Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University event!
This Saturday July 11 is the day of the annual Aquatic plant sale (and gardening talks) at Crosby Arboretum, in Picayune, Mississippi. The Arbo has been doing this sale for many years and the staff works hard to propagate and find, cool plants to offer for sale for your water garden. I will be leading a field walk along the “pond journey” at 10:00, discussing the delights of having marginal aquatic plants in the garden and how to grow many of those we see from scratch.
Eileen Hollander, of the Greater New Orleans Iris Society will talk about propagation of the endemic, treasured Louisiana Iris at 11:00.
February Prairie Gardening-Restoration Conference in Louisiana
I was asked by Bud Willis, the president of the La. Native Plant Society to help put together an education program focused on prairie gardening and restoration. With the help of Charles Allen, Beth Irwin and Rick Webb, I have succeeded in doing that, I think.
We have put together a single day of prairie presentations by seven of the most knowledgeable folks I know. Mark your calendars, Feb 5-7th, 2016 in the Alexandria, La. area.
Beth Irwin will speak about her work with her prairie gardens at KaloramaNature Preserve and with Rector Hopgood’s amazing prairie in Mer Rouge Louisiana.
Charles Allen will speak on prairie dynamics natural succession
Malcolm Vidrine will speak of his work with building prairie gardens and will touch on prairie ecology.
Tree hugger and dirt lover Jim Foret (University of La, Lafayette) will speak of his home prairie garden.
Jessie Johnson will speak of her prairie gardens at Caroline Dorman’s Briarwood Nature Preserve.
Larry Allain of the National Wetlands Center will speak on prairie restorations he’s worked with and maybe share some insights into his many years of study of prairie pollinators.
Jim Willis of Cat Spring, Texas , co-founder of the Wildlife Habitat Federation (WHF), is a prairie gunslinger like no other. He has helped re-establish over 40,000 acres of prairie by way of his wonderful work with the WHF. Jim is a master of the farm implement when it comes to building grasslands.
Bring your questions. You’ll most likely get them answered at the conf. See the article from the Houston Chronicle on Jim and the WHF, below. how lucky we are to have him visit with us from so far away.
It should be a great day with lots of information shared.
Cucumbers with Character
On to horticulture in the garden…..
I have been working like a Turk over the years, trying to bring in a cucumber crop on a steady basis through the summer. Around here, you can grow cukes from April to November and you should. I try to put in a new crop every couple of weeks or once a month at least. This insures a steady stream of them. I’m on my fifth crop right now. Just planted seed yesterday.
I can’t stand a store bought cucumber. They are pretty to look at but not so good to eat. yuk!
Grow your own. Its so darned easy.
Okay, sometimes things go horribly wrong but heck, that’s farmin’, folks.
Its when they go right that matters and if you do a crop each month, you’re gonna enjoy reaping the benefits of your work. Go organic, dude. Yee who tries sometimes succeeds.
My planting yesterday of cukes. Last week I took a shovel and turned the soil in this spot. came back yesterday and turned again, opened a slight linear trench with my shovel head, and sowed seed. I stepped on the seed to press them into the ground, and then barely covered them by busting a few clumps of soil with my hands over the seed trench. Then I stepped on the trench again to double up on soil-seed contact.
a garden planted June 15th with a row of squash in the back and two rows of cukes in the foreground, left. I built two simple structures out of scraps for the vines to climb onto.
this is the same garden yesterday. I build leaning trellises so the cukes hang away from foliage and are easier to find.
I love to mulch with cardboard. these were planted a couple of weeks ago, just tied up yesterday, onto the cross-rope with little strings. I use the same technique of stringing that I learned at the tomato farm where I worked when I was just a whippersnapper. Tie the string in a boland knot so it doesnt sinch down and strangle the stem and then go up to the cross-rope and tie off. Each week, I assist the vines up the string by wrapping the vine around the string, just like at my old friend Lee Smith’s farm! Cardboard is so cool to work with, and its like, free! You can see the old cardboard (behind, in white) from last year, still suppressing weeds. Working overtime!
looking north, Monty the Labradorian prairie dog chillin’ next to the Cucurbitaceae patch. On the left going up my hog-panel dragon sculpture is the wild and crazy Cucuzza squash vine, just getting started. In the center of the image is my heirloom White Chayote vine, down here we call the Merletons (we say it Millitons). French, I guess. I got this from friend, Bonnie Bordelon. Thanks Bonnie!
You can see in the foreground here, my mulch job with all the recycled paper I collected from our office last week. saweet!!!
Verbena-on-a-Stick, Verbena bonariensis, great plant for nectaring Lepidoptera
Most garden folks know the common weed Verbena Braziliensis. Its a weed you can find all over the Gulf Coast; not so pretty, but a Butterfly magnet. Most folks don’t know V. bonariensis, a bad-ass plant for garden color with a long, long bloom time and an ability like few, to attract so many kinds of Skippers and Butterflies, flies, wasps, bees and such. Real nice.
I grew about 250 of these last year from seed. Spent ten bucks and ended up with lots of plugs, which I planted and gave away. I used to grow this years ago just for the flowering but I would say it is a solid 10 when it comes to pollinator attraction. It didn’t like it in the areas I burned but it loves to grow, most places that are sunny. Its not a stellar perennial but if you plant several they will hang on for some time; years. I found a stand of this plant with Charles Allen once in Newton County Texas at an old home site where the home was gone and the soil sandy and that is likely why it persisted so many years. Howabout dat.
I know you have been waiting to see my life-size carboard cut-out Blue Hawaii Elvis so I placed him, for scale, in front of the Verbena bonariensis in the garden. Thank you ver’ much.
I posted a youtube vid with the Gulf Fritillary that was hangin’ out at the garden yesterday. There were lots of different Skipper Butterflies working the flowers.
Somebody asked me once why I don’t use milkweeds in my projects. The answer is, I do. But they need special attention. They have special requirements. At least in my experience, Milkweed plants aren’t easy to produce and can be hard to keep, in the landscape.
First you have to get the seed. That’s tough enough. Many species of Milkweed show up in the landscape without any rhyme or reason. They are the rebels of the grassland. Doing cuttings is an option in the spring, before bloom, but you have to have a mister system or at least time on your hands to do that. Finding seed takes a little experience and a lot of luck. You have to know where plants are, and you have to arrive just in time to harvest the seed or it will float away with the wind. I recently saw a method of wrapping a bag around the pod to capture all parts when pod ripening and opening occurred. That’s a pretty smart idea. Duh, why didn’t I think of that.
Pineland Milkweed, Asclepias obovata
a pod of Green Milkweed, Asclepias viridis, with a single seed and silk (at left). The traveling mechanism of the seed is very much like a Badminton birdie. This is a pod that I picked from a cattle field in the Black Belt prairie area of Alabama. Cows can’t eat the Milkweeds so they are occasionally abundant under hoof. A cow field I go to near Livingston, Alabama has hundreds and hundreds of plants each year.
Once you get the seed, in order to plant it, you gotta clean the silk fluff from the seed. Malcolm Vidrine showed me a way thats pretty easy if you have the pod in tact and seed not fully open. Remove silk and seed arrangement. Grip silk tightly and rake the seed from it. Gail Barton told me about using fire, which is much more fun than just stripping the seed with your hand. this youtube video, below, is last week’s frying pan fire, when I was planting my milk weed.
After cleaning them, put them in cold for stratification. Its time to do that right now, mid-February. Look at Dr. Charles “Paw Paw” Allen and Mac “Milkweed-Man” Vidrine do their thing in this past-issue of The Cajun Prairie Habitat newsletter. Its a couple of great articles written the masters themselves, last year.
seed can be stratified in paper towel or damp sand. I played out paper towel, put seed on it and wet it. Then folded it into a square and drip-dried in the sink.
drippin’ and dryin’, into a plastic bad it went on February 8, to the fridge, till March 20th or so, when I’ll sow them in tiny pots. Into the garden they’ll go after that. 🙂
please read the following article (below) on Monarchs just produced by Dr Allen. Hasta luego, suckers!
Monarchs, Milkweeds, Migrations, Mexico, Midwest, Malcolm’s Method, and Misconceptions
By Dr. Charles Allen with lots of info stolen from Dr. Malcolm Vidrine
The monarch butterfly is one of the most, if not the most, intriguing animal with its migration pattern and host plant requirements. Many Monarchs migrate annually from the United State to Mexico and back but unlike birds and other migratory animals, the migrating butterfly is not the original butterfly but the offspring. The monarchs overwinter in the mountains of central Mexico and when the weather warms in the spring, the monarchs begin to fly northward toward Louisiana and other southern states. Upon arriving in south Louisiana, the female monarchs seek out milkweeds on which to lay her eggs. The eggs hatch into caterpillars and the caterpillars eat milkweed leaves and turn into a chrysalis and then an adult monarch emerges from the chrysalis. These adult monarchs then migrate farther northward and spend the summer in the central or northern US or southern Canada. Several broods (3 or 4, depending on the weather) of monarchs are usually produced during the summer and these monarch live 3 to 5 weeks. But the offspring from the last brood begins to migrate southward and should end up in central Mexico. The last brood is different in that it lives much longer than the summer broods, up to nine months. These will overwinter in central Mexico and then migrate northward in the spring. And, there are groups of monarchs that do not migrate but overwinter in the south (Florida west to Louisiana and Texas). There is also a group of monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains that overwinter in southern California and northern Mexico and migrate northward to southern Canada and back to southern California.
Monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweeds or closely related species in the milkweed family and the caterpillars only eat leaves of these plants. For a listing, description, and pictures of Louisiana milkweeds, goto http://www.cajunprairie.org/newsletters/201403.pdf. Monarch caterpillars are very host specific that is they have to have milkweeds or the close relatives to eat. Note that adult monarch butterflies can drink nectar from a wide variety of flowers and are not host specific like the caterpillars.
There are two distinct areas for monarchs in Louisiana, the coastal area from about Interstate 10 or US 190 southward to the coast and the inland area that part of Louisiana north of Interstate 10 or US 190 (see map). The blue area on the map is the coastal and the white (non-colored) area of Louisiana is the inland area. For the inland area, the monarchs are typically present during two time periods, spring-March to April and fall-September and October, both during migration periods.
The map shows that the coastal portion of Louisiana is an area where monarchs practice winter breeding but in talking to people who live in the coastal monarch area, the monarch reproduce year round there. In other words, the coastal area is an area of summer breeding for monarchs as well as winter breeding. Note that the map does not indicate summer breeding in the coastal areas. I think that the coastal area of Louisiana is a milder area in the summer than the inland areas thus it is feasible for monarch to reproduce there during the summer. The milder climate makes the area more similar to the northern US and Canada, and especially the Midwest US and thus monarchs can and do reproduce. I remember visiting Grand Isle in the coastal monarch area one June and was surprised to see white sweet clover (Melilotus alba) to be very common. This same plant can be seen in the inland area in February to late April but has succumbed to the heat by June. I remember seeing this same plant very commonly in Iowa and Wisconsin prairies in July. And, I have seen lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album) on Grand Isle fairly common in April to June but have not seen it or see it very rarely in the inland area. Lamb’s quarters is another plant that is more common in the central and northern United States. These two observations on plants on Grand Isle makes me think that there is a milder climate on Grand Isle during the summer and allows monarch to reproduce there.
Map taken from Article on tropical milkweed showing migration and reproduction.
We need to make the researchers aware of the fact that the monarchs in the Louisiana coastal area reproduce year round (summer and winter) and not just winter as their map and text indicate.
With the study of monarch DNA and tagging, it would be interesting to see if the monarchs in the coastal area are (1) the offspring from same ones from year to year or (2) composed of two groups (new migrating monarchs that stop migrating plus the overwintering populations that have survived) or in fact, (3) is there a new population of monarchs there each year from migrating monarchs?.
We (coastal and inland Louisiana people) need to be sure to have plenty of succulent milkweeds ready in March and April when the migrating monarchs return from Mexico. I say use tropical milkweed mixed with native milkweeds this year (2015). And let us see if we can get enough native milkweed ready at that time. It seems to be a tough job to get the native milkweeds growing and with large enough leaves by March every year. The only one that I have been able to do is the swamp or aquatic milkweed (Asclepias perennis). Perhaps the green milkweed may also be ready at that time. I don’t see it much in my area but remember it being a common milkweed in the Cajun Prairie region of Louisiana but can’t remember what it looked like in March. Most of the other native milkweeds are just thinking about growing in March and would not provide much food to migrating monarchs. Within walking distance of my house, I have three native milkweeds: (1). clasping milkweed (Asclepias amplexicalis) in the very sandy areas; (2) white milkweed (Asclepias variegata) in the shade of hardwood forests; and (3) swamp or aquatic milkweed (Asclepias perennis) growing in wet areas along the Ouiska Chitto Creek. The only one that seems to be in good shape in the spring is perennis but it was in an open area where I had moved it from the shade of the Ouiska Chitto. Perhaps, other people may have additional native milkweeds to suggest for the spring migrating northward monarchs. Then, if we can get enough native milkweeds ready for March, we can phase out the tropical milkweeds for the spring. I would hate to get rid of all tropical milkweeds this spring and the monarchs arrive to no milkweeds what so ever. Talked to Malcolm Vidrine (see below) and he says he has monarchs laying eggs on the very small emerging milkweeds in the spring and they prefer natives over the tropical and their favorite native is the tuberosa
I am still leery of Asclepias incarnata and Asclepias syriaca; these may be northern US species that are cultivated in Louisiana. If tropical milkweed stops south migration and these two are northern species, perhaps those milkweeds would stop northern migration of monarchs??
For the fall migration, the monarchs are supposed to migrate without reproducing but I see them every fall reproducing and have seen them reproducing on native milkweeds. In fact, fall is when I see, by far, the most monarchs. The spring migration often passes with me only seeing one or two monarchs but I typically see 20-30 or more in the fall. The native milkweeds are past their prime at that time with older leaves that are not very conducive to monarch egg laying. I plan to try to prune my native milkweeds back in August with the hope that the plants will regrow and have young succulent leaves for the fall monarchs.
Dr. Malcolm Vidrine of Eunice has been working with native milkweeds for several years now and has this to report:
Collect seeds from locations near the final growing site. For years I collected and/or bought seeds of a variety of milkweeds, especially Butterflyweed, from numerous places in Louisiana and other states—these grew and bloomed (or not) as annuals only to die in the moist winter soils of the Cajun Prairie.
The Cajun Prairie Butterflyweed that I grow was found just south of Eunice in a woodland meadow along a railroad right-of-way—they and their offspring have grown in my gardens for up to 17 years.
Remove the seeds from the follicles when the follicles split with a little pressure from your fingers. Grasp the silk and pull the seed from their silks. Seeds should have a viable embryo—a nut-like palpable swelling. Note from Charles Allen here: Gail Barton last week at the LNPS meeting suggested using fire to get rid of the silk on the seeds. I have used that method and it works by simply placing a lit match near the silk and it poofs up in flame as Gail suggested and the silk is gone.
Store the seeds in a cool, dry place until February.
In February, place the seeds into CMS (cold moist storage). This simply requires placing the seeds in
a Ziploc-like bag with a small amount of damp sand for 6 weeks in the refrigerator. Do not do this to the nonnative Mexican milkweed (A. curassavica)—the CMS is lethal in my experience—plant these seeds directly.
In March-April, add water to Ziploc-like bag, and the viable seed should float to the surface. Remove the seeds into a growing chamber—I use plastic containers that come with a lid. The seeds are spread out on the surface of potting soil—almost any kind works—and a light covering of soil is used to simply hide the seed. Keep the chamber closed and moist. I place the chamber in a south-facing window.
Seeds germinate in a week—really germinate—hundreds of them. Allow them to grow out a second pair of leaves—usually 2 weeks.
Move the seedlings outside and transplant them into large containers—5 gallon containers for 1-2 years. I prefer 2 years in order to allow the roots to grow really large (several inches long) and easy to handle.
In winter or early spring, either transplant the entire container into the ground or remove the roots and transplant them separately into the final growing site. The roots can be divided in the spring into 2 inch segments, and placed in individual containers providing even more plants. These cuttings can
also be planted into the final growing site with approximately 50% success. As a final propagation note, all species can be grown from stem cuttings (taken after Monarchs are done eating), but the success rate is highly variable, and the process requires more intensive work.
Butterflyweed (tubberosa)—it is essential to grow plants from near your location, and it takes years to get a specimen plant; thus plant 3 in a triangle about a foot apart. The plants reach 3 feet in height and have red to orange flowers. Red milkweed or Few-flowered milkweed—while this plant likes damp soils, it readily conforms to good soil, but it cannot tolerate drought. I have lost hundreds of these from planting them in poor, dry sites or to severe droughts. The plants grow 4-5 feet in height and have yellow to red flowers.
Green antelopehorn (viridis) —this plant can be grown in your lawn as it actually appears to appreciate being mowed by machines and/or Monarchs. It is very easy to grow compared to the previous 2 species. The plants grow to 2 feet high and have green flowers.
Shore milkweed or Swamp milkweed (perennis)—this plant can tolerate container growth for years, unlike the 3 previous species. It prefers damp soils and cannot tolerate drought. It stays green almost all winter, and it is a superb host for Monarchs as it is green both in early spring and in late autumn. It is the easiest to grow, and the most prolific bloomer. Seeds lack silk. The plants grow to 2 feet high and have pink or white flowers.
Whorled milkweed (verticillata)—this plant is easy to grow and transplant. It prefers damp soils and can tolerate drought better than the red milkweed. The plants grow to 3-5 feet and have green to white flowers.
All of these are used by our migratory Monarchs. Each has different growth habits and requirements for good flowering. Butterflyweed and Whorled milkweeds appear to be long-lived (more than 10 years),
while the other 3 species appear shorterlived (usually more than 5 but less than 10 years).
We at Pastorek Habitats (that’s me and Candi), are pleased to announce that after only a year and a half and 120 posts, our blog has officially reached an incredible 10,000 viewers: people like yourself. We’ve had views from all over the world: Brazil, France, Great Britian, Viet Nam (really?), Portugal, Turkey, and of all places, Georgia(the Russian neighbor, not the Florida one). This 10,000-hit milestone coincides with our newly developed and very awesome offerings of ecotype seed mixes but also a couple of new, exclusive individual species for the meadow and garden.
We offer in limited quantity, seed of Winkler’s Fire Wheel and Malcolm F. Vidrine’s spearmint scented White Leaf Mountain Mint (Malcolm Mint).
Check into the seed selections on our home page under the title “About Our Seed”.
And thanks so much for tuning in, folks!!!!!! We hope to continue to bring you informative wild stuff for many years to come via the interweb! see ya! 🙂
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.
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
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.
click to enlarge the photo of Fox Sedge, above.
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!
above: Blue Wood Sedge in winter time
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.
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!
Okay sorry to run all(three) of the readers off with this title, but some of us folks find real excitement in our gardens, using fire(we say “far” here in the deep-south).
When I moved here and started gardening, I encountered a wide variety of invasive plants, some really noxious. Most of them I was familiar with.
I began a planting of meadow shortly after I arrived. I had yanked out the hum-drum day lilies and azaleas and started planting switch and big bluestem, indian and gamma grass. I planted some wildflowers, too, having propagated some, dug some(from my field in Miss.), and collected some seed. I tucked plants in where I felt and sowed lots of seed across both areas
And then watched it progressively get swallowed-up by the invaders.
I tried to burn one year but there wasn’t much fuel to keep a “far” going. So it burned in a few patches here and there. But there was no real impact. Not a hot enough fire. And not enough fire.
above: Prairie Dog(thats me!) looks for the sky for heavenly gardening inspiration.
I studied and figured and studied some more, for a couple of years. Finally, it hit me like a ton of invasive vegetation. “Fight fire with fire!”, I thought. “I’ll fight the fight and hopefully win-out in the end”.
I conjured up a plan. I would use some of Hitchmough and Dunnett’s ideas(they are the brash and brilliant Brits who I met last month at NDAL). “I’ll use invasives along with natives to help put pressure on the worst weeds and hope it works. My wife Candi is hoping it turns out better, too. She hadn’t been too thrilled with the result in the last couple years. I have quite enjoyed the battle, thank you.
Last summer I gathered some seed from here and yon.
And last week and this week the weather finally broke and it got dry enough to at least walk outside. I hurried to implement the plan.
I started by removing the above ground vegetation. Down close to the soil. There are two gardens, basically, separated only by a mowed path. Both of the gardens are surrounded by mowed paths, as well. The gardens in total are 200 feet long and fifteen feet wide: a long, linear meadow.
Looking back, I should say that if I had done things right to begin with, I may not be in this predicament. I should have spent a season or two killing the invasive vegetation(“nucularizing it”, as George W Bush would say) but like some of my clients, I could not wait. Actually, I thought the native plants and seed I planted might kick invasive butt, but I was wrong. Poor guys didn’t have a chance. They didn’t know what him them.
One garden is now complete: the fifty footer. The other, I chopped on last evening before sundown. The day before, I hauled myself off to Rick Webb’s Louisiana Growers nursery in Amite and picked up plants that he’d been holding for me since before God performed the triple-vortex on us.
above: Brian Williams shows us NASA’s triple vortex imagery
I got the plants I wanted and planted them: 60 one-gallon pots of a grass I became enamoured with on visits to Miami: its basically a very dwarf south Florida version of our native tripsicum, Tripsicum floridanum(Florida gamma grass, Fatahatchie grass). Its a cool dude.
Dwarf Fakahatchie grass is a rare bird in the wild. Only 500 plants still survive in crevices of the low, rocky pinelands of the Miami rock ridge(an old coral reef). This is a photo of a parking lot planting of Fakahatchie grass, Dade County, Fla. Cool, huh?
I got most of my plants planted but before I could even finish, I couldn’t resist to ceremoniously light up a fire. I had gotten few bales of wheat straw to use as “fuel”. I wanted to do a few tests on some really bad areas, sick with invasive skunk vine(I hate that dreadful plant!). Skunk vine Paederia foetida is a real stinker. Literally. It invaded from the edges and swallowed up whole parts of the meadow. I figured I’d see what fire does it. So I loaded up about a fuel level 2, in three different areas and lit those babies up!
above: Take that, dirty-rotten Skunk Vine!!!! If you don’t think fire is good for your gated community code, you may be lacking excitement in your life. Newly planted Fakahatchee grass clumps to the left of the frame, wishing they were in the burn zone. 😦 Next year they will be a burn zone. Yaya!
Bee Balm fought valiantly last summer but the skunk vine had a strangle-hold on it that would let up. Maybe the “far” will help old bee blossom mint to overcome the interlopers. That’s me holding the dormant but still very alive skunk vine
Monty the dog, a bit pensive about fire on the Bee Balm
Monty the dog, caring less about the fire on the Bee Balm(funny, click to enlarge photo)
above: an Elderberry shrub settled in on the very edge of my awesome Black Belt Prairie Dock(Silphium Terbinthenaceum) so I increased to a model 3 fuel load there, just to even the odds.
prairie Dock and Elderberry fully engulfed in an eight foot flame
….and smoldering down after the deed was done
this is the Prairie Dock in July last year. This is a small leaf due to the shade. The leaf will grow to be 20 inches long by 10 inches wide, or more.
The three far amigos. We’ll see what the result is this coming year.
In the fifty foot meadow, I’ve got about thirty super duper species of prairie stuff. I added the annual Blue Curl’s mint since it grows like a weed and is so petite and beautiful. Lots of seed of Milk Weeds, viridis and obovata, the true Native Thistle(Cersium virginianum), (see this link for awesome photos of this very pretty thistle, by Mr. Jeffery Pippen http://www.jeffpippen.com/plants/cirsium.htm)
I also seeded Chicory, a beautiful winter annual. Maybe I’ll make some coffee when its done. I added tons of coreopsis tinctoria because I have plenty. And finally, I added a really scary but so amazing exotic thistle, seed I got from a clients stand last year. I say “scary” because it looks super prolific and potentially invasive. But the Horticulturist in me wants this plant badly since it attracts butterflies like no other I’ve seen. I saw it mid-day last October when literally hundreds of butterflies, skippers and other nectar freaks were partying very hard, getting a belly full. Quite a sight it was. I’ll roll the thistle-dice and see what happens.
I dropped by the Repentance Park project in Baton Rouge yesterday on my way back from prairie work in Eunice. It turned out to be yet another highlight of my four day trip. The Indian grass that was planted in December as plants that barely had barely any substance, have blossomed into a very substantial element in the landscape.
I was just a minor player in the project, advising the associate, Joseph James, of Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architects, Watertown, Massachusetts, who worked closely with Jennifer Harbourt of Reich and Associates Landscape Architects, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Gabe Vicknair of the City of Baton Rouge, to produce a working concept.
The design for the park was beautifully done, drastically simplifying what was there before: a glitsy concrete waterfall-monolith garden. The idea behind the new design, I believe, was to open-up the space and make it more of a central open-space between the Natural History Museum, the Convention Center, City Hall and the Old State Capitol. The park can now be used as lawn for kids to play, a sitting area for relaxation, a small outdoor concert area and an area for kids to get wet and cool off in the water-jet play area on a hot summer day: all the while functioning as a green-space connection between the much-used public buildings that surround it.
Joe and I hammered out the details of executing a planting of what is not on the typical plant list regionally: Indian grass. The Indian grass was used for an area that required a plant that would permanently stabilize the very steep slope that dropped dramatically from the park’s central walkway and a plant that would require the very least amount of maintenance.
above: Indian grass meets lawn and walkway
above: an image of the slope with a Cereal Rye cover-crop (April). Another image, as the Rye was finishing-up and laying over as mulch (June) with Indian just getting started. And yet another of the Indian grass in full-glory after the Cereal Rye has withered away (yesterday, August).
I collected seed of Indian grass from the Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society’s restoration site and passed it on to Gail Barton(Yardflower, Meridian, Mississippi) who is skilled at germinating the seed of the plant. She, over the years, has found the precise window of time that is crucial to getting the seed germination to occur. She shifted the seedlings into one inch plug trays and pampered them until it was time to ship them out. It took about a year altogether to grow the plants.
above: slope before planting
I picked the plants up from Gail in November and delivered them on to George Francise, who was the magician-contractor who did the soil work, planting and management part of the project. And a stellar job he did!
Joe and I designed the Indian grass plugs to be planted, with a cover crop of Cereal Rye (Secale cereale L.) to be seeded immediately after planting the Indian grass. The Cereal Rye is a grain-grass plant that is less leafy and more vertical in growth than common Rye grass and doesn’t shade out, starve for sunlight, the plants it is growing with. But the Cereal Rye also functioned as a temporary soil stabilizer / erosion control plant until the Indian grass got going. It functioned as a mulch when it died and it also was pretty green in winter, adding a little texture, color and form contrast to the lawn and dwarf Carrisa hollies nearby.
The Ceral Rye was a big hit when it went into bloom (inflorescence). It provided a temporary pastoral image while the Indian grass got settled in, rooted and ready for summer growth.
Summer brought the intense heat and sunlight, which is a requirement of Indian grass. And the Indian responded to this. The soil that was obviously a really good processed soil, from somewhere local, I suspect. It provided a good medium for the Indian roots to grow.
In June, I had dropped in to check on the planting and was quite happy with how things were but it was clear that a fertilization application was in order. I suspect that that was done because when I stopped in yesterday, the Indian grass was something to see! As my Dad and Mom always said: it was a sight for sore eyes. The grass was mostly three or four feet in height and in some cases, reaching to six feet, with terminals getting ready to form its much-anticipated flower spikes. In a month it should be an even more dramatic sight to behold as the fluffy yellow plumes emerge atop the stems, and sway in the late summer breeze.
The genetic diversity expressed in the plants is something of interest to me. Not one plant looks like another with different heights and different leaf forms and different leaf color. This is, I am sure, a planting like no other around: 3200 indian grass plants in one planting, functioning as a purposeful landscape element but it will also have the unique ability of providing a larval host source for the Pepper and Salt skipper butterfly.
All indications are the plant will be there a long while, having been so well cared for in the landscape. It will not only produce seed that will drop and seed in bare areas between plants but it will also spead clonally to eventually cover the vacant spaces on the slope, creating a solid stand of vegetation.
above: the pepper and salt skipper butterfly should find it good living at the Park. Its tiny and fast!