with turfgrass, less is much more

“Our remaining prairies throughout the grassland region are vestiges of one of the mightiest ecosystems ever to grace the earth. Our prairie soils and grazing lands made North America into an agricultural powerhouse like nowhere else in the world. And what remain may be called remnants, but they are not artifacts, they are teeming with life—living laboratories of genetic resources that we cannot afford to lose. They are perhaps all the more precious because they are so scarce and so vulnerable”     Carol Davit, the Executive Director of Missouri Prairie Foundation in her opening keynote address at the Americas Grassland Conference




Delighting in the Yellow Rain Lily fields at New Orleans City Park, NOLA

There are two really good models of naturalized, largely sustainable (perennial) meadows in New Orleans City Park, New Orleans, La. One model is the lush natural dark green stands of grass-like sedge meadows that exist on the south end of Scout Island – under the old Live Oaks there, just across from Goat Island (it is Leavenworth’s sedge mostly), and the other model is the Yellow Rain Lily fields that exist in the lawn areas surrounding Tad Gormley Stadium, just north of the Botanical Gardens. I have covered the sedge meadows previously in posts – here’s one post from a couple of years ago.



Its the Rain Lily meadows I wanted to share with you. They were all colored-up, really beautifully, when I was there recently (click to enlarge the pic). This lily field area (above) is located to the north and east of the corner of Marconi Avenue and Roosevelt Mall, which leads into the western entrance of the Park from Marconi Ave., just south of the Interstate 610.


The tiny flowers of Zepharanthes citrina (identification via Scott Ogden’s Garden Bulbs for the South), above. Its a non-native naturalized plant I have found in several regularly mowed properties in different parts of Louisiana; in City Park New Orleans, and at the Chalmette National Battlefield and in many old home sites, some I recollect, in St. Francisville. This very tough, resilient plant takes sun or shade, wet or dry, but does particularly well being in the infrequently mowed understory of a Live Oak tree. This photo, shot when the Lilies were in peak bloom, two weeks ago, and should be in full seed about right about now if it hasn’t been mowed down. Tiny bright yellow Lily goblets scatter the ground over dark green threadlike tufts of Lily leaves.


seeds of Z. citrina are ready when the seed capsule splits open


little black wedges of Yellow Rain Lily seed are light as dust

The Park’s Cosmos color crops next door, are just coming into flower now. These provide brief displays of luxuriant color and double as pollinator-friendly nectaring-weigh stations for bee s and butterflies. The Rain Lily and sedge gardens are perennial, permanent and relatively carefree, while the Cosmos gardens need reseeding, replanting every few months. Color cropping is relatively easy to do and so fun to experience when in flower. There are so many more annuals to try though. The list is long for annual species to dabble with, both native and non-native species.


the gardens are surrounded by wide mowed paths of lawn for access to the edge and some leading through the interior of the plantings.


above, planting color crop meadows using annuals is a fun and really rewarding alternative to mowing turf grass for those who are adventurous and inspired to create big splashes in life.


above, the general feel for what peak flower looks like. This type of garden can be a useful alternative in the design toolbox for developing strategies for fossil fuel reduction and for encouraging land managers to have a more delicate touch in managing large acreage land.

turfgrass transition!

Speaking of gardens that inspire, check out this photo of what used to be a severely boring lawn and is now a really significant prairie habitat garden and gene-bank preserve, containing numerous species and hundreds of thousands of flowers on a monthly basis on about two acres. The insect activity here is amazing, and species diversity and species richness in the vegetation is as remarkable. Superlative vegetation, produced from planting wild-collected high-quality prairie seed. Go figure.


click on the photo to enlarge it.

This is what not quite three years of time after planting does to soil, with high quality prairie seed. A developing prairie garden blankets the earth in broad stroked patterns. Remember, 70% or so of the biomass of a prairie is underground so you can imagine 2 times as much rootmass underground, in biomass – roots going down maybe eight or more feet. That is prairie, mostly roots – deep, dense root highway systems that channel stormwater and harbor an array of undrground micro-fauna. Narrow Leafed Mountain Mint plants, Button Snakeroot, Black Eyed Susies, Bee Balm and an 100 other odds-and-ends prairie species grow with abandon in this natural meadow, demonstrating the character lost landscapes.


A series of mowed lawn trails weave through this two-acre garden and serve a dual roll as fire lines for semi-annual prescribed fires.


University of Louisiana, Lafayette, Hamilton Hall prairie habitat garden rocks campus

The Hamilton Hall prairie garden was planted about three years ago as a volunteer project, from seed gathered and nursery grown plants grown, using Cajun Prairie genetics, many provided by Pastorek Habitats.

* all photos courtesy of University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Facebook page ha


Prof. Jim Foret, Jacob Delahoussaye, and Steve Nevitt and volunteers from the UL Horticulture Club got together and built the prairie garden at ULL, Hamilton Hall, on the northeast corner of the building. Its really taken off now, developing into a full fledged prairie sod, via prescribed fire management.


above, architectural structure can be helpful when blending a wild garden design into the refined urban condition.


fat and sassy Anole lounges on a prairie perch


Coastal Prairie Coneflower (R. nidita)


above, a Purple Coneflower flower is a happy place for a Skipper butterfly


the delicate flower cluster Coastal Hibiscus, a native marsh edge plant


the flower buds of Helianthus mollis, above


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Hibiscus mosheutos and a worker bee


anthers and filaments of the Eastern Gamma grass flower



a spent calyx from a Hibiscus flower



Foxtail grass





Button Snake Root



Cassia fasciculata




Coastal Hibiscus bud



Rudbeckia nidita and passenger



postage stamp prairies are doable! Three cheers for the ULL Horticulture Club!


Fire, not for amateurs —

One of the most controversial – yet possibly the most important aspect of gardening for ecological recovery of fine-fuel prairie vegetation is fire, the prescribed fire. Fire is a natural condition that transforms landscapes through natural succession, an orderly natural process. Using prescribed fires is a science and a necessary tool. Considering humidity, wind speed and direction, fuel load, etc., you can develop a plan for successful execution of the burn and do it safely. Training and certification is a good thing or just find a forester who can do it for you. That’s my advice.

You can prairie garden without fire, too. Just prepare for the management you choose before planting is done.


This borrowed photo captures a moment in time, a frame of a flame – at a prairie restoration about three or so years old – produced from Pastorek Habitat’s high quality prairie seed.    photo by Biologist/ Ecologist Matt Conn

Take a look at Matt’s blogpost on large-scale Chinese Tallow removal via helicopter. Matt’s experimenting and learning hands-on, via natural plant communities. Matt partnered through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working directly with biologist Andrew Dolan, who is the Service’s private lands consultant, to prepare for and establish this small-acreage (I think a few acres) prairie garden. Andrew’s job focus includes guiding people interested in turning part of their property into wildlife habitat. There is someone in Andrew’s position in every state in the union so there’s a private lands coordinator somewhere near you. Get grass, people!

link to Mr. Conn’s Chinese Tallow article below


link to New York Times article on Matt…



Marc to speak at CPEX Smart Growth Planning Summit in November

Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX) will host the 11th Annual Louisiana Smart Growth Summit November 1 & 2, 2016 in downtown Baton Rouge. The Summit has become the Southeast’s premier event promoting dialogue on innovative planning and exploring models for creating healthier and more resilient communities, making our streets safer while expanding transportation options, as well as examining the real estate market and development trends, and the important role of policymaking and leadership. Major sessions will hit on the big ideas that we hope will inspire our communities to move forward, as well as best practices and how-to follow-up sessions for our practitioner


Lafitte Greenway 9-acre native meadow magic set to begin

The City of New Orleans’ newest City park, the Lafitte Greenway, a sixty-four acre public space designed by the Landscape Architecture firm The Design Workshop, of Aspen, Co.,  -built for biking, team sports, community gardens, and other forms of recreation – will soon see progress begin for the process of establishing authentic Louisiana prairie habitat gardens and Sedge-dominant wetland gardens, just under 9 acres in all, using our amazingly-viable local-genetic seed and awesome restoration technology.

We were so fortunate to have been chosen as The Design Workshop’s lead horticultural consultant during the time the park design was being developed and perfected, starting back in November 2011. We’ve since been actively working with the Landscape Architectural staff at the City of New Orleans, the Landscape Architecture firm Dana Brown and Assoc., and a slew of other specialists, to help hammer out the details of what will soon become the crown jewels of the Park.

Nose to the grindstone for three years, ya’ll!

link to the American Society of Landscape Architects Award for Analysis and Planning – 2013,  below




The Greenway is a linear Park (the greenspace on a diagonal from top left to bottom right) inspired by a group of visionary citizens who saw an opportunity to develop what was once an old derelict rail road line (and before that, a navigation canal), into an viable and invaluable public space for the City. The Park serves as a green transportation connection between the French Quarter and the City Park area. All of the trees and garden areas in Lafitte are designed 100 per cent with native plants. All construction is mostly finished at this point but for the prairie gardens.


at Galvez Street looking to the southwest – Lafitte Greenway at Claiborne Avenue/ I-10


looking north to Lake Ponchartrain @ Lafitte Greenway at Bayou St. John/ Jeff Davis Parkway


above, Volunteer-painted fence in background with one of our several storm water-bioretention gardens (foreground)


Marc and Blue Hawaii Elvis hangin’ out at the Greenway!

Thank ya ver’ much!

Grow Cleome hassleriana from seed. Play around with this plant and you may get lucky and get a good crop of flowers. Cleome’s an annual plant, very short lived. Very easy. Blooms only for a month or so and then it makes lots of round, linear seed pods – that you can easily gather and grow!

I recently saw Cleome growing in sugar sandy beaches that are formed in the bends of the Okatoma Creek, in south Mississippi. But you can see below, its pretty common in Loosiana, yall (Allen and Thomas’ Vascular Flora of Louisiana).


Cleome gets around via seed. Its a prolific seed maker.




the leaf of Cleome resembles the leaf of Cannabis, which happens to be just next to Cleome in the book – same family –



This little crop was a-buzz last week when I took an early morning walk about.


Basils, easy to grow pollinators

Basil plants come in many shapes and forms. The typical culinary Basil, easily grown from seed is not only great to eat, it is a highly sought after plant by bees and other pollinators.There are many types, cultivars, of Basil in the horticulture trade. I’ve grown Thai Basil, Lemon Basil, Cinnamon Basil, Opal Basil, Holy Basil, Purple Basil, and, this year I’ve tried for the first time, African Basil – and have enjoyed having it in the garden. Three words for Basil growers; simple, simple, simple. I plan to make some pesto soon with the African variety to try it out. I was excited to see a Hummingbird Moth on the African Basil patch in the middle of the day the other day. Odd since the moths, I think, are nocturnal. First time for everything, I guess 🙂   cool hummingbird moth on basil video, below



Natural Beauty in the State of Mississippi

Okatoma Creek near Seminary, Mississippi – one of my grandkids, little Asher Pastorek, jumps from a clay bar – canoeing in the red clay state w the young’ns. nice…



Save the Date! Competing meetings!

September 24th, 2016   Pollination Celebration – Hammond, La

a day long educational forum on pollinating insects and plants they utilize




September 24th and 25  Texas and Cajun Prairie Conference – Lafayette, La

Details are still in the making, but basically this will be a two day event with a night Social between (they are considering having a Zydeco Band for music so bring your dancing shoes). There will be an educational forum on Saturday and a field tripping caravan on Sunday.

keep a look-out for this event at cajunprairie.org and prairiepartner.org/



happy cows on the prairie

In the sleepy town of Meaux, Louisiana is a farm that has been in the family for generations: eight generations, to be exact. The Blanchet’s ( pronounced Blonshet) have toiled the soil here for a long time, so long that the oldest house on property was constructed by hand and with walls insulated with a technique using Spanish moss and mud (called bousillage). That’s old, folks!

The farm is in the heart of Acadiana, just north from Abbeville, a stone’s throw from the Gulf of Mexico, where Tall grass prairie once reigned over miles and miles of treeless land. This area of the state was referred to as the Great Southeastern Prairie of Louisiana. Nice name, huh?

The Blanchet’s run a cattle farm on the land today. Its a farm worked by the family using an environmentally friendly approach. After all, they have to live up to their company motto, “It’s Only Natural”.

They’ve been in the process of going chemical-free and that’s why they called me. They know that native prairie is the answer to high maintenance exotic forage grasses and the chemical fertilizers and insecticides they require to grow.

They wanted a specific request. They wanted diverse native prairie but wanted it to be a planting heavy on the four biggest prairie grasses: switch, gamma, big bluestem and indian.

So we got busy.

Coordinating with the partners in the project, a plan was devised and the production of grass plants started. The idea was to plant nursery-grown plants of these species and then sow a diverse mix of Coastal Prairie seed that will grow to help build resilience into the planting from pressure from grazing. It is a good model, the blending of prairie and grazing livestock. The Bison once used the vast grasslands for grazing and studies show that the combination of fire and patch grazing on diverse prairie can actually benefit biodiversity within the stand.

At this point were are closing in on completing fifteen acres, with 35 more to do.

We started by collecting divisions of the plants from as many Cajun Prairie eco-types as possible. Eco-types are mature plants that are individual, unique seedlings that have matured. These grasses grow in large masses and sections were painstakingly dug and then delivered to the nursery to be divided and potted into one gallon nursery containers. As much soil on the roots of the grasses as possible was kept to attempt to keep beneficial fungi and seedlings of other prairie plants alive in the interim period, in the nursery. At the same time seed was being sown of indian grass, again for the purpose of achieving a high level of seedling / genetic diversity.

These plants were planted in the field over two successive springs (2012 and 2013).  Along with that, an area was designated to sow seed to establish a few acres of mono-culture stands of switch and gamma grass in the field using a conventional seed drill with seed bought from the LaCassinne Company, a land mitigation bank that processes and sells pure live seed of switch, gamma and brownseed paspalum (Hayes, Louisiana).

Steps were taken to prepare the field prior to planting and then in November of 2011, the drilling was done. In April of 2012 and 2013 the nursery grown plants were planted in and all of the plantings have done marvelously, thank you, rain!

We will use a controlled burn as a preparatory step to plant and then seed will be there to grow and move around on its own accord, as it does naturally. Annual burns will be done for several years to establish the field and then they’ll probably lengthen the cycle to two or three years to experiment with what works best for them. We’ll begin work on another section perhaps, sometime after we’re done with this section but even if we don’t do anything, the prairie will spread to the other sections, in a matter of time.


this aerial shows the entire 50 acre field, a rectangle to the left of the “coullee”, the drainage ditch represented by the green arc of trees). if you click on the photo you can see that the center of the rectangle has another rectangle within it. This is the planted field. you can make out the wetter areas which are in green. the linear, line-like objects are shallow cuts for drainage in what is flat ground and heavy soil. The field is fenced with electric fencing to keep livestock from grazing it.




The Blanchets raise goats and use them to help manage exotic trees like Tallow (Sapium sibiferum) instead of using herbicides. Goats eat anything where as cows are sometimes picky eaters.




The Blanchet Family: Ben, Cat, Anne and Bob and their tennants



one of a few loads of plants grown by Rick Webb, of Louisiana Growers



switchgrass ready for the planting hole. Good job Rick!!! Dr. Susan Mopper, director at The Center for Ecology and Environmental Technology at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette helped us with some of the growing of nursery grown grass plugs from seed, too. Go Team Prairie!!!!!!




Andy Dolan, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s State Private Lands Coordinator, a friend and colleague, consulted with me this past week at the site and was pleased with the progress he saw and advised on our strategy for seed planting. Here’s Andy with an Indian grass plant just starting to bloom.




This is what we all hope will transpire in a short time. These are Big Bluestem grass plants, three years old planted at Dr. Malcolm Vidrine’s Cajun Prairie Gardens, Eunice, Louisiana. Dr. Vidrine has an extensive collection of Big Bluestem eco-types of various colors and forms in the gardens. You can imaging the difference in biomass between this plant and say Bermuda grass. And the nutritional and palatability value of Big Bluestem is off the charts and it is peaking in growth in late summer and fall when exotics are declining and worn out. photo by Malcolm Vidrine



The diverse seed mix will partially come from this field, the Cajun Prairie restoration site in Eunice. Between the Big Bluestem and the Blazing Stars it should make for some happy and fat and sassy cows. Dr. Charles Allen, photo by Tom Hillman



above: Stuart Gardener examines emerging Gamma grass. The Blanchets sponsored a discovery trip for Stuart and I to go visit Gary Fine in Thibodaux, Louisiana to see what he was doing with native grasses and to see how his work was useful to our project. I was like a kid in a candy store seeing Gary’s cool fields. This was in March 2012. Stuart assisted us with his valuable knowledge of establishing native grasses in Blanchet’s pastures. He is the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Area Range Conservationist for Louisiana. Dr. Fine is a retired prairie master, I believe, a plant breeder, and is continuing his work in retirement at the Nichols Farm.



Dr Gary Fine and his oh-so-fine fields


for a really helpful and well done booklet by University of Tennessee, Knoxville on planting warm season grasses for forage see this link or get a hard copy. I use it as a reference often.

Click to access PB1752.pdf

for more on the Blanchets and their prized beef sales see their website



and go plant some grasses!