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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PH awarded Coastal Prairie Wetland banking seed contract!

Pastorek Habitats, LLC has been awarded a contract to collect wetland prairie species seed for two 100+ acre wetland banking properties in Cameron Parish. This is something I have been interested in for many years, working with Coastal Prairie (Cajun Prairie) wetland species. So, lately I have been in my shrimp boots(Hackberry Nikes) sloshing in sweltering ditches and bogs for six or eight hours a day, hand-gathering and then drying and processing the crops that are in season.   …enjoying every minute of it.

The restorations will provide wetland functions and values to the land. These include:

  • Restoring bottomland hardwood and coastal prairie/freshwater marsh wetlands
  • Increasing the quality of habitat for native and Nearctic-Neotropical speices
  • Increasing watershed water quality by retiring existing agricultural land from agronomic and livestock production

The restoration will be accomplished with the following:

  • Long-term protection with a perpetual conservation servitude
  • Establishment of maintenance and protection funds in perpetuity

Pretty cool, huh?!

Most all of my restoration work until this project has been in upland prairie species. This opportunity not only adds an element of new car smell, it also gives me the opportunity to learn a whole list of species that I have for the most part been overlooking all these years simply because the focus was up-out of the bogs and ditches, so to speak: on the higher ground. I couldn’t be doing the work without expert taxonomists who are on board to help identify what it is that I can’t. Plant geeks rock!!!!! What’s particularly exciting for us is that these two projects have lead to another consulting opportunity.

Yipp-ieee!!!

None of this could have been made possible but for the knowledge I have gained hanging out with some of the most interesting and knowledgeable folks in the industry, ecologists across this great nation, but especially my local prairie mentors and fellow Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society members, Dr. Charles M. Allen, Malcom F. Vidrine, Larry Allain, and a bunch of other regionally local folks who have spent many-a-day focused on restoring the prairies of Louisiana and Texas. You know who you are. Also, credit is due to the love of my life and partner-in-(ecological)crime, Candi Pastorek, the brains of the business.

This type of landscape construction and management provides an insurance policy of sorts for wildlife, for the future sustainability of species that are increasingly under pressure due to human activity(humans: we ain’t no good 😦 ). It also provides prototype models, mock-ups, that either prove or disprove different techniques for seed collecting, planting and managing the different variations of prairie and marsh habitat in our coastal environment. We at PH are doing our part to insure that future generations get to enjoy and appreciate the wealth of biodiversity that we have in our lifetime.

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above: last Sunday’s photo of the Marc Pastorek family, with five of the (currently) nine grandkids (if you include Monty the wonder-granddog). My two son’s brides(pictured on the couch), are due with an additional boy each, at the end of the year. Go team Pastorek!

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

central Gulf South Silphiums

Rosin Weeds are not weeds at all. They are really fine ornamental herbs that provide for substantial wildlife activity and add lots of pizzaz to a garden. Silphiums are some of the more shining, luminous jewels you can incorporated into your prairie-meadow if you’ve got one. Several Silphium species are native to our region and all are easily grown, adaptable, dependable, and extremely persistent garden plants. That is, if you can find them in the nursery trade available for purchase or …if can get some seed. Most all of mine were originally grown from seed.

Silphiums are no minor player when it comes to garden boldness. My friend Gail calls them “tall boys”, and puts them in the same category as Joe Pye Weed, Iron Weed and Big Bluestem. All are adaptable, long to establish but long-lived, and permanent plants that almost never need care.

They’re exquisitely beautiful organisms. Excellent garden plants, no doubt. They have a huge capacity in the landscape for specialized ecological function. They feed good-weird bugs and stuff (they’re highly attractive to butterflies and other very specialized pollinators, y’all).

I’ve heard some of my northern gardener-friends say that they are weedy, but I have not had that kind of luck yet. In the fifteen years or more I’ve grown Silphiums, I have never had enough show up via re-seeding and they have rarely become prolific in a planting, only somewhat, maybe. But they seem to be more than prolific above the Mason-Dixon line. Dumb luck, I guess.

Rosinweeds are for royalty. They are for refined gardens and wildscapes, too! They are horticultural clout. Vertical botanical bling! Some of Europe’s most visited gardens have American Silphiums in them. The Brits Dunnett and Hitchmough use them in their famous wildflower work. And where we live they are tame, yet seductive.

Most Silphiums grow as large-leaved herbaceous plants, big leafy rosettes with tall terminal stalks laden up-top with big butter-yellow ‘ray and disk’ flowers. In the best conditions, during the best year for rain, the tallest ones, the Compass Plant and Prairie Dock, both can grow flower stalks to eight or ten feet tall.

Who wants an eight foot tall herb in their garden? Me, that’s who!!!!

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above: a single flower of Will Fleming’s awesome “curly leafed” Rosin Weed, almost five inches across. not too shabby.

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Actually, Rosinweeds are just foliage clumps in the landscape for months in the spring and early summer until the plant prepares to bloom, sending stalks skyward. The photo above,(click it to enlarge it) taken by Jovonn Hill, of the Pulliam prairie landscape in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, with Prairie Dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum, just emerging in April, after a controlled burn. Cool thing is you can see right through the stalks of Silphiums when they bloom, like, the stalks almost become invisible.

Here are the Silphiums I have grown for some years now, in my gardens.

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above: Silphium laciniata, the Compass Plant, emerging after burn in spring in the Covington garden. 🙂

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Compass Plant in flower and fruit, Eunice, Louisiana

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Gail and UWA student Colton stand amongst hundreds of ancient Compass Plants at the oh-so-amazing Epes, Alabama chalk glade.

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above: seedling of Compass Plant from hand-harvest seed from Epes, growing at the Black Belt Prairie Garden, University of Western Alabama, Livingston, Alabama, May, 2014.

link to cool photos of Compass plant

http://www.missouriplants.com/Yellowalt/Silphium_laciniatum_page.html

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S. gracile or Slender Rosin Weed’s distribution range, above, a plant found both in Pine forests and Prairies in Louisiana. Lush rosettes, entire leaves, high-oil seed makes for an excellent wildlife plant. Gracile is a real southerner with a red-neck attitude, often kind of slouchy and grinning. No, really, its a very plant with a good attitude. Niche Gardens, a specialty native plant nursery in Chapel Hill, N.C offers this species for sale.

S. simpsonii, Simpson’s or Tall Rosin Weed is a non-Louisiana Native given to me by Texan nurseryman Peter Loos in the mid 1990’s. Good-naturalizing, adaptable, seed excellent for wildlife. Looks very similar to gracile.

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early growth of Silphium simpsoni, above

S. integrifolium, Prairie Rosin Weed, is found associated with inland prairies of Louisiana and the Jackson Belt prairies of Mississippi. Its a Rosin Weed with conspicuous leaf arrangement. A vertically attractive course-textured plant.

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above: the burly-tough rigid stem and leaves of Silphium integrifolium

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above, Silphium integrifolia in full-glory, Harrell Prairie Botanical Area, Bienville National Forest, Scott County, Mississippi

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S. terebinthinaceum, Prairie Rosin Weed (above), is not found naturally occurring in Louisiana and is only found in one county in Mississippi and one in Alabama. Its at the southern end of its range here in the GS. The largest leafed Silphium, by far. Awesome. Tony Avant of Plant Delights nursery in Chapel Hill grows and offers it for sale. Mine hasn’t bloomed yet and it is at least five years old but the leaves are very large and showy without flowers. It may have a lot to do with the seed coming from clay-specific soils to acid soils here in Covington, duh.

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above: S. perfoliatum, The Cup Plant, is an uncommon plant in Louisiana, with records in only one Parish. More commonly found in much of the eastern U.S (minus Texas), this guy has the distinction of forming “cups”, where water collects where the ‘perforated’ leaves join the stem. Bold and strongly structural architecture.

S. asteriscus, Starry Rosin Weed, is one I have only grown for four or five years now. It seems to be very floriferous and a bit shorter than most other species.

Silphium (origin, Will Fleming) is a curly margined form of a yet-unidentified (um, I forget) species with a distinctive leaf form. I’ve grown this plant for five or so years. A worthy ornamental.

Propagation of these species is fairly easy if you have some good, viable seed. Just sow the seed in a good soil mix and barely cover the seed, enough to keep it moist. Germination will come pretty quickly unless its the dead of winter. Field grown Silphium seed is a horse of a different color. Seed I sowed of laciniata, in 1998 and 99 didn’t show up for several years, being out-competed and beat-up by unwanted competition. So eliminate competition in the field before sowing and maybe save yourself some years of waiting and wondering.

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actual flowers of Silphium

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after flowering, seed setting

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The oily seed of Silphium is covered by a wafer-like coating

 

Get down, get tall, get Silphium, and get with it, folks!!!!

 

the link below is the short version of the Flora of Pulliam Prairie paper.

Click to access Campbell___Seymour_2011b.pdf

 

 

UWA Campus Wildflower Wonderland, Black Belt Prairie Garden, coming to a rolling boil

and first, you add a roux..

Its been a full year since I’ve had a chance to visit the University of Western Alabama Black Belt (BB) Garden. And what a wonderful thing, to walk these floral collections, with my good friend and prairie-partner-in-crime, Gail Barton. Gail and I started our study-work here many years ago, when we’d organize annual trips into the Black Belt Prairie region to ride the backroads, hunting for remnants of this ancient complex vegetative system, trying to learn the characteristics and the quirks of its plants. We would drive til we saw some prairie indicator plant and then slow down the truck to determine weather the spot was sufficiently loaded with cool plants to stop and rustle around. The most interesting thing we saw in all of our trips may be the Cemetery just north of Livingston on highway 39 that has a prairie all wrapped-up in headstones…. We’d originally started doing this many years before in and around Gail’s old stomping grounds, near the city of Starkville Mississippi, where she was raised. One of our frequent stops was the MSU Entomology Department’s Osborne Prairie, a leased piece of land with a high quality natural area just east of town. We ended up spending time studying in the Sumter County Alabama area too simply because it was closer to Meridian (Gail’s home) and because it had lots of available remnants. We didn’t realize just how much prairie was in Sumpter County til’ we were awarded the opportunity to build the BB Garden. Most people in Sumter County don’t realize that there is prairie in their county but I am here to tell you, there’s plenty still of it left. Sumter County is rich with natural flora. It just hasn’t yet been destroyed.

We were contracted to design and develop the prairie garden using only species found within the county lines of Sumter County. Dr. Richard Holland, President of the University, concieved the idea of the Garden and brought us aboard to assist him with this effort. We executed the work for the garden, beginning in June 2012 and ending in Early 2013.

For nearly a year, each month, Gail and I would meet and spend a day or so with Sam Ledbetter, the Horticulturist at the Garden who happens to be a life time resident of the County. We would have a growing season to scour the county, hunting for species to collect seed or cuttings from. Our goal was propagating for high conservatism, providing a prairie landscape high in species richness and species biodiversity.

We have succeeded in creating gardens that are incredibly diverse, ones that tell a story and that touch the emotions. Its a great garden, no doubt.

The famous Wiggins, Mississippi native and 1930’s baseball Hall of Famer “Dizzy” Dean once said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it!”

Well, I am here to tell you, these are the best restored prairie gardens in the state of Alabama. They are loaded with species very uncommon in gardens, and some, rare in the county and state. Most importantly, they contain the genetics that when you walk by, scream out at you, “hey! I’m Sumter County, Alabama, Black Belt Prairie! Just sayin’!”

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above: the garden can be seen in the google earth shot above as a triangle in the center of the frame, sectioned by paths. click on it to enlarge it.

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Me (Ed Norton) on left, with Gail Barton, Sam Ledbetter, and UWA BB Garden Director Steven Liverman in the garden, June 2014

There is a super-duper collection of Blazing Stars here. We found species we had to get identified. And all of the Silphiums known to exist in the county are here, present and accounted for. There are seedlings of Silphium laciniata, the Prairie Compass Plant, scattered across this one acre landscape. Seedlings of Echinacea pallida, too. Gail and Sam grew these from seed.

The most special plant found would be the Side Oats Gramma grass. Gail got just a tiny population in one location along the Tombigbee River. She got a fraction of a handful of seed and grew seedlings to transplant.

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above: at left, just after final seeding in November 2012.  right, June 2014

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above: large clumps of Black Belt prairie grasses form dense textural patterns across the garden.

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looking south…

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above: Liatris, Blazing Star

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a legume member propagated from an Epes, Alabama prairie. I forget the name, but its a high conservancy species sometimes found in large numbers near chalk outcrops.

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a monarda, possibly a fistulosa X punctata hybrid?

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Eryngium, Button Snakeroot

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Spiral Orchid

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Narrow-Leafed Mountain Mint

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Indian grass and smaller Little Bluestem grass

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Looking west in the southeastern-most prairie patch

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seedlings and blooming Compass Plant, Silphium laciniata, are scattered about

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above: the fuzzy, full foliage of Helianthus silphioides just before bolting to bloom. Thanks to Dr Brian Keener for the ID on this plant which was a riddle to the rest of us.

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Gail shows off her man-made chalk out-crop, inspired by a commercial development filling with chalk soil fill. She simply asked to borrow some.

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Looking south from the Campbell House, the outcrop in the distance on the right

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Big bluestem grass growing large above mass of Little Bluestem grass

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Monarda and Grey Coneflower in some areas are quite colorful

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Little Bluestem grass sod and Compass Plants at my feet, growing in the Garden with Sumter County blood.

It looks like our collecting at Mr. Miller’s prairie hayfield just up highway 80 from the college paid off since tens of thousands of adolescent little bluestem and Indian grass plants cover the ground, in some places forming a thick dense sod. The grasses are as thick as thieves. They make up a dominance across the ground plain that is to me divine.

Most people would overlook the garden as a place to be mowed, but I understand that it is being used for biology classes.

It was a fantastic opportunity to be able to help in preserving and nurturing these fine and numerous plantings.

If you get a chance, check in when you’re going through Livingston. The garden is five minutes from the Interstate-20 Livingston exit, thirty minutes east of Meridian Mississippi. Come see the ‘organized wildness’ we’ve created!

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!

a green dragon

It may have been the first plant cultivated by man.

It is thought to have originated in Africa. 

A staple of the Sicilian menu, it is known as Goo-Gootz or Cucuzza in Italy(its an affectionate name there, too! “You-a come-a to me-a, my-a little aGoo-Gootsie!”).  In new Guinea, its Zuzza. In Viet Nam, parts of China and the Philippines its Opo. In India its Dudhi. In Japan its Yugao. Korea, Bak, In Burma, Boo Thee. In Columbia and Venezuela its Tapara. In Nepal, Lauka. In Arabic, its Qara. But the most commonly used names for the plant in the western world seems to be Calabash, Cacuzza or Vegetable Zucchini.

There are different varieties of the species ( Lagenaria siceraria or, synonym Lagenaria vulgaris), or possibly (Benincasa hispada). Lots of confusion here. Some are of the shape of the typical Bottle Gourd. Some are very large and rounded. This story is about the elongated green edible variety.

The fruit has been proven to hold viable seed after months at sea. Some think it may have arrived in the New World via ocean currents, but it is more commonly thought that at the end of the ice age when the first adventurous humans crossed the land bridge from Asia (see the amazingly enlightening book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles Mann), it is very likely they were carrying with them, a Calabash or at least some Calabash seeds. Radiocarbon dating indicates that bottle gourds were present in the Americas by 10,000 years ago and widespread by 8,000 years ago. Some of the specimens studied by a research team were not only the oldest bottle gourds ever found but also quite possibly the oldest plant DNA ever analyzed. The newest of their archaeological samples, a specimen found in Kentucky, was just 1,000 years old — suggesting the gourds were used in the New World as containers for at least 9,000 years.

The Calabash can be cooked just as one would cook zucchini squash. The plant is a vine and large in size. The leaf, tendrils and growth tips are used as a vegetable for soups and stir-fry. The fruit can be large, up to three feet, but is usually picked at an early stage before seed develop, at a foot or so in length.

So my project was this: create a large, thirty-five feet long, vegetable Dragon in my backyard landscape from scrap wood and old pieces of hog-wire panels to demonstrate how easy it can be to grow this very huge plant. I think kids would love the adventure of growing the plant since seeing it grow is reminiscent story of Jack and the Beanstalk.

It was really easy since the feed-seed store gave me a sample pack of seeds. I took a pick ax to an old vegetable garden area covered in weeds, and dug a one-foot circle of soil up and planted the seed. Nothing fancy: just turned the soil over. I then mulched the ten feet diameter area around the planted area with old cardboard boxes from Wal-Mart to smother out the existing grass and weeds. I built the structure in about an hour or two and fed the plants regularly (ok, it wasn’t really regularly, it was when I felt like it), and tied the vine like I used to do at the Lee Smith’s tomato farm back in the day so the vine could climb to the top of the “dragon’s” humps. So far, in my first two pickings, I’ve gotten about forty pounds of calabash (if you want some, just holler).

I like to cook it in a dish that is common in the Islanos fishing communities of south Louisiana. Its basically smothered Calabash with shrimp or ground beef(or any other meat) served over rice. Its one of my favorite working-class meals. But you could make any number of dishes with it without meat: a vegetarian Cacuzza soup, perhaps?

(click on photos to enlarge)

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above: Ravi Shankar taught George Harrison how to play the sitar (made from a Calabash)

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Above: west Africans take part in an annual fishing event using nets to catch the fish and the rounded Calabash to hold them

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above: before the turn of the twentieth century, tobacco pipes made from Calabash were very popular (Sherlock Holmes used one)

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above: Italian Gardener’s Association Cacuzza Squash Drill Team in parade, Los Gatos, Ca.

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Above: Cucuzzi making its way up the “dragon’s” leg

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the “dragon” in full regalia

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the flower is about three or four inches in diameter. a night bloomer, pollinated by moths

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Cacuzza, going into production mode, just getting cranked-up in September

…….good day, Folks!

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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