LSU AgCenter Station/Bot Garden, Hammond, getting down and dirty with native prairie horticulture

Some really serious horticulture work has been done with these genetics since that time.

I made time to visit with Dr. Yan and Dr. Allen Owings recently. I brought with me, the crop of Side Oats Gramma grass that I grew since June when I made a road side dig in Cameron Parish. I dug enough off the road edge to make about seventy nice and full, quart sized containers. Most of these I loaded into the pick-up and brought to the Station on Tuesday.

Dr. Yan says some of the Side Oats will go into what she calls her “Care and Maintenance” beds, which are demonstration gardens planted with one of the most popular of garden plants, the everblooming Rose, the Knockout Rose. The idea is to demonstrate how folks can use native prairie plants with the most common, everyday garden plants, so that one day local-genetic prairie plants, the ecological wonders that they are, will become more popular and more available for you and me.

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above, the site of my collection of the rare-gene-pool population of Side Oats Gramma grass, south and west of Vinton, Louisiana, a stone’s throw from the Gulf and the Sabine. A very special thanks to Partyin’ fool Bubba (Bubbette) for throwing out his or her Miller Light beer litter so I can demonstrate to you how very short the Gramma actually is. I stuck my machete in the ground, center, (see?), and the grass was about a foot tall in foliage with nice, typical, nearly-invisible flowering inflorescenses. To get some, you might have to beat out the spray guys. Last year I showed up to dig and the whole strip was nuked brown. This year I got em!

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the Grassmobile is going to market!! This eco-type of Side Oats has great potential for horticultural heights in Louisiana.

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above, this is the area where some of the native prairie stuff is at the Research Station, the three north-south oriented at the bottom left are grasses and forbs and three longer, east-west oriented garden beds on the bottom right of the screen are the Care and Maintenance gardens        click photo to enlarge it….

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Indian grass, Switch grass, left, and Cajun Prairie Rudbeckias, on the right, at the demo gardens at the Hammond AgCenter Station Research and Botanical Garden, Hammond Louisiana

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Rudbeckia grandiflora (foreground) and Rudbeckia nidita (in back), in full fruit

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Dr. Yan’s Care and Maintenance gardens, with Rosey-Red Knock-out Roses, Indian grass (far left), Little Bluestem grass, annual Periwinkle, Rudbeckia nidita, and Canada Germander. and some nicely clipped turf grass surrounding each of the gardens.

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Little Bluestem, in foreground, above white creeping Vinca, the black seed heads of Rudbeckia Nidita, visible in the distance. Shock-red of Knock-out Rose.

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These above, are photos provided by Dr. Yan, taken in June after the Rudbeckia nidita had been cut back after blooming in April. She told me she would be cutting them back again, harvesting the seed and looking for yet another re-bloom in October. Great thing about nidita is it is an evergreen, a winter green for the garden, like her big sister Rudbeckia maxima, but with rich green leaves instead of blue. Maxima is a very popular garden plant in the states and in Europe and has been for a long time. Nidita (texana), grandiflora and the very late blooming subtomentosa, I think, all deserve as much fame and fanfare.

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above, nice crop of Split Beard Bluestem coming on in one of the Station greenhouses.

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limited but in my opinion, very significant progress with Narrow Leafed Bluestem. Dr. Yan says they are a bit difficult to grow 😦  .

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above Joey Quibideaux, right, and his co-worker shifting-up the Split Beard Bluestem plants to 3 quart size pots, from four inch. Go Hammond!!!

below is a very unentertaining video of silphiums I found on I-55 on the way back from Jackson Monday, probably integrifolium. yea.

this guy on video, below, is totally wack!

http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/2015/08/08/minutes-king-suburban-jungle-southfield-michigan/31344029/

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totally artificial, but perfectly natural!

I did a short presentation for Dr. William Platt and his LSU Conservation Biology Lab class yesterday on prairie landscaping. After I was done, we discussed the work I do and how the students could build their experiments around the previous class’ data collecting and research results at Chappapeela Park in Hammond. Dr Platt thinks highly of the vegetation there. He said that my work with prairie is “totally artificial, but perfectly-natural”. I thought that was a awesome. So true, Doc!

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K-9 Conservation Biology Lab Teaching Assistant Kimber makes her rounds while Dr. Platt’s discusses experimental possibilities with his wiz-kid students.

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take me to your leader! cool rendering of the new sculptures going into Lafitte Greenway, NOLA in November

I attended the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week Water Challenge function Monday to see if our design would be the chosen one, but we were won-out by the really cool, spinning, night-lighted, sound-generating scuptures concieved by artist Michel Varisco’s “Turning”. We were sad to lose but this was honestly, a good choice. Its beautiful, kenetic modernistic artsy stuff. The sculpture’s going to be the first art installation installed along the Greenway. Maybe more to come from what I hear! Thanks to Jen Blanchard for inviting me be on the team of designers who collaborated to conceive and produce a great finished design proposal. see the winner Ms. Varisco in the articles below. Next competition, Jen!!!

http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2015/03/water_challenge_entrepreneur_w.html

http://nolavie.com/variscos-turning-wins-first-living-with-water-arts-pitch-10847/

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above, a borrowed drone photo from Facebook of the play fields/ native grass areas, one of many along the Lafitte Greenway. In all, about ten acres of native grass, prairie, and wetland sedge-meadow gardens will be established. The meadows are the major features besides the trees and turfgrass in the landscape design. Meadows will  help capture stormwater runoff from the Park site. We designers had a timely meeting this week finalizing the details of the Greenway planting plan. We’re now three and a half years of design work with another two and a half or three years of establishment and management left to finish. It will be a unique Park for New Orleans, for sure.

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At North Broad Street and Lafitte Greenway. Doing last minute detail study before the big meeting. Saweet!!!! The wetland-retention ponds are constructed and most of the final grading is done. Ribbon cutting ceremony in June or July, ya’ll.

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above, a photo taken by Dawn Allen McMillian in April last year at the Cajun Prairie Society’s meeting. This year, along with prairie restoration and garden tours, we are presenting the first “native prairie seed auction”, a fund-raiser event planned for the business/ lunch part of the meeting.

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Dr Charles M Allen in 2012, while planting the third “grid garden” at Duralde Restoration site. The second was done just across the road from this one in 1998 or 99 or so. The first, earlier than that. We disked this area for two years before we planted, in November 2012. I collected the seed. Charles and I designed it, and a wonderfully spry group of volunteers planted it.

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Jackie Duncan, Greg Trahan, Sara Simmonds, Margaret Frey, and Linda Chance, laying out the grid

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October 2014 mowed paths, the crop-circle look. The south side of the road has been burned this past winter so it should be glorious wildflower viewing for all who attend.

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Charles’ description of the design.

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Charles’ recently produced prairie map for Louisiana. Cool, huh? It is to be published in the new Handbook for Prairie Restoration in the Southeast, By Jovonn Hill, et al, Mississippi State University, due out this summer.

I got to see the amazing Dr. Sara Mack of Tierra Resources speak at the Water Challenge event. What a treat that was to hear about her work with Wetland and marsh restoration and water-minded collaborations in Louisiana. She is a force. She’s a Louisiana hero.

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Dr. Sara Mack, Entrepreneur Week Water Challenge past-winner and speaker at Water Challenge 2015

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Second meeting in a week with the BREC, the Baton Rouge Recreation and Parks folks. They run an amazing model for urban Park management. Everyone should see their management guidelines. They are to reach a goal of reduced mowing over time, going to a more sustainable model. This is the Bluebonnet Swamp meadow area we discussed Tuesday. Last week I was with horticulturist Brett Autenberry at the Baton Rouge Zoo.

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Bluebonnet Swamp is delightfully sublime.

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Cypress knees

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Lizard’s Tail covers the marginal bottom of the swamp preserved by BREC at Bluebonnet.

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I am proud to be working with such a game-changing group of folks such as BREC!!! I’ll be meeting with the new Conservation Specialist on staff at the BREC Conservation Department, Matthew Herron on the idea of doing a meadow planting at Independence Park in Baton Rouge in the next couple of weeks.

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above, “the falls”  at Clark Creek.

If you haven’t ever been to Clark Creek Natural Area in the Woodville, Mississippi area, try to go. There’s a filed trip hosted by some great botanists and naturalists with the Capitol Area Native Plant Society.  they say……..”Also…this area is quite rugged (for our part of the world haha), so if doing some up and down walking is not your thing, this hike isn’t for you. Make sure to bring some water and a little bug spray (for possible ticks and chiggers), and there is a small ($5 or less) fee for vehicle access. If you’d like to meet us there, the address is 366 Fort Adams Pond Rd., Woodville, MS”  fun starts at 8:45 9:00 tomorrow

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adios amigos!

 

 

Eunice prairie demonstration gardens tour, April 4

The Cajun Prairie folks will hold their spring wildflower tour on April 4th, celebrating the prairie, lead by the two pioneering biologists who started the Eunice Prairie Restoration garden nearly twenty eight years ago. In my opinion, this is one of the top 3 public garden destinations in the state of Louisiana. Society members burned the site for the first time in two years this February and we had an intense fire as a result. It is always a beautiful site to see the prairies during the first week of April, at peak spring bloom; not much created by man in these parts compares. Imagine ten acres of the most beautiful garden you can conceive of and thats pretty much what you’ll see at Eunice in April. Remember Dorothy and friends in The Wizard of Oz walking through the poppy fields? Well, its much better than that. Heavenly, hallowed ground it is.

From this site, this planting, much of the research on seeded prairie landscaping in the Gulf South has been garnered. Many scientific papers have been produced via this single experiment. And many prairies have been produced with seed from it. This is a preserve managed for the conservation of Louisiana Tall grass prairie genetic ecotypes. (click on photos to enlarge, photos by Dawn Allen McMillian and myself)

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sensitive briar, Mimosa quadravalvis

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Phlox pilosa color variations

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awesome rare wild onion, Allium mobilense

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blue eyed grass

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Cardinal on a burnt twig

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there are tens of thousands of Baptisia in the ten acre Eunice Restored Prairie, many of them unique, rare, natural hybrids

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Praying Mantis

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white false indigo, Baptisia alba

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Baptisia bracteata

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Gulf Fritillaries on passiflora vine

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The tour will begin at the Duralde restored prairie, a 350 acre prairie collaboration between the the Cajun Prairie Society and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Lacassine NWR. There you can see lots of acreage of natural coastal Tallgrass prairie seeded in 1995-6 and transplanted with rescue plants over many years from the now extinct Frey prairie remnant, just south of Eunice by the Society and other volunteers. There you can walk through seeded experiments and demonstration gardens planted as a research project in 1998. There’s also the two-acre demonstration garden designed by Dr. Charles Allen and myself, which will is unique to the southeastern U.S., an individual prairie species garden with 10 x 12 feet rectangular plots for all of the conservative species of the prairie to be managed in a mowed- grid form. This area was burned this year, first time in a few.

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The 2-acre Duralde demo garden, November 2015. At two years old, its just a pup.

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Dr. Charles M. Allen, biologist, horticulturist, Sept 2014

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Dr. Malcolm F Vidrine, left, biologist, horticulturist, April 2014

Program for Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society

Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society Spring Meeting and Tours-Saturday, April 4, 2015

8:00 AM: Tours of Duralde Restored Prairie. Directions: Take LA 13 north out of Eunice and after crossing a bridge, go about 1.5 miles and turn left onto La 374. If coming from the north on La 13, about 6 miles south of Mamou, just past the Fire Station, turn right onto La 374. Follow La 374 west and it will take a sharp right then a sharp left. After straightening out from the sharp left, go about 0.5 miles and turn left at the first double intersection.  You will be turning left onto a gravel road that is Navy Road.

Navy Road is about 2 miles from La 13. Follow Navy Road and it will take a sharp right and then will start a sharp left but you will not turn at the left but drive straight into Duralde Prairie.

10:00 AM: Eunice Restored Prairies; meet at the corners of Martin Luther King and East Magnolia and enjoy the best restored prairie in the United States. This site is north of U.S. 190 and east of La 13. For those of you coming from the north on La 13, turn left (east) at the first paved road (East Magnolia) to the east after you cross the railroad tracks in Eunice. Go a couple of blocks and the prairie is on your left. For those coming from the east on U.S. 190 turn right (north) at the first red/green traffic light and follow Martin Luther King Drive for a couple of blocks and the prairie is on your left. For those coming from the west on U.S. 190, follow U.S. 190 through Eunice and after crossing a railroad track, go to the next red/green traffic light and turn left onto Martin Luther King Drive (See above). For those coming from the south on La 13, when you reach the stop sign, turn right onto Maple Ave. Follow Maple for about 3 or 4 blocks and at the 2nd four way stop sign, turn left onto Martin Luther King Drive. Follow this street across U.S. 190 and see above.

12 noon Lunch at Rocky’s Restaurant located at 1415 E Laurel Ave, Eunice, LA 70535 (337) 457-6999. and

Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society meeting.

And the presentation

“Bring Back the Monarchs” by the Bug Lady, Linda Auld of New Orleans

 

For more details about the meeting and or tours, contact Dr. Charles Allen 337-328-2252 or email native@camtel.net.

 

 

 

Monty the Dog Goes to the Farm!/ awesome new LSU Hilltop meadow planting-planning/ City of Mandeville-La DOT pine prairie planting completed/LSU Hilltop Arbo Symposium speakers finalized, announced

 

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Monty the Wonderdog, captured in digital form, on his way to the seed farm in Mississippi the other day. Monty likes fetching sticks and smelling-out deer and other wild critters in the native grass fields. Most of all, though, he likes to stick his head out of the window to get a sense of the neighborhoods along the route. That’s what he’s best at, plus the fact that he’s a certified therapy dog and all. He’s not an amateur dog, he’s a professional! He was pleased with the day overall, he said.   (click on the pic and see him up close. He’s funny.)

I just got the notice for details for speakers for the Hilltop Arboretum’s winter Symposium and what a great line-up it is. I will, of course, be speaking on grass landscapes (duh) for the home garden and the urban environment. The symposium is geared to gardens and garden plants rather than ecological landscapes. It sounds like it will be a fun time with a speaker’s get-together the night before, so I’ll be able to catch up with a few folks I haven’t seen in many years and some I’ve never met. here is the link to the Hilltop Symposium announcement. There’ll be more info coming soon, I’m sure.

http://sites01.lsu.edu/wp/hilltop/adult-programs/symposium/

Yesterday, Doug Reed was in Baton Rouge to discuss the new prairie natural area being designed for the Hilltop Arboretum. Doug is an nationally recognized landscape designer, an LSU grad, principal partner in the firm Reed-Hilderbrand, LLC, of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Doug and I collaborated 3 years ago on the initial design phase of the Hilltop prairie when it was just an idea and we worked together on the super-sleek Repentance Park project in Baton Rouge shortly after that. I hear that I will likely be involved in the final horticultural details and if I get lucky, provide the seed for the actual plantings once the construction of the prairie meadows begin. I was invited to be present at Doug’s presentation to the Hilltop board of directors but am too busy with planting right now to pick my head up. Gotta make hay while the sun shines. Peggy Davis, the Director at Hilltop, organized a field trip to Crosby Arboretum and to my seed farm last summer to get a hands-on feel for what a real restored prairie is. A bus load of people connected to Hilltop visited and walked the Meadowmakers prairie paths. They must have liked what they saw since the project to create real biodiversity via constructed natural areas of meadows is still on! whoot!

Once completed, this planting will provide an outdoor classroom and research area for landscape design and biology students right in the heart of Baton Rouge.

The City of Mandeville’s wildflower conservation planting has been completed as of last Friday. I met with the very capable Herb Piller, a landscape designer with Louisiana Department of Transportation that day. He was interested in the planting process and took a few photos, asked a few questions.

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above, top: the western most planting in Mandeville at the intersection of Highway 190 and Causeway Approach Rd, and below that, the eastern most planting. All complete and ready for seed to stratify! I will be managing these gardens for two years as part of the installation contract. Really nice Long Leaf pines from Louisiana Growers! go Rick!

The burn team got together and did some controlled burning at the seed farm in Mississippi yesterday. It was perfect conditions for a wild fire and thanks to our dedicated volunteers, we got two major sections done without burning the neighborhood down. These were two areas, about four acres altogether, with two years of fuel built-up and the humidity was really high with lots of grass present so we had some really spectacular visuals and adrenaline rushes from the leaping, flaming vegetation. Lots of poppin’ and crackin’ in the low, wet areas between the hill slopes. It was quite the event, ya’ll (don’t try this at home kids)!

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above: My good friend Jim McGee uses the awesome-Terry-Johnson-devised/ Terry Johnson-built, Kabota-mounted, PTO-powered spray rig, to douse the flames as they work into the fire lines at the Meadowmakers seed farm and genetic preserve, Carriere, Mississippi, December 10, 2014. Terry is a old-time good friend, who grew up on a farm in Iowa. He is a farm-taught mechanical engineer who can build and fix anything. He and Jim both have a heart of gold.

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a good burn was had by all, ya’ll 🙂

cool, useful plants, and cool, useful insects

Our old farm land in south Mississippi, in the last sixty years, had been dozed and then terraced, planted with Tung oil trees (in the 1950’s), cleared for cow pasture (in the 1970’s) and then attempt-restored with native wildflower and grasses (in the 1990’s). One of the most abundant plants on the property is one I didn’t plant, the somewhat common Willow Leaf Aster, Aster prealtus. Its a dog-gone pretty thing, with lavender flowers on terminal tips and blooms the third week of October. What I heard from Dr. Malcolm Vidrine recently is that it is one of the most important plants for Monarchs on their migration south on their way to winter in Mexico. Malcolm’s comment stuck with me and gave me a new perspective on what I thought was kind of a weedy plant. I was at the farm yesterday and got to see my fields of Willow Leaf Aster in blazing glory. Its a disturbance oriented plant, it seems, found where some sort of soil activity has occurred. That’s why Aster prealtus is so important, since much of our land these days has been disturbed one way or another and many of the high-end nectar plants are simply gone. Aster prealtus and some others make up for that to some degree.

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Above: Aster (Symphyotrichum) prealtus, Willow Leaf Aster, outstanding in my field, yesterday. click on fotos to enlarge them…

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above, distribution range of Aster prealtus var. prealtus in Louisiana, source Flora of Louisiana, Charles Allen and R. Dale Thomas

Also, this week, I found for the first time, a very happy, Late Purple Aster, Aster patens, growing in a planting I planted 13 years ago this month, at the farm. Whoa! …a new species for the farm! Nice…..   Maybe I just hadn’t noticed it before since a I found a few more just after finding the first.

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Aster patens is a very nice garden plant, a high conservatism species, a 9 on C of C. Tiny flowers and, a delicate thing. Notice how the leaves are wrapped around the stem, a tell-tail ID trait that separates it from many.

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above: Aster lateriflorus, Calico Aster, growing in a highway edge of gravel, with fellow disturbance plants, Bushy Bluestem and Bermuda grass on Highway 25 north of Covington last week. Its nothing but a weed, but a very good weed, indeed.

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Above: on left, Rice Button Aster, Aster Dumosus, one of our most abundant Asters. and its improved horticultural cultivar?  … Aster dumosus “Kristina”, on right.

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distribution range of A. dumosus in Louisiana. Its just about everywhere, folks.
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I took this picture of a very contemplative Monty the Dog, posing next to a short, rounded Rice Button Aster plant and he took this one of me, next to a wily, gigantic Rice Button, at the edge of the pond. Both of these plants showed up as seedlings and were then left to grow.

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above: This is the most-endearing Aster pratensis, growing with Swamp Sunflower, Narrow Leaf Mountain Mint and Little Bluestem grass Cajun Prairie Society Restoration Project, Eunice. A. pratensis and A. concolor are nearly identical, Charles Allen says. Pratensis is to the west of the Mississippi and concolor is to the east. This is a stunningly beautiful flower, big (a little smaller than or about the size of a silver dollar) and a good Mardi Gras color purple, found in high quality late succession natural areas. These would maybe never be considered a marketable ornamental plant because the plant is usually a leaning stalk with a flower or three at the tip. But it seems it could be a parent for horticultural breeding program, huh?

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above: Jim Foret checking the bee hive at the edge of Charles Allen’s butterfly-bee garden, October 8, 2014, Pitkin, Louisiana. Jim donated the hive to Charles’ bee cause. It was a hive of Jim’s friend who thought it was too heavy to work. Jim packed it into his truck one night last spring and drove it up to Vernon Parish to Charles’. He was checking out the interior bee goings-on before winter to see how they were set up with honey. Go Jim!

Along with butterflies and skippers, native bees and the old world honey bees, wasps are also huge fans of Asters. Have asters and have a host of good insect species that will utilize them. Fun stuff.

I am so darned excited about an upcoming building project I can’t stand it!  …my Kenyan salt pond top-bar bee hive construction project. Jim Foret recommended me looking into it since I told him I wanted to have a working hive around but I didn’t want to work the hive much. I searched Kenyan Top Bar and saw a youtube of U.S. Peace Corps youngsters filming a few guys constructing one in Guinea, Africa. check out how easy it is to build and then find a youtube that demonstrates harvesting the honey and comb. It is so complex, the hive workings, but so simple it seems, to build the hive!

Also, check out a recent paper (2004) by Chandra Sara Bartholomew on native bees done at Abita (TNC), Sandy Hollow (USF&W), and Camp Whispering Pines, in the Florida Parishes.   ….excellent paper, excellent insight and has everything to do with native bees.

http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-07062004-113139/unrestricted/Bartholomew_thesis.pdf

 

art meets Lauren’s gardens

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On my recent trip to visit family in Colorado, I was able to make a long awaited trip to see the Denver Botanic Gardens. I have, for several years, wanted to see, among other things,  the handiwork of Lauren Springer, one of the horticultural artists who have put their personal touches on some of the Garden’s many themed venues. We happened to time our visit coincidentally with the installation of Chihuly glass art in the Gardens, installed for our enjoyment, during a bright and sunny day stay in the Mile High City.

Lauren and her husband Scott Ogden, are a husband and wife team of horticultural heavyweights, authors of the popular 2008 Timber Press book Plant-Driven Design: Creating Gardens That Honor Plants, Places, and Spirit. Their book is a treatise on garden design with plant diversity, botany, as the main focus. Architecture and hardscape fills a more functional, secondary, less obvious roll in their plant filled garden designs.

Lauren designed the perennial border, the romantic garden complex, the xeric garden and the romantic garden at the DBG. If you get the chance, drop in and see how she thinks when it comes to incorporating plants into the landscape. Its pretty cool stuff, folks!

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the perennial border is about 200 ft in length, bounded on the sides by a clipped cedar-like hedge, standing about ten feet tall. The garden space is filled with herbaceous perennials of many sorts.

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above: Joe-Pye weed and cobalt blue Chihuly lobes

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click on photos to enlarge…

 

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above: at the the end of the Perennial Border garden is an axis point,    ….looking north, east and then west in the entrance of Lauren’s Romantic Garden.

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above: the central area of the Romantic garden hosts a very large Chihuly tower

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nice glass in North American prairie area

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above: Blue Gramma grass in the Short grass prairie area killed the day with a stellar display of such beautiful low-growing foliage, inflorescences, and associated groovy herbage.

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Blue Chihu!

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a very extensive, smartly executed, Alpine rock garden (garden visitor and belly in picture for scale)

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above: parts of Lauren’s high-desert Xeric gardens

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misters created a softened feel to the Ornamental grass garden, with towering white-flowering ornamental Tobacco

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above: Tobacco, Celosia and Cosmos blend in with the finely textured species, Dog Fennel, Eupatorium capillifolium, considered a weed in our part of the country

These gardens show how naturalistic design can be utilized more commonly in our regional landscapes, even in formal settings. This type of gardening shows a connection with the land and a sensitivity to natural areas and how we can emulate them more completely using a lighter touch of our hand.

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L-DOT decides that Big Al needs a prairie pal

Thanks to the brilliance and foresight of ULL Professor Jim Foret and his former student, La state Transportation Department supervisor Ryan Dugas, the New Iberia-Lafayette area will be the recipients of a cool 1.3 acre Coastal Tall grass Prairie planting just next to Big Al, the massive Live Oak that was relocated a couple of years ago during construction along highway 190.

Ryan, Jim, and I met in the spring to discuss a plan of action to join these two in the holy bond of marriage and since then Ryan has taken steps that will prepare the way for planting this winter. Big Al the Live Oak was moved only because folks came out of the woodwork to fight to save him and as a result, two years later, we have a well-settled-in friend who seemed a bit lonesome up on his knoll. Jim and Ryan took it upon themselves to remedy that lonesomeness. In the spring and summer next year a prairie will begin to emerge as a life companion for Mr. Al. I couldn’t think of a more compatible couple, …those two lovebirds! 🙂

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above: Prof. Jim Foret, left, walks up to a very Big Al, with Dr Charles Allen, to check Al’s pulse, a year or so after the move, in spring 2013 (click to enlarge the photo)

The prairie planting will be done just east of Al, in a 1.3 acre triangle shaped arrangement in a pre-Christmas marriage ceremony. Pastorek Habitats, LLC will provide the seed for the awesome planting. All Louisiana’s folks are invited to be witnesses to this nuptial blessing. Here is one of the signs made recently to be placed along the highway shortly after their honeymoon is over. (photo courtesy of Ryan, via Jim)

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I hope to see ya’ll at the ceremony! Peace.

a greener Baton Rouge, “Plant Smart Baton Rouge”

This Saturday afternoon, July 19th, at LSU’s Hilltop Arboretum, I will be speaking, along with Scott Courtright, sharing ideas about natural landscaping in the urban condition, at Plant Smart Baton Rouge, “a green educational event”. The title of my talk is Louisiana Native Grasses for Urban Landscapes. I will discuss new concepts utilizing grasses and grass-like plants to create low energy landscapes that can be used by designers to incorporate optional venues of beauty and ecological function into large swaths of the urban forest.

Specific topics that I’ll cover are monoculture meadows, biodiversity native meadows, seasonal color-inspired meadows, sedge meadows, and low-mow lawns, all of these applicable to Baton Rouge and the central Gulf South region.

I hope to see you there. Here is a link to the event announcement on the web. Robert Seeman, nephew of a favorite client of mine from the late 1990’s, and current Director of Baton Rouge Green visited my prairie farm in Pearl River County, Mississippi in June. He took photographs of plants in the fields. I will wear the same goofy-cool outfit I used in the field with him that day, the one that hid me from the glaring sun, just for kicks. He included one of the photos of me in one of my Coral Bean patches in the announcement.

… stirring it up, yall! 🙂

http://batonrougegreen.com/content.cfm?id=39

living on the edge!

I had the good fortune to hear James Hitchmough speak about his favorite subject at a conference in January. Dr. Hitchmough is Professor of Horticultural Technology, Department of Landscape, Sheffield University, Great Britain. At one point, he was talking about trying new and different things in landscape and he said “all of the exciting stuff that happens is not in the normal center, but on the edge…”.

My good friend Charles Allen often famously says “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room!”. He usually follows this up with big belly-laugh.

In Louisiana, our “cutting edge” is usually twenty or forty years behind everybody else’s.

In the upper Midwest and Northeastern U.S., landscape designers regularly incorporate sedges, as grass-like plants, particularly for wood edge meadow plantings and for woodland ground cover, when designing with natural systems, designing for biodiversity. I’ve thought about Charles and James and their “edge” remarks a few times this week since I was planting what is, I believe is the first purposeful sedge meadow planted in the region, right here at the Ponderosa.

Its not a big planting at all, just about twenty feet by ten feet: a small “edge” garden. Small or not, it should, in time, reveal some interesting things. We will see.

While working with Philadelphia prairie hipster Larry Weaner on the Lafitte Corridor project in New Orleans, I was introduced to the concept of using these fine ornamental plants in instances where grasses can’t be used. The Lafitte project has three acres of sedge meadows designed into the landscape as rainwater run-off retention basins, designed to capture and filter the water. This was done because of the infestation of Torpedo grass and Johnson grass that exists on the project site.

The sedge meadow I planted is a red-neck prototype intended to be a model for promoting the use of this problem solving idea. Here at my place, it allows me to plant a garden of good plants where I couldn’t otherwise. You see, I have forty different flavors of bad weeds here and this approach helps me work past my weed problems. Kind of like a twelve step program works for winos. After all, the first step is admitting you have a problem, huh? For example, I have, in some parts of the yard, the awful Skunk Vine, a plant that can take over a lot of land really quickly and all but make it disappear. I can spray a selective herbicide over the garden and not hurt sedges but will kill the dickens out of the Skunk Vine. Yay!!!! This way, I can eliminate the old nasty, stinkin’, no-good skunk vine.. Thats a big deal when you are otherwise stuck with doing battle with such a brute forever.

Sedges are numerous in species anywhere you go in the eastern U.S.. Many forms to choose from….but I have my favorites.

The sedge I’ve worked the most with is Carex glaucescens, or Clustered Sedge. Its a bad-ass grass but not a grass at all, really. Its blue toned in color and grows in a fairly vertical form and has fine to medium textured, strapped foliage with unique flowering parts that are delightfully (relatively) ornamental. The ultimate hieght of this is thirty inches and the width, about eighteen inches. I grew this plant for years in my nursery even though no one would buy it. I, however, have always liked its charm and character and I would “work-it-in” when the client was looking the other way. Super-cool pics of it @ the link, below

http://alabamaplants.com/Sedges/Carex_glaucescens_page.html

Carex vulpinoidea, or Brown Fox Sedge is a most desirable plant for gardening with poor, perennially moist to constantly wet soils. Really, its a beautiful thing, y’all! This plant is perfectly rounded in overall form, about 30 inches tall and four feet around. The foliage is very fine textured and deep, dark green. The flowers are not particularly showy but the fruit bearing stalks are. The golden brown fruit color contrasts nicely with the wispy-hair strapped leaves. I noticed this attractive grass-like plant on the property here several years ago because it was so graceful and green in the harshest part of the winter. I have come to appreciate it greatly. Nice plant.

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click to enlarge the photo of Fox Sedge, above.

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above: the fruit-bearing terminal of Fox Sedge

Both Brown Fox and Clustered sedge are what I would call evergreen sedges since they do not have a period of dormancy,  …just transition.

Carex flacosperma, or Blue Wood Sedge is another. I originally got a start of this plant many years ago from my plant-friend Lynn Libous-Bailey of the Mississippi Delta who got it from Dr Charles Bryson, the regional expert on Carex and Cyperus. This sedge has an attractive  glaucus-blue foliage color and is found here growing occasionally on this remnant Pine flat-woods. The fruit of the plant is nut-like and comes packaged in elongated clusters. The height on this one is about four or six inches and the width, about 18 inches around. Saweet!

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above: Blue Wood Sedge in winter time

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scaly, nut-like fruit of Blue Woods Sedge arrives in late spring

These three all bloom and fruit in the spring. Of the three, only two are “evergreen” and have substance in the summer garden (C. glaucescens and vulpinoidea). Flacosperma disappears in summer and comes back magically come October. FYI, Carex, here in the Gulf South, have a backwards dormancy period, typically going dormant in the hottest part of the summer, returning when the days become shorter, in early fall. They are in their glory in the dead of winter when most plants are taking a long siesta.

So, the deed has been done. The seed has been sown. And I will manage and watch closely, this garden, over time. I will let you (all three of you) know what does or doesn’t happen in the mean time.

au revoir!

Note: all of the Carex species I have worked with/have mentioned here have been positively identified by Dr. Charles “the Sledge of Sedges” Bryson. Thanks, Doc!

Louisiana’s Cajun mountains

I had the most wonderful opportunity last Wednesday to meet up with Christopher Reid at one of the newly discovered Coastal Tall grass prairies located on private land in Calcasieu Parish. The prairie exists on an old and very large cattle farm operation stretching south from  the town of Vinton all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Chris is botanist for the State Natural Heritage Program. His job is finding, preserving and assisting in managing rare land and the vegetation that grows on it. Last summer, Chris and his fellow Wildlife and Fisheries staff members erected fenced-off study plots to exclude cattle from the vegetation within. This will, over time, give the vegetation a rest from grazing and should provide a unique opportunity to see what species return naturally. It was a really exciting and interesting visit for me considering that as far as we know yet, there are no longer any good and sizable examples of our native prairie preserved in Louisiana. This farm, like three others the State is working with, has the potential to be brought back to its former glorious self: a natural, diverse prairie complete with Pimple Mound formations. One of the most significant things I saw was the height of the pimple mounds (Mima mounds, Coppice dunes) that were scattered across the landscape. Mima mounds are naturally occurring circular raised areas of soil, laid down during the late Pleistocene era (that’s a long time ago, folks). The soils are really sandy, and it shows. Chris and I were finding plants that aren’t normally this close to the Gulf. They aren’t except on top of these mounds. These were high mounds all right, up to four feet tall or maybe a bit higher. Ones I had previously seen were just slightly raised areas a few inches or so high and several feet around. So dramatically different and the altitude of these so high, they were well worthy of being called Cajun mountains, especially considering the flatness of the land in this part of the state.

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above: Chris Reid on top of a nearly imperceptible Cajun mountain

All plants that were not on the mounds were indicative of a high moisture regime, meaning they showed the soils there were for the most part, very wet. Conspicuous was the Brownseed paspalum, Texas Coneflower, Hairy Fruited Hibiscus, Water Hemlock, and the other usual Cajun Prairie suspects.

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Hairy Fruited Hibiscus has lots of fuzz

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above: the foliage of the Carrot Family member, Hooker’s Eryngo IMG_5209

above: native Hairy Petunia Ruellia humulus tucked in with the obnoxious multiflora rose, an invasive exotic species that gets around via fruit-eating birds. Rosa multiflora is a hateful, thorny thing.

Up on the mountains were plants from way up in Vernon Parish, 100 miles north, where the soils are super-sandy. Who ever heard of Sassafras less than a mile from coastal fresh water marsh? The mima mounds have, thats who! This sand loving Sassafras stood out like a sore thumb. She was hanging out with her buddies Queen’s Delight, Wooly White, and a bunch of other highlanders, way up where the air is much thinner. And the view from atop the mountains? ….you could see for a hundred feet!

There were several odd-ball species found on the flats, too. White Topped Sedge, typically a Pine herbaceous species, was growing right there in the wet prairie soils, big as the sky. Hooker’s Eryngo was a new species for me. I am the biggest fan of Eryngium species in general, and seeing this in the wild was quite the treat. I got that same feeling I used to get as a kid when the ice cream truck music sounded through my old neighborhood. This species is not listed in the distribution book for that Parish, nor is it in the Floristic Assessment for Coastal Prairie. Nice! Also present and accounted for was Rough Leafed Goldenrod and the Antelope Horn and Longleaf Milkweeds.

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Rough Leafed Goldenrod

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Long Leaf Milkweed

Strangely and conspicuously absent was Switch grass and Gamma grass. Overgrazing, Chris suspected. I did find what I thought to be a small clump of Big Bluestem, which got him all excited. Its pretty easily id’d even at an early, infertile stage. He was glad to see it barely grazed outside the pens

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above: Chris took me in the direction of the gulf to look for a plant he had seen on an earlier trip. We hiked about a while to a Buffalo wallow area (a marias), where he collected a tiny grass-like plant (that I forget the name of) as a state record for Calcasieu Parish. Yip Yip!!

As we were done and leaving, we wheeled out of the farm property and onto the Parish road, where Chris slowed to show me Side Oats Gramma grass growing big as can be and thick as hair on a goat’s back. This was the catch of the day for me. I have only seen this a couple of times in Louisiana and seeing it a stone’s throw from the Gulf was both exciting and encouraging. Until now, I thought that growing this plant this close to the Gulf was not possible. It was a very hopeful end of the trip for me. I would like to one day be able to work with it more than I have. It has great ornamental and restoration potential. If I can, I’ll get a couple of handfuls of seed when they ripen perhaps, and see what comes of growing it.

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Side Oats Gramma grass in flower, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana