kort McCumber expertly told these stories a few nights ago for a capacity crowd of 210 music enthusiasts. With a guitar, mandolin, fiddle, cello, accordion, bouzouki, ukulele, banjo, tight harmony vocals, and engaging stage presence, James and Kort made an hour and half of musical storytelling seemingly go by in an instant.
The Prairie Window Concert Series experience of “gourmet music and food in a prairie garden setting” is about more than just great live music. It is further enhanced by the delightful intermission faire of Crust & Crumb, a chance to stroll around the Arboretum for a bit of exercise, glimpses of Dyck Arboretum native plant landscaping changes through fall/winter/spring, and mini-reunions with familiar faces that have been enjoying this concert series for decades (PWCS History).
Native Plant Landscaping
Starting tomorrow evening, our staff will be telling stories through our native plant school, which offers six different classes related to native plant basics, garden design, landscape maintenance, propagation, composting, and attracting wildlife.
Native plant landscaping provides so much more than visual beauty. One of the most rewarding aspects of landscaping with native plants is learning the complex stories that accompany these plants.
For each of the hundreds of species of native Kansas wildflowers, grasses, sedges, shrubs, and trees we promote for landscaping, there are numerous stories to learn related to biology, ecology, environmental sustainability, ecosystem function, culture, and natural history.
Native landscaping enhances ecosystem function in urban areas. Every Kansas plant has value to one or more wildlife species as a larval food source, nectar source, or protection from the elements or predators. For this reason, native plant landscaping can add biological diversity to the places we live. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing more butterflies and birds around their landscape?
Native landscaping also has low environmental impact because native plants are adapted to our climate, require no chemical inputs, and reduce our need to irrigate with valuable, clean drinking water. Additionally, native plant gardens act as landscape sponges and can help municipalities slow the erosion-causing migration of storm water.
Prairie plants also help establish a sense of place by connecting us to previous cultures that have lived here before us. The plants of the prairie have provided sustenance of food, medicine, and goods for people as well as an ecosystem for bison that helped Indian tribes make their home on the Plains. For European immigrants, the prairie provided sod homes and wonderful soil fertility for growing crops created by the presence of thousands of years of prairie roots.
Today, the prairie has been foundational to the Kansas economy that is built on agriculture, from the prairie soils that make us the “breadbasket of the world” and existing grasslands that make Kansas a top cattle ranching state.
The last story I will tell is about the time-relevant phenomenon of blackbird ribbons. A consistent observation of mine the last few mornings during my 5-mile drive from Newton to Hesston a little before 8:00 a.m. is seeing 2-3 long and thick ribbons of blackbirds. At that time of the day, they fly from west to east barely over the ground as LONG flowing ribbons that undulate over hedgerows and highway traffic with numbers surely in the millions. The timing is consistent with what I have seen around January and February in past years and you may have been noticing them too. I’ll leave you with more information on this topic from a previous blog post.
Thank you for sharing in our stories at Dyck Arboretum.
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.
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.
We hope you have a great Thanksgiving as you celebrate the holiday with family and friends. We are most thankful for you and the opportunity to serve you. Your support in many different ways continue to help us grow. THANK YOU.
Janelle, Brad, Katie and Scott-The Dyck Arboretum of the Plains team.
Thank You to all the volunteers who helped us this past year. There are over 150 of you who have given of us your time and talents.
EPS Students-The next “Citizen Scientists” that will impact the world.
Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’
Vernonia ‘Iron Butterfly’ with hawkmoth
A few Thanksgiving thoughts:
“I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.” Erma Bombeck
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” William Arthur Ward
“Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin pie.” Jim Davis
“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” Henry David Thoreau
LUMINARY WALK-Join us on Friday or Saturday, November 24, 25 or December 1 and 2 from 5:30-8 pm.
We had a great time with our 11th annual Earth Partnership for Schools Summer Institute last week. K-12 teachers brought their enthusiasm for learning and a willingness to put themselves in the shoes of their students. For five days, they practiced hands-on curriculum activities and developed action plans to plant native prairie school gardens in the coming years with their students.
A big focus of the week is the study of insects. We learn about their diversity, preferences for different habitats, and importance in pollination. We make observations, conduct studies, think about how certain plant shapes and colors attract certain insect groups, and even play insect charades.
Insects are critical components in the function of nutrient cycling, natural areas, food systems, and general human existence. We hope that teachers will embrace the importance of these critters and inspire the next generation with the fascinating world of insects.
Models showing common insect orders of classification.
Conducting and presenting science inquiry studies with insects.
Studying whether pollinators are attracted by different colors.
Data collection with soapy water insect traps near purple coneflower.
Flower-pollinator observations at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge with butterfly milkweed in the foreground.
Mint family flower shapes attract certain types of pollinators.
Legume family flower shapes attract certain types of pollinators.
Observing a clear wing moth collect nectar from common milkweed during the week.
The clear wing moth is also known as the squash vine borer.
After seeing the two sets of wings, efficient lateral movement, compound eyes, and short antennae, it becomes obvious that this is a dragonfly.