Sunday, August 4, 2013

Prairie Rescue

Last week I was invited to a surprising space in the country club area of Lincoln, a typical older home on a small lot. As one would expect in this portion of town, each home nestled among mature tree-lined streets has perfectly manicured landscapes full of lush green lawn. Certainly picturesque, and certainly high maintenance and of less value to wildlife.

When I stepped around back of a home on 30th street, made my way around the secluded sidewalk hugging a detached garage, I was amazed at the backyard. A sunny expanse of around 1,500' filled with blooming prairie flowers.


You don't often see this sort of thing. So alive, so colorful, so lush -- more of a perfect pairing with the architecture of the home than the lawn next door. Insects were literally dancing on the horizon of petals. The coneflowers were certainly going bananas. And milkweed! Everywhere! God save the fledgling monarch butterfly! This space is at least five years old, and you can see how happy it is, established and doing its prairie thing well (though the flowers have shaded out the few shortgrasses I saw).

I was invited here by the landscaper hired to tidy up and prepare the space so the house could be put up for sale, but the homeowner is inclined to mow it down, spray it, and sod over this wildlife mecca. With dwindling populations of monarch butterflies, and other pollinating insects that give us 70% of our food, I can't imagine this space being anything other than a literal oasis. And no lawn means no mowing or fertilizing or wasting water.


Yes, it needs some tlc. A pathway through the flowers would give it some structure; a mulched or paved seating area / patio near the back door (instead of a formal iris bed) would make it a welcoming outdoor space to sit in and absorb the atmosphere; and on the west side behind the garage underneath tall trees is an opportunity for a shade or meditation garden with sculpture or a water feature. But all those things would be pointless without the mini meadow.


I saw wild quinine. I never see wild quinine in home landscapes. My prairie nerd radar was beeping like crazy. These plants filter groundwater, improve soil fertility, are adapted to the boom / bust cycles of Nebraska drought, bring in tons of wildlife, and need attention only in early spring when they should be cut down or burned. If you know of anyone interested in a home with some good prairie landscape bones, I can hook you up -- the place is alive and thriving.

10 comments:

scottweberpdx said...

That is the MOST glorious home garden I've seen in ages...I would move there in a heartbeat. I wonder if they know what a gem it is?

Gaia Gardener: said...

It sounds incredible! What a gem - and your suggestions sound eminently reasonable to make it more "saleable". (They sound much better than just killing it and sodding over it.) There are many "normal" landscapes out there. People are getting more attuned to the need to help the planet every day. I say leave the backyard meadow and highlight it as a big advantage to the house.

Corner Gardener Sue said...

I hope they use your ideas, Benjamin. It would be a shame to replace it with sod. Will you get to see it if they fix it up and keep the prairie plants? If so, please update us.

Sandra said...

it is glorious! Any way you can share the address?

Anonymous said...

I'll take it! The garden, that is, not the home. I'm not prepared to move from MI to NE. But if that garden could be transported to my MI yard, I'd be a happy camper :-)

Benjamin Vogt said...

3145 S. 30th.

Mary said...

"My prairie nerd radar was beeping like crazy." = best garden blogging line I've read in awhile. :-)

Anonymous said...

Even 'paving' could be done with permeable concrete/stepping stones, to lessen the environmental footprint. I want to go there and sit while I read my Doug Tallamy and Richard Louv...

ProfessorRoush said...

Good ideas to help them. Of course, it would help if they simply remove the wild lettuce in the background along with some of the other opportunists...to give it a more "garden" than "weed-patch" look.

Benjamin Vogt said...

I love all your comments, guys! I know this is a lame blanket response, but seriously, good good good. Ayone want to move to Lincoln? Dining choices are improving and Whole Food is set to open soon.