PRAIRIEFORM

Everyday excursions in the urban landscape

Plants as magnets for the good and bad

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Observing the Joppa Avenue Landscape in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for bees, butterflies, and bunnies
Lounging and observing the laboratory

The occasional sad reality of doing landscape design is that not all landscapes you create will survive long-term. Ownership can change, and maintenance can be spotty. At the very least, you can expect that some plants will die or be less successful than planned due to circumstances outside of your control, and the result will be a landscape different than what you had envisioned. In our case we never could have anticipated the bumper crop of rabbits that seemed to emerge in Minneapolis in the summer of 2009, or how that bumper crop would subside by 2014. Nor could we have anticipated how much the monarch and honeybee populations would dwindle during that same period. Fortunately, we’ve had a living laboratory of sorts in which to observe all of these phenomena long-term and to see what plants are bunny magnets, and which are monarch and bee magnets.

Here is our run-down:

BEE/POLLINATOR MAGNETS
Nepeta x faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’ / Walker’s Low catmint: Blooms for at least a month (reblooms after a mid-summer haircut), with the bees (bumble, honey, and solitary, not to mention hoverflies, hummingbird moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds) on it from sunrise to sunset
Aster oolentangiensis / sky-blue aster: Very good late-summer nectar/pollen source
Solidago speciosa / showy goldenrod: Also an ideal late-summer nectar/pollen source
Diervilla sessilifolia ‘Butterfly’ / Butterfly bush honeysuckle: Bumblebees love the little yellow flowers; lightly cut back after blooming for a second bloom
Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Longin’ / ‘Longin’ Russian sage: Bees of all varieties love this plant, and it blooms from July virtually til the end of summer
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ / Autumn Joy stonecrop: Amazing late-summer nectar/pollen source

MONARCH MAGNETS
Liatris ligulistylis / meadow blazing star: They bloom, and the monarchs come. . . in droves; it’s as simple as that
Eutrochium purpurea / Joe Pye weed: Huge, tall, and full of monarchs once they bloom in July
Verbena bonariensis / Brazilian verbena: An annual that blooms from June (depending on when you plant it) until the end of summer and thus provides a very consistent nectar source for monarchs, which flock to it

RABBIT MAGNETS
Echinacea purpurea / purple coneflower: Numbers dwindled down to almost none by 2013, have replanted new ones and caged them
Panicum virgatum / switchgrass: Ultimately disappeared after two years and space taken over by other plants
Sporobolus heterolepis / prairie dropseed: Initially took a huge hit from the rabbits but now seems to be doing better now that it’s been in the ground longer (maybe rabbits don’t like crusty old grasses?)
Koeleria macrantha / June grass: Suffers some damage by rabbits each year in the spring, becomes less attractive to them by July
Rudbeckia hirta / gloriosa daisy: Numbers dwindled down to almost none by 2012; some that had self-sown in cages around other plants managed to survive, and now the landscape is full of them again (but there are also fewer rabbits now)
Liatris spicata / dense blazing star: Caged them and the rabbits have since kept away; landscape now dense enough that the plant has self-sown here and there, and the seedlings seem to be protected by other plants (that is a very loose hypothesis based on casual observation)
Aster oolentangiensis / sky-blue aster: Some were gnawed down to the ground and died; remaining ones caged and are now thriving and self-sowing with a bit too much aplomb
Liatris ligulistylis / prairie blazing star: A choice meal of rabbits of all shapes and sizes; the plants need cages around them if they are to survive a rabbit’s dinnertime whims

Just to be clear and in layman’s terms: bee and monarch magnets will bring you happiness; rabbit magnets, without the proper protection, will bring you sadness.

John Kamp

With rains come blooms

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echinops lateritia in bloom at the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens

With all the rain this year, the cacti at the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens are putting on quite the show right now. If you have never been, now is the time to go. Not only do you get to see these insanely huge cactus flowers live and in the flesh, but you get to experience sweeping views down a canyon and out into the Bay, with the Golden Gate Bridge just shy of the horizon. And there are newts o plenty swimming in the pond in the Asian Garden area. You will be stupefied by their gentle cuteness. What’s not to love?

John Kamp

Weeds in eighth-century Japan

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An excerpt from the Collection of Ten-Thousand Leaves, an the oldest collection of Japanese poetry, and which contains a poem that talks about weeds
Excerpt from Collection of Ten-Thousand Leaves, courtesy of Alive in Tokyo

Collection of Ten-Thousand Leaves is the oldest known anthology of Japanese poetry in existence. It was compiled in the middle of the eighth century and contains some unexpectedly relevant glimpses into the lives of ordinary and not-so-ordinary Japanese people, who are living and going about their lives in so much of the same ways that we do now. Given our recent work with Vacant Lands, we could not help but notice and be drawn to one poem in particular, a dialogue poem that makes clear mention of weeds and their real existence in the writer’s life. Beyond the mention of weeds, it is a dear and lovely poem to boot.

It reads as follows:

Had I foreknown my sweet lord’s coming,
My garden, now so rank with wild weeds,
I had strewn it with pearls!

What use to me a house strewn with pearls?
The cottage hidden in wild weeds
Is enough, if I am with you.

From Keene, Donald ed. Anthology of Japanese Literature. New York: Grove Press, 1955.

John Kamp

Weekend viewing

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Imagine if human pregnancy also involved and required custom-building a house for the newborn babies – and not with the help of a contractor or designer, but on your own, with your own hands and with your own gathered materials. This is in essence what a hummingbird does in anticipation of the arrival of its young; every mother hummingbird is her own architect. Check out the video and marvel for yourself, as it is something to marvel over. Happy viewing.

Vacant lands

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Vacant Lands study area in Stockholm, Sweden
Vacant Lands study area in Stockholm, SE

We have just launched our newest landscape project, Vacant Lands, and we are, of course, super excited. Vacant Lands is a citizen-science-based project in which we will be taking a microscope up to all of the plants growing within vacant lots, cracks, and neglected spaces of two study areas, one in Berkeley/Oakland (aka Broakland), CA, and one in Stockholm, SE. The project posits that particular ecologies exist within cities that did not exist 100 years ago; they are the result of years of human intervention that have woven through and plowed over preexisting natural systems. Thus we have streets and sidewalks, and reflected heat and building-altered wind patterns; we have changing urban wildlife populations and imported plant species; and, of course, we have climate change. The thing is, we’ve never really bothered to look at what these new ecologies actually look like and what they are made of. To these ends, we’ll be holding a series of open-to-all exploratory missions within both study areas where we will be going out and documenting all things botanical and unintentional. Our first exploratory mission will be held within the Broakland Study Area in March. Please visit the Vacant Lands website for updated info and details.

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