Pastorek Habitats’ science mentioned in Landscape Architecture magazine!

I am a big fan of the mowed lawn. No, seriously, I am. I just think we have enough of it, is all. The latest estimate is that there are 50,000 square miles of lawn in America. Thats an area the size of the state of Louisiana. 50,000 square miles of lawn with an estimated additional 600 square miles coming on line annually. Holy cow! Thats a lot of mowing, ya’ll.

The latest issue of Landscape Architecture magazine features an article written by Thomas Christopher titled Turf Trails: Grass that needs less mowing and water is a project for scientists across the country. In it, Tom discusses new up-and-coming ecologically logical options to the American obsession with the clipped lawn. Tom is a horticulturist who lives in Middletown, Connecticut and runs a business called Smart Lawn. He specializes in sustainable lawn design. Go figure.

When I spoke at the NDAL in New London in January, Tom came up to me after to pick my brain about lawn alternatives for the southern U.S. He and I had a few more conversations during the course of the conference and that lead to him mentioning our uber-cool work with a Gulf Coastal version of the low-mow lawn, in the article.

This is a big deal for a little business like ours, getting mentioned in such a prestigious design mag. Aren’t we something! Ha, I will try not to let it go to my head.

Main thing is, there’s a revolution of sorts occurring in the US of A. It gives me comfort when I see the young folks involved in horticulture and conservation doing work to change our ‘industrial complex’ complex. There will always be, I suppose, those who have a need to mow every inch of their property. But I feel sure that time will heal this affliction so prevalent among us. There’s hope for the future, folks!

Wish I could post the article Tom wrote here but there’s that there copy right thing…..

Anyway, to change the subject, I saw some cool wildlife stuff last week. really cool.

So I am photographing Silphium perfoliatum in the yard the other day just after a good rain and I could hear the frogs in the background making their noises. One group would announce, “shallow, shallow!” and the the other group would respond by saying “deep, deep!”. That idea struck me just about the time I heard a confusing noise behind me. I turned around in time to see what was clearly the back end of a hawk flying away from me, just twenty feet away. When I saw it, it was just taking flight, a few feet off of the ground. I couldn’t see if he or she had caught anything or not but I haven’t see that cute little bunny rabbit that’s been my garden buddy every day for the last few weeks since the hawk fluttered away into the sky. hmmm. awesome.


Silphium perfoliatum is a robust, large leafed thing




gets its name from the perforated leaf joint. My friend Gail Barton says birds will drink water collected in the perferated “cup”



If you don’t know of Silpiums, take a gander, since they are excellent ornamental herbs and fantastic wildlife plants. There are many native species in this region. I have a collection of the regional species in my home meadow. The seed of Rosinweeds are high in oil content, which is like caviar to birds.

Was at City Park in New Orleans Tuesday mowing the meadow there so we can over-seed it next week. While I was mowing, I noticed a hawk fly down, and obviously got a bite to eat. Up into a big oak it flew. Lunch of a field mouse or something very small. This continued for a couple of hours. That bird ate up some vittles, ya’ll! At one point, he or she was lighted on a branch of a Hackberry tree about ten feet off the ground. I decided I would ease over to get as close as I could so I could get a pic. So I did. I would make long turn-arounds and swing by closer each time. The hawk just sat there watching me each time. I made my final pass within 15 feet of this incredibly wild bird and it didn’t flinch. Just kind of gave me a “thanks for dinner” nod and when I swung back for an even closer attempt, it flew off and went back up to the safety of the big oak. Being anything but a birder, I was able because of my repetitive passes to visually lock-in its color characteristics and when I got home and did some research, I, by process of elimination(and guesswork) determined that it probably was a Red Shouldered Hawk. What a beauty it was.



ole’ fat and sassy Red Shoulder showing off fine plumage and upstanding character (click on the photos to enlarge them)



swooping away, it went back up to the open space in the big oak


the meadow, ready for seed

Get out and enjoy this last cool snap because, like, next week it’ll be hot as Hades and it’ll probably stay that way for a long while.

Hope to see you all (all three of you) at the field day at the seed farm this Saturday. Be there or be square!


growing grass!

LSU’s AgCenter at Burden Research Station in Baton Rouge and The Hammond Research Station have just installed some new plots of native grass plantings using seed from a Texas source (yea, I said Texas) and local-genetic seed from Candi and I. I was thinking the other day how comical it’ll be if the Texas seed out-performs than the Louisiana seed. I kind of doubt that that will be the case. But we shall see.

I don’t know the intricate details of the projects other than to say that they are comparing genetic strains for seed viability (how well the seed grows). I will very much enjoy following the planting’s progress and I am hopeful that these trials will help promote the use of these wonderful native plants, locally. I am also hoping that they will be kept permanently since I believe the trial period for the project is two to three years and this is about how long it takes to get them fully established. They will just be getting started at that point.

Candi and I provided two different mixes for these plantings. I will step out on a limb here and say that, knowing the mix from the Texas source and knowing the two mixes we provided, I put my money on Louisiana seed, which is well-adapted to our Gulf-coastal influenced weather conditions. The Gulf of Mexico brings tropically generated rain and extreme high humidity for our very long summers here to Louisiana. This is  not something you’ll find way-west of Houston, the origin of the Texas seed.

One of the mixes Candi and I provided is a particularly delightful association of low-growing native grasses not common to the State where everything is supposedly bigger. I hope to one day see this special mix marketed commercially as a local substitute for a “low-mow” turf, one that is more friendly to our environment. I would like to see it called Tiger Turf.

In the upper Mid-west and in the Short grass prairie region of the U.S., they already have a “low-mow” turf mix. We, on the other hand, don’t. My hope is that we can change that. Lets hope Dr. Keuhny’s work reveals the quirks, the problems and the successes toward this endeavor.


above: Jason Stagg and associates just after planting the LSU Burden Station’s trial plots. (click to enlarge photo)

I know that one of the planting methods for the trial originated from Dr. Susan Barton, Assistant Professor of Plant Science, University of Delaware. She has worked with roadside plantings with the Delaware State Department of Transportation. She did her Doctoral thesis on this topic.

I talked to Dr. Barton recently about another, much larger native grass project that I am helping develop at the Hammond Station. She told me about a method she has used for establishing home-landscape-scale Indian grass meadows using saw dust mixed with the Indian grass seed. This recipe is mixed (by way of front-end-loader on a tractor, or by shovel for smaller projects) and is then spread across the planting area an inch thick using hard-rakes. The saw dust helps in suppressing weeds and assisting with the Indian grass seed germination. Dr. Barton told me that this method works very well. She told me the story about a planting she had done in the spring this year, that has become very well established with very little weed presence as of October.

These are the kinds of ideas (those that have been successful in other parts of the country) that need to be studied so that they can be utilized in establishing field trials for landscape gardening with meadow projects here in the Deep South. This will give us the tools to help us become more pro-active about the needs of our environment, building natural habitat in our own backyards (and front yards) since this need is clearly evident. This is the sort of thing has been done (and is still being done) by some of the Louisiana Coastal Prairie prairie researchers for the past twenty five years (this is the 25 year anniversary of the beginning of the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project, Eunice, Louisiana). The work (the Cajun Prairie work) was done for the purpose of understanding more about how the many intricate parts of restored prairies work, here in our unique climate, so that we could learn how to better restore them. The work that was done with prairies over the last eighty-plus years in the Mid-west was the basis for this earlier work in Louisiana. If you are interested in this Mid-western work, purchase a copy of The Tall Grass Restoration Handbook, a very useful reference. Many of the techniques used by the folks above the Mason-Dixon apply to us, here, down in Dixie.


Three of my most significant mentors in the eco-restore field have said that “understanding the parts of the prairie ecosystem and how they work is the only way to learn how to restore prairie”. I have found this statement to be most significant and true.

I believe that this idea is also true about the use of native grass meadows in the landscaped garden. I suspect that this core idea is true with all fields of work too, but the changes and progressive stages of prairie restoration are so very subtle that they need constant field observation and study to really be able to discern and grasp them. That is why we prairie enthusiasts have a constant need to be in the field. We need to observe as often as possible, the few pieces of the puzzle that are left, to help us transfer that idea into planting projects, via seed. This is true with all aspects of prairie restoration. I am sure it applies to the landscape-garden-oriented work that I hope to see incorporated into our regional nursery-landscape industry one day in the near future.

Dr. Jeff Keuhny, director of Burden, is heading these two native grass projects, with the help of his graduate student, Jason Stagg and others. They should be commended for their interest, their insight, and for their efforts.

Go Tigers!