slo-mo snake attack just like on TV, and other “wild things” news

So there I was, Monday, working in my meadow gardens here at the Ponderosa when my phone rang. I needed a break anyway so reaching into my pocket, and took the call.  While chatting to my client, I proceeded to sit down in the path next to the garden in the small shade of a juvenile water oak.

As I sat, it all happened so quickly but I can recall it clearly, as in slow motion. I happened to be just looking in the direction of a cool blue-leafed switch grass in the central part of the garden a few feet away when all of a sudden a Bronze frog (Lithobates clamitans, I think)in an ascending lift-off, airborne, flying towrds me from the horizon, landing just next to me. Directly on the trail of the frog, coming over the same horizon, was a sprinting three-foot-long snake, hot on the trail of the frog. He’d come from around the switch grass too and he got a glimpse of me which stopped him in his tracks. He put a screeching halt to his progress and quickly cut-off to the north into a big patch of Bee Balm and he was gone. This all happened within a few feet of me and within the time frame of a second or two. The frog took one more giant leap for frog-kind into the pond on the other side of the path and he was gone, too. How fun!

Caroline Dorman called this “the gift of the wild things”.

This reminds me of the time I was collecting some water lettuce from a friend’s pond in Slidel, when I saw a nice little froggy swimming by in front of me and then SPLASH!!   a moccasin ate that sucker up right before my very eyes. yikes. Biology rocks!!!


Three upcoming events dealing with the wild things are coming up, all rolled into one week!

First-up is the Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society’s prairie garden tour on May 10 in Eunice. I’m pretty sure that without the pioneering activities of Malcolm Vidrine and Charles Allen, there would be no Cajun Prairie left. But because of their brilliance and wisdom and hard work and a lot of help from volunteers, some of the remaining gene pool of Coastal Prairie has been preserved. We work hard on this and other sites so that people like you can see for yourself in living color! This property is on permanent display for your benefit. Come any time. Come see for yourself the kaleidoscopic vegetation, man.  We’ll travel five miles north from Eunice to Duralde restored prairie which is a much larger property where we’ll see some more unique plantings of crazy-cool wildflowers and then see progress made, since our last visit, on the two year old Demonstration Gardens there. Should be fun and informative. It always is for me! contact Charles Allen for details

May 13-15 is a Plant Identification Class presented by Charles Allen in the Pitkin (Louisiana) Metro area. As you may know, Charles has a third-degree black-belt in buffet and a very specialized garden designed as a kind-of native bird and bug “rest area”. Charles plants gardens to attract wildlife and to demonstrate gardening techniques for using natives and attracting native critters. He also is all-things-caretake-of-rare-plants at Ft Polk, Louisiana where the flars are pretty. He is an biologist and educator, he can’t help himself. This is a very popular, very well done event, folks. The last one he did had no availability by start time (it was filled up!) and this one is almost full (two spaces left as of this a.m.) so contact Charles at or 337 328 2252 for more info.  the flyer for this is posted at the bottom of this page.

Lastly, Patricia Drackett of the Crosby Arboretum has organized a field trip to Meadowmakers’ Farm and Hillside Bog Natural area on May 17th in Pearl River County, Mississippi. This is a joint event hosted by Crosby, Meadowmakers Farm, and the Louisiana and Mississippi Native Plant Societies. Heather Sullivan, botanist on staff at the Mississippi Natural History Museum, will lead the two trips. I am so excited to have Heather walk with me through the wildflower plantings at the farm. Its a big deal for me. This is the first visit to the farm for Heather and it should be a treat to see the different plantings through her eyes. Lots will be in bloom. You should come! We’ll break for lunch on or own and reconvene at the Crosby satellite property, the Hillside Bog. The Bog should be in full glory with wonderful wild things to gawk at.

Bring your own boots, water, shade hat and find a restroom before you arrive at the Farm and at Hillside Bog because we’ll be in the woods, more or less, ya’ll, you know what I mean?  This aint no sea cruise.  🙂  Actually, on Highway 43, just a mile west of the Farm, is Fortenberry’s Grocery and Slaughterhouse. They have welcomed any visitors who need restroom facilities and at Hillside Bog, there is a gas station just down the street, a few hundred yards away.

see links below for details  or call me at 504 296 8162



 Tuesday May 13 thru Thurs May 15, 2014

Allen Acres in Cravens, Louisiana; 5070 Hwy 399; Pitkin, LA 70656



If you want to learn to recognize many of the common plants of Louisiana and the Gulf South, the names of those plants, and how to identify other plants, this is the workshop for you.   The workshop will include fieldtrips, where you can see the plants in their natural environment as well as labeled specimens in a lab setting.  Additional info on plant identification will be presented thru power-point presentations and printed handouts.  You will be given BRF’s (Best Recognizing Features) for each plant plus other facts like use, edibility etc.  You are encouraged to photograph, take notes, ask questions, and take specimens with you.  During the three day workshop, you will be exposed to more than 200 species of wildflowers, grasses, ferns, trees, shrubs, and vines.

The schedule:

Tues May 13, Wed May 14, and Thurs May 15:  9 AM till 5 pm (fieldtrips, power-point presentations,

discussions, questions and answers) Lunch provided


Cost for Workshop = $200 (includes three days of intense plant identification and lunch daily)


Other Options:  Allen Acres B and B:  $70 per room per night (includes Breakfast) (usually $80)

Allen Acres camping: $20 per person per night (includes Breakfast)

Dinner (supper) $10 per person per meal


Registration for Dr. Charles Allen Plant Identification Workshop 2014-2, Tues May 13, 2014-Thurs May 15, 2014.  Preregistration required.  May cancel on or before May 9 for full refund.  No refund after May 9.







Plant ID Class                                                                $200


B and B; $70 per night per room             ______________________


putting fire on the ground

Went to Charles Allen’s last week and he and I burned his three acre wildflower meadow.

He has planted very few things there. I believe he threw out some old chaffe from seed cleaning back when he was selling seed but most of what has regenerated is from what was there, in or on the ground. It just needed the fire to trigger a “release” of the very beautiful vegetation that was starved for pyrogenics.

We did the deed slowly and incrementally, using a backing fire to create a safety line on the down-wind side. We had mowed and raked an eight foot strip on that side where it had been bull-dozed a few years ago, so it was pretty easily prepared. We had state  Highway 399 on the east side and his driveway on the south. The west was pretty easily done since there’s lots of mowed grass and the fuel level, easily extinguished with the garden hose. I had done my research into the specifics of weather and prepared a controlled burn written prescription, a burn plan, as per Louisiana law and away we went.

A good hot fire was had.

It should make for some good greenness come this summer.


above: Charles supervises the operation of the protective “black line”


the black line all done on the north, susceptible side.


the kickin’ fire works its way against the wind. It was roaring at this point. Nice!


wrapping up the burn, the fire stops where the fuel stops(at the driveway)


to finish up, we did the Big Bluestem grass collection he has. cool pic. click on photos to enlarge them.


a post-fire self portrait

design with meadow/how to unplow a prairie

Stop children, whats that sound, everybody look what’s going down.       Steven Stills, 1966, Buffalo Springfield

check this guy’s cool post about plowing prairie                        

Okay, so how does a person like me explain how to build a meadow garden in their back yard in an hour?

My challenge last Friday was to describe how best to go about building a meadow. My audience was a group of folks who were interested in horticulture, mostly.

I have designed a few meadow gardens. My favorite meadow isn’t necessarily the most beautiful one, or the biggest one or the most successful one. Its the garden of a friend and her artist husband who understand that their meadow garden is a process. She knows that it takes time to mature.

She is the garden enthusiast in the family. She looks at the one year old meadow as structure for raising wild things: critters and all. She doesn’t pay much attention to the “weeds”. She looks for the good stuff. After all, that’s the point in having a meadow: to enjoy nature’s gifts and to house and feed and enjoy watching and living amongst the wild things. Not every acre of land has to be mowed or paved, you know. She gets it. She doesn’t want to travel to a national forest a hundred miles away to see cool stuff. All she wants to know when I visit is that everything’s okay and that it is progressing as it should. I’m not too sure of what her neighbors think. She’s raised concern once or twice about this but I don’t think she should worry much about it. She lives at the dead-end of a road and its her and her husband’s property, after all. I wonder what the neighbors will think when they light the thing on fire come February. That aught to raise some eyebrows.

Its kind of funny how folks who don’t understand wild stuff bitch about it and want to “clean it up”. It reminds me of the story of when the Algonquin native Americans met the first Europeans, they were disgusted and grossed out by them. The Europeans stunk because the never bathed and they blew their noses into rags and carried them around in their pants pockets. The Algonquins couldn’t believe that people could be such “savages”!

The wife of this meadow-owning couple knows her plants pretty well and she actually wrote a very popular book on wildlife habitat gardening, so my salesmanship was not needed here; just my prairie seed and my prairie-meadow building skills.

She is always looking for the new plants that pop-up from the seed we planted, and gets really excited about many aspects of her garden. That makes me really happy. She looks deeper for the results from the plants. I mean, who would get excited about sawfly larvae eating the leaves of one’s hibiscus? She probably would. She knows that these are savored by the song bird. Who would let Hemp vine grow in abandon? She does. She told me she had a new appreciation for that plant once she realized that it is a host plant for the Little Metal Mark butterfly. Soon after, I took a different look at the Hemp vine in my own yard. I have left it wherever it grows and take in the delicately sweet scent when it blossoms, hoping it might make some butterflies happy.

At the Southern Garden Symposium this past week, I was asked to share some insights into designing a meadow garden. I showed some of my wildscaping work and did the best I could to direct folks to national, regional, and local Holy-Grail destinations.

I spoke of restored forests and prairies at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum’s 100 acre prairie gardens begun in the 1930’s ( I talked about the North Carolina Botanical Garden and the Crosby Arboretum in Mississippi, their interpretive and educational Centers. I talked about how the interpretive Centers are tiny facsimiles of their satellite natural area holdings, which are much-larger, extensive properties and representative of historical ecology. And I mentioned that they manage the interpretive center exhibits much like they do the natural areas. I talked about parts of the Bot Garden in Chapel Hill that are actually representative of the size of the typical back-yard, yet they are burned. This I said, is what is possible.

I talked about fire and how it is necessary if you are going to really give your meadow a fighting chance to survive. I talked about how we starve our landscape by suppressing fire. And how we have ecological amnesia when it come to the natural world. I talked about how all of these premiere botanical destinations are either in the city center or in serious liability situations yet they are burned. The Crosby and the Madison Arbo’s are both over one hundred acres of fire managed grassland just down the road from neighborhoods and interstate highways, yet they torch them annually.

I talked about the New York High Line and how a visionary found him or herself up on this derelict raised rail bed in Manhattan and saw the weedy vegetation that had settled in, via wind, as an inspiration for what master horticulturist Piet Udolf would eventually design into the nation’s most well-know and most popular urban meadow attraction. The design for the plantings along the High Line is based on the color, form, and texture of the American prairie.

I talked a little about seed collecting and plant identification and awareness for invasive plants. That may have been a little boring to some in the audience who were geared more to flowery plants and garden design.

I encouraged folks to learn more by going to these places to see first hand the interpretation of the grasslands, to see design and the natural patterns that occur when landscaping for diversity with wild-seed.

I will include here, some crude drawings that I showed at my Professor-buddy, Jim Foret’s garden group’s talk in the spring to suggest a couple of options when you are thinking of a meadow in the backyard (or in the case of my friend and her artist husband, the front yard). Again, these are a bit rudimentary but the simplicity is, I think, helpful when it comes to conceiving a design for a tiny micro prairie into your backyard. They took about five minutes each to do, so not a lot of emphasis was put on graphics but you get the point.


I like this one. Its a back yard about 50 by 30, with a small deck or patio off the back door. It has a circular walkway or path, through the the native shrub layer and into the meadow. Across the lawn and back again through the path on the other side of the yard that returns you to the deck. The very formal lawn adds organization to the scene and highlights to central area and is comfy on the feet.


Here, the lawn is surrounded by large and small shrubs and very small trees. the lawn encloses and encircles the round-shaped meadow. This design gives a wild feel with lots of dimension and loose, natural design


This one’s a bit futuristic, maybe, but it shows yet another way to think in terms of the lawn making a visual contrast to the focal point-meadow.


This is the most formally arranged design, with paths around and throughout. Much like a parterre garden. the plantings could be mixed and matched or very formally arranged with the meadow, diverse and scruffy.

check out this cool link about the Metal Mark butterfly

good day! enjoy!