PRAIRIEFORM

Everyday excursions in the urban landscape

Hope

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dwarf fritillary butterfly caterpillars on passion vine in Oakland, California
Dwarf fritillary butterfly caterpillars on passion vine

In 21st-century California, it is increasingly a luxury of kingly proportions to have a yard of one’s own, especially within one of the state’s major metropolitan areas. As such, container gardening is the only option for many of us, a type of gardening that presents its own set of challenges, not the least of which being watering, as even the most drought-tolerant of plants will require much more watering in a container than they would in the ground. Maintenance reservations aside, I bit the bullet some months ago and started transforming the fire escape/balcony we have here in Oakland into a pollinator garden that is ideally groovy to look at and hang out in as well. To these ends, I planted, among other ‘tings, three kinds of passion vine back in April, hoping to attract the dwarf fritillary butterfly, whose food of choice is the passion vine. Well, as of a month ago, I discovered tiny orange eggs on the vines, and then two weeks ago, these eggs hatched into the tiniest of caterpillars. Since then, the caterpillar children have eaten to their hearts’ content and grown exponentially bigger by the day.

It would be a cliche to say that these are uncertain times we are living in, but, well, the cliche rings true. And in such uncertain times, inviting wildlife intro your landscape in whatever way possible can be a tonic to the lunancy about, serving as a small beacon of hope. What’s not to marvel over that a tiny butterfly would fly around and somehow locate a little patch of passion vine in the middle of dense, urbanized Oakland and decide to make that small patch of green home for its butterfly kids? It is marvel-worthy indeed.

John Kamp

Wantonly Weedy Wednesday

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Acacia melanoxylon, or black acacia, found growing between curb and concrete on Adeline Street in Berkeley, California, completely irrigation-free and mid-drought
An Acacia melanoxylon / black acacia seedling found growing in the crack between a curb and a concrete slab in Berkeley, CA

While hated by many for its invasiveness, it’s difficult not to marvel for just a moment at the multi-toned, variegated, and delicate beauty of an Acacia melanoxylon / black acacia seedling. You might marvel even more if you knew that this particular seedling shown above was found growing between the curb and a concrete slab of an unirrigated median on busy, traffic-soaked Adeline Street in south Berkeley (otherwise known as Quadrant B of the Vacant Lands Broakland Study Area). This is true tenacity.

How this seedling made its way to this particular spot is anyone’s guess, but an 1858 seed catalog might hold the key. It was brought from Australia to England in 1819 and was one of the first Australian plants offered for sale in California. William Walker was the first Californian to make it commercially available in his 1858 Golden Gate Nursery catalog. And now the tree can be found growing not only in California, but also in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and the continental US – a vast range in large part due to the plant’s knack for self-sowing with abandon and being able to grow and thrive within the toughest of conditions – from drought, to smog, to everything in between. Far from being a mere survivor, the tree is actually prized for its wood, both as durable lumber and as the raw material for something more decorative – say a chair, or, perhaps, a chaise.

Final tidbit of Acacia melanoxylon trivia: it goes by many more accessible, some might say sassier, names: Sally wattle, lightwood, hickory, mudgerabah, Tasmanian blackwood, black wattle, or blackwood acacia.

John Kamp

Update from the irrigation-free homefront

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irrigation-free landscape, longfellow, minneapolis, prairieform, drought-tolerant, landscapes, 2013
The Irrigation-Free Landscape, late May 2013

The Irrigation-Free Landscape has awakened from its extended winter slumber and is coming back to life slowly but surely, as everything has been late to come up this year. However, with ample amounts of rainfall, the cool-season grasses and sedges have been growing at a clip, and the Salvias and lavenders and other plants that take on more grey/blue tones as spring segues into summer are nearly as green as the grasses. Little is in flower save a few Allium bulbs that are just about to bloom, but the Salvias should be on their way shortly. The native perennials of the prairie are slow to bloom and won’t come on until late June/early July, which is all the more reason why we plant plants like Salvias and catmints and the like – for early bloom color and good early food sources for pollinators.

As a comparison of how the landscape has changed and will change color- and form-wise over time, below is a photo taken last August from virtually the same spot.

Weekend viewing

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Christy Ten Eyck is just one of the best landscape designers/architects in this mythical country of so much so-so, throwaway stuff. These projects solve so many problems of sustainability and water conservation in one fell swoop and all the while are unbelievably beautiful spaces you just want to be in. The video is not an uber-polished/hyper-edited YouTube-style video, so don’t expect a crazy fast pace. But then again, these landscapes are not to be looked at quickly in passing but rather spaces to be in and explore. Lovely lovely loveliness.

An unfloppable bluestem

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little bluestem jazz, prairieform, landscape design, drought-tolerant, grasses

For the landscape work we do in Minneapolis we work within a very limited, cold-weather-mandated plant palatte. Limitations placed on creative work should be seen as opportunities to push envelopes and tackle challenges, not as limitations in and of themselves. In any case, when a new plant does come along that can survive a Minnesota winter and look good in spite of whatever other weather curveball might be thrown at it, we do do a proverbial dance and say, “Hot,” or something like that. So, we’re doing that now, as there’s a new plant to add to the Zone-4-hardy, drought-tolerant-but-not-depressing arsenal of groovy MN-friendly plants. It’s called Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Jazz’ / little bluestem ‘Jazz.’ We love little bluestem for its mid-height vertical featheriness, and its lovely color transformation from fresh green in early summer to blue-green, to red-tinged, to bronze. Our only complaint other than that it does come up late (which is unavoidable as a warm-season grass), is that it has a tendency to flop over later in the year and can get taller than you might want. Enter ‘Jazz,’ a variety that will only grow to 2′ and will not flop over, even as the growing season progresses. Sounds like even a good choice for the front of the border or just behind it. We shall be using it with gusto this year.

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