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.

Click to access Bartholomew_thesis.pdf

 

LSU Hilltop Arbo tours Crosby, Hammond Station, and Meadowmakers Farm

The Hilltop Arboretum will be hosting a tour of three significant gardens in southeastern Louisiana and southwestern Mississippi(both sides of the Pearl River) on Thursday, April 10. It promises to be a fun and informative event. Hope you can be in that number!

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above: Pitcher Plant flowers Sarracenia alata

Click on the link below for details.

http://sites01.lsu.edu/wp/hilltop/spring-garden-road-tour/

build it and they will come.

It took years for Blazing star(Liatris) to really get going in my seed meadow gardens. For years I saw no sign of the plant but lately I’ve noticed not only many of them but lots of butterflies and skippers feeding on them. I was at the farm yesterday doing insect survey work for a couple of hours and there were hundreds butterflies flittering back and forth through the field: sulfurs, fritillaries, a few species of swallowtails and several species of skippers, all sporting big grins. It was pretty distracting actually since I am all enamored with them and would stop and photograph occasionally. There were lots of species of bees and wasps and other assorted nectar fans. And there were predators, waiting in the flowers for a meaty delight to come fluttering along. I will never for get how I saw once, a butterfly gracefully flying from flowers to flower and then he began acting kind of oddly as it landed on a nearby flower. On closer inspection, I found a praying mantis devouring that sucker like it was a barbecued rib! yum yum! creepy, actually.

Most people don’t realize how very little vegetation is left to support these specialized critters. Most of the “wild” areas that you think are “wild” maybe be so, but the species diversity is most often on a level that would be considered poor to awful, and support very little wildlife diversity. We humans(some of us) are just getting the fact that, despite biologists talking and writing about it for nearly 100 years, our natural areas are in dire need of our help.

I saw a recent presentation by local author Charlotte Seidenberg at the Longue View House and Gardens and she quoted Mark Plotkin, the famous ethnobotanist and ecologist and native New Orleanian, who said “Conservation is not just about protecting exotic species in distant national parks–it should begin in our backyard.” Charlotte’s book on this subject is a wonderful piece of work(off the chain, as the youngsters say) and one that applies specifically to Louisiana and the immediate central gulf coastal rim. check it out…”The Wildlife Garden: Planning Backyard Habitats”.     http://www.amazon.com/The-Wildlife-Garden-Planning-Backyard/dp/0878058354

(click on photos to enlarge)

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above: swallowtail butterfly nectaring on blazing star at Meadowmakers Farm, Pearl River County, Mississippi

We ecologists are slowly making some headway in bringing-awareness in this department. Over the years, I have seen people find interest and enjoyment in the “wild things”, and that is encouraging.

What’s particularly encouraging for me is the interest that folks have in restoring the complex systems of habitat that once were, on properties big and small. This subject has been a passion of mine for many of years, as it is for a whole slew of folks that have guided and helped me in my work and in building my business.

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above: many folks showed up for the filed trip at the Farm this past May 4. It was a combined trip with the Louisiana and Mississippi Native Plant Societies. click on photo to enlarge.  photo by Dr. Tammy Greer

Dr. Charles Allen showed up for the field day and was kind enough to lead us through the fields, interpreting what he saw. People and critters came from near and far to make the proverbial scene.

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above: one happy upside down nectar-sucking bee on antelope horn milkweed, at the Farm

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