I presented a lecture on the topic “Alternative Lawns” at the non-profit Parkway Partners in the Crescent City this past Saturday. By the time it started, there was standing room only. It was a packed house! Okay, actually the room was really small. 🙂
above: Daryl Morrison’s grass landscape design with Switch and Little Bluestem used as an example of open-landscape grass design, Storm King Art Center, New York (photo by Nell Howard)
Anyway, when I do these talks, each time, I learn something new and Saturday was not any different. I learned a bunch. And here below is the powerpoint that I used.
I talked about prairie, the natural meadow, the native Tall grass prairie and Long Leaf pine prairie, as being one type of alternative to the turf grass lawn. Its actually the best alternative. Just don’t choose the tall stuff when thinking of new wave lawns. Think short grass prairie stature and borrow the dwarf components of the Tall grass and pine systems to produce what will be acceptable to your goals. It can get complicated, ya’ll.
A picture says a thousand words but a thousand pictures don’t say much about a prairie. You have to get out into the wildness of nature to be able to appreciate it. Its like someone trying to describe the Mona Lisa.
God was having a really good day when she made prairie. That, for sure, is clear.
I talked about eliminating the taller grasses, subtract the tall from the Tall grass. This gives you the choice of many wonderful grasses to work with as the bones of the “lawn”. Short grasses like Piney Woods Dropseed Sporobolus junceus and Narrow Leaf Bluestem Schyzachirium tenerum. Also, Love grass Eragrostus is a good genera to work with for early succession and of course the late succession species, Little Bluestem Schyzachirium scoparium, the queen of the North American prairie. The Aristidas are also a great component to add. These are first cousins to the Florida-Georgia pine-prairie-dominant Wire Grass Aristida stricta, a plant that is commonly used as a staple in restoration work in that part of the Long Leaf pine range (its not our endemic). Our best and most cherished Aristida is Arrow Feather Three Awn grass, Aristida purpurascens. Its a delicate, feathery thing when in flower. And can’t forget Elliots and Mohr’s Bluestem and of course the very sophisticated Split Beard Bluestem. Elliots has a distinctive inflated sheath that wraps around the flowering part. You can generally spot it from forty feet away. Split Beard is as obvious with its silvery-white fluff of seed. There’s a dwarf Elliots that I sell seed of from a stand in the St Landry Parish Elliot’s Bluestem Low Mow Lawn mix that we sell @ https://marcpastorek.wordpress.com/about-our-seed/.
The “bones” of the meadow is the grass. I used the metaphor of a blanket of grasses on which the wildflowers are “sewn” onto. Generally, grasses readily proliferate and over time, become a dense single unit; a sod. Grasses are also alelopathic which means they produce chemicals in their roots that help them become more prolific; helps them hold ground that they’ve taken.
More importantly, grasses have the capacity to carry fire.
If fire is not on your radar, that’s okay, these landscapes can be managed without it.
Late succession grasses are not sprinters, they are marathoners. They are permanent; nearly forever, so they’re slow to start. Their purpose is generally to burn and specifically, to burn trees so that grasses can keep the sun overhead. Shade saps the life out of a prairie grass.
What do prairies do? Ecologically, they fill many rolls. They provide cover and food for critters. They filter stormwater. They replenish our underground aquifers. Prairie efficiently and effectively sequesters carbon. It provides very specialized plants for very specialized insects, native pollinators. It provides a vastly different landscape than a forest and maybe as importantly, provides the “edge effect”, an area of natural vegetation that occurs at the edge of the prairie and the forest. Prairie provides a whole underground world of fungi and micro-fauna that is dependent on to the roots. Its a symbiotic relationship, impossible to see without the benefit of scientific research. Prairie changes and restores soil hydrology. I mentioned the book Stone to Water, the book written by Bamberger about his restoration of 5000 acres in Texas and how prairie changed that over-grazed, depleted land so that dry creeks ran full with water again.
Grasses planted as monoculture provides a more orderly and managed alternative as a designed landscape. A solid stand of Little Bluestem provides a contrasting element to trees and lawn grass. Lawn grass is a very useful and appealing landscape addition, providing an attractive living surface to utilize. In parts of the country where short grass prairie exists designers use Buffalo grass and Blue Gramma grass as an alternative lawn. But we in Louisiana receive much too much annually and are limited to our native species that are adapted to and capable of surviving our winter and summer impromptu monsoons.
I went through a number of slides in order to touch on some of the species that can be designed into gardens as low-mow or no-mow areas. I covered the best native grasses and sedges (grass-likes) that I am familiar with that can be used in creating landscapes that mimic the natural meadow.
here’s my slide list. check it out.
1-4 are non-photo slides.
5. prairie roots slide Heidi Natura
6. Daryl Morrison, Storm King
7. Daryl Morrison, Storm King
8. Short Grass prairie, Blue Gramma, Buffalo grass, Denver Botanical Garden/with Chihuly glass sculpture
9. our closest Gulf Coastal rendition of short grass prairie, collecting seed in a stand of Pineywoods Dropseed and Narrow Leaf Bluestem, Pearl River County, Ms
10. NY, NY, The High Line, late spring, early summer
11. The High Line, late summer
12. Le Jardin Plume, Auzouville sur Ry, France
13. Le Jardin Plume, Auzouville sur Ry, France lawn path with Miscanthus (foreground), Switch grass (midground) and Big Bluestem (background)
14. Le Jardin Plume, Auzouville sur Ry, France, on fire
15. Frey Prairie remnant, part of Plaquemine Prairie, no longer in existance, recently plowed under
16. close up of Frey Prairie remnant
17. Copenhagen Prairie, Columbia, Louisiana, TNC
18. Cajun Prairie Indian grass in Baton Rouge, City Hall
19. Coastal Hibiscus, Chapapeela Sports Park, Hammond, La
20. Duralde, Louisiana Prairie Demonstration Plots, 2 acres, 80 species, Allen/Pastorek, et al
21. Charles Allen burning Little Bluestem grass at his garden farm in Vernon Parish, La
22. annual prairie-savannah succession graphic -Dufreche-Perkins-Wilkinson-Pastorek/ Chapapeela Park, Hammond, La
23. Crosby Arboretum, fire managed landscape
24. St.Landry Vistor’s Center
25. St.Landry Vistor’s Center, Little Bluestem grass in summer and in winter
26. Latimore Smith, TNC, St Tammany Parish, Little Bluestem in June/ shin-high vegetation
27. Little Bluestem one year after seeding
28. Little Bluestem inflorescence color, September
29. Little Bluestem, November
30. Muhlembergia Capillaris in Sweetwater Prairie, Louisiana
31. cultivated, selected variety (cultivar) of Muhlembergia Capillaris, St Landry Visitor’s Center
32. Muhlembergia Capillaris, Corporate Blvd. Baton Rouge, La
33. Switch grass Panicum virgatum via seed drill using local genes
34. Switch grass Panicum virgatum via seed drill using local genes, two years later, Abbeville, La
35. Eastern Gamma grass Tripsicum dactyloides
36. Eastern Gamma grass Tripsicum dactyloides in field condition
37. Florida Gamma grass, Tripsicum floridanum, parking lot, shopping center, Miami Fla
38. Wood Oats, Chasmanthium sessilifolia, natural stand, Pearl River Co. Miss
39. Wood Oats, Chasmanthium sessilifolia, inflorescence in fruit
40. River Oats, Chasmanthium latifolium
41. River Oats, Chasmanthium latifolium
42. Sugar Cane Plume grass Erianthus gigantea
43. Sugar Cane Plume grass Erianthus gigantea
45. Carex vulpinoidea, St Tammany, my garden
46. Carex vulpinoidea
48 Carex leavenworthii, City Park, New Orleans, Scout Island
49. my shoe in Carex leavenworthii, City Park
50. Will Flemming Garden, Buffalo Bayou, Houston
51. Will Flemming Garden, Buffalo Bayou, Houston
52. White Topped Sedge, Lake Ramsey, St Tammany, La
53. White Topped Sedge, Lake Ramsey, St Tammany, La
54. White Topped Sedge, Lake Ramsey, St Tammany, La
55. Carex glaucescens, awesome ornamental, highly adaptable plant