Monarch zoo

Monarch on meadow blazing star

We can’t help but modestly gloat a bit right now, as the monarch loop we had written about a few weeks back is starting to pay off. There are now almost 15 monarchs living in the Joppa Avenue Landscape, hanging out mainly on the Liatris ligulistylis / meadow blazing star, but equally enjoying the Verbena bonariensis / Brazilian verbena, and the Eupatorium purpureum / Joe Pye weed. It’s a veritable monarch zoo, and it flittingly rocks the house.

Sensory evolution and the landscape

Common damselfly (courtesy of the BBC)

We recently posted on the PRAIRIEFORM website a section of before / after photos of some of the landscapes we have designed and installed. While the photos do indeed give a clear visual retrospective of how the landscapes have filled in and evolved over time, they don’t necessarily include how the sensory experience within these landscapes has evolved over time for the visitor to that landscape. Part of that sensory experience includes scent and fragrance, part of it includes the awareness of movement – particularly the movement of pollinators and insects darting in and out of the landscape. One of the greatest additions of movement to these landscapes has been the damselflies. The petit, perhaps more graceful, cousin to the dragonfly, these slender, brightly colored beings hover delicately throughout the landscape, clasping to blades of little bluestem, or spires of Russian sage, for a little r&r and presumably to scope out lunch. While delicate in appearance, damselflies are succinct carnivores and dine on some of the more nuisance bugs we might otherwise swat. For more information on damselflies and how you can participate in locating hotspots of them, click here.

Of rain, rabbits, and gold

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

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!

The artificially two-sided debates rage on

Souther Salazar

It increasingly seems that the US is fast becoming the epicenter of artificially two-sided debates where no grey areas exist. Taxes vs. cuts, native vs. non-native, private vs. public, “productive” landscapes vs. ornamental ones, urban design vs. gentrification, red vs. blue. It is as if we as a nation have become completely and wholly incapable of thinking for ourselves and of drawing our own conclusions about the reality we live in. We decide on an “agenda,” and then we pick and choose what we want to hear so as to reinforce that agenda, grey areas be damned. The latest and greatest is an article in the NYTimes that extolls the virtues of non-native plants and draws comparisons between the native plant movement, and nativism with regards to race and immigration.

What could have been a tonic to the dogma of the native-plant movement instead reads like the same but in reverse, a dogmatic manifesto of the non-native, invasive movement. Instead of writing about, say, ‘blue glow’ agave and how it, while not native to California, is a lovely, drought-tolerant plant that won’t run amuk in the wild, the author picks the most invasive non-natives he can think of, eucalyptus, and ice plant, and writes about how great they are, despite the fact that they choke out all other native vegetation within their reach. As such, the essay reads more as provocation than invitation. It ruffles the feathers of the native plant purists, while making those on the fence ask themselves why they would plant ice plant in their garden if it’s just going to take over. No new converts to a cause, just fodder for each side to further polarize an already artificially two-sided debate.

We need to come up with a a name for these artificial debates: Twinkie debates? Aspartame debates? Vanallin debates? Velour debates? Chime in with suggestions.