Everyday excursions in the urban landscape

Wooddale landscape comes alive

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Photo of the Wooddale Avenue Landscape taken on 7/26/11, daylilies in full bloom, plants all grown up

Nothing can be more satisfying than observing a landscape grow and evolve across the years. You plan for certain colors to coincide at particular points during the season, while other elements are left up to chance. The result is surprise and the opportunity to marvel. While we hadn’t planned on all of these daylilies blooming at once (they were actually intended to bloom separately to provide summer-long color), the unexpected explosion of simultaneous color is a sight to behold. To see more photos, visit our Facebook page, and while you are there, “like” us.

Plant of the Week

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Penstemon grandiflorus (photo courtesy of the Denver Botanic Gardens)

We are always on the lookout for plants whose foliage can provide visual and structural interest long after its flowers have faded. Add in good drought-tolerance and some wildlife value, and it should fit comfortably within our botanical arsenal. Penstemon grandiflorus (or, large-flowered beardtongue) is such a plant. Its waxy grey-green leaves can provide a shot of color contrast and coarser texture within a landscape of deeper greens and fine foliage. Its purple-pink flowers shoot up in vertical spikes in June and work well as companions within large plantings of grasses or other plants with feathery foliage, such as little bluestem. Once established, the plant likes no supplemental water, content to survive and thrive on its own in crummy gravely or sandy soil. Avoid clay soils for this plant, however, as it resents poor drainage.

Make music while mowing

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Summer Jubilee Preview – the american lawn, and ways to cut it from machine project on Vimeo.

The American lawn and its transformation are a recurring theme within our work and on the PRAIRIEFORM blog. We rarely propose removing a lawn entirely, as it can lead to tricky design problems of going from a hyper-formal to a too-informal space. So, then you still have some lawn to mow and the accompanying drudgery of doing so. This art installation proposes to add some music to the drudgery, to lighten the mood and make the most of a necessary task, mowing the Walker Art Center Lawn.

Of rain, rabbits, and gold

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Gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia hirta) in a PRAIRIEFORM landscape

The element of change and surprise is something we try to infuse into every landscape we create, so that at any given point during the year one can discover something new within it. The same is true for how a landscape evolves across the years. While we can to a certain extent plan this evolution into a landscape, there are wildcard factors such as temperature and precipitation that can radically alter the landscape from year to year. Take, for example, gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia hirta), whose shots of deep gold and burnt orange can be profuse or sparse depending on what has gone on that year. What went on last year was bunnies, and lots of them. What also went on was not much rain. Thus, any irrigated to semi-irrigated landscape area was an endless dinner of uber-washed field greens for bunnies, with gloriosa daisies being a food of choice for them. The result was a virtual absence of the deep golds and oranges that we are now seeing this year in the landscape, as, this year, we have seen much rain, and a profusion of clover and other greens that bunnies seem to love. As a result, they are not tempted to move their way into more cultivated environs and mow down our labors of botanical love. What we enjoy vis-a-vis this phenomenon is not so much that we have more gloriosa daisies (among other plants) to stare at this year, but that it is a reminder that designers may have some control over the landscape, but not complete control. A nice humbling lesson for a profession that frequently gets all too caught up in its own myth-making. So, go out and enjoy the golds of this summer and know that they might be rabbit food next summer, which makes them all the more precious.

Creating a monarch loop

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Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), impossibly orange, in a PRAIRIEFORM landscape

Early July signals the blooming of butterfly weed, and, simultaneously, the opportunity to attract monarchs to the landscape. Monarchs lay their eggs on many kinds of milkweed, but we like butterfly milkweed/weed best, as its form is relatively tidy, it requires little to no supplemental water, and the impossible orange of its flowers is almost unreal. In order to attract butterflies to the plant in the first place, they need a source of nectar. Several plants fit the bill for this. Our preferred ones are meadow blazing star (Liatris ligulistylis), Brazilian verbena (Verbena bonariensis), and Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum). With these plants in place, and a milkweed too, you have created a sort of monarch loop whereby habitat and food are provided for the monarch during each of the stages of its life. As the recommended plants lean to the tidier side form-wise, this kind of butterfly loop would not be out of place within a more formal front yard landscape. For more photos of butterfly weed in the landscape, check out our Facebook page. While you are at us, “Like” us!

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