Voilà le grid!

The final grid for the #ButterflyRedux landscape - where the colors indicate plant species, the squares location, and the number plant quantity (one square = 1 plant unless otherwise noted)
The final grid for the #ButterflyRedux landscape – where the colors indicate plant species, the squares location, and the number plant quantity (one square = one plant unless otherwise noted)

Everything’s been tallied, noted, filled in: 28 plant species in total within the #ButterflyRedux landscape, and 138 plants in total. The most dominant species thus far is the Zizea aurea, while the least dominant so far are Asclepias speciosa, Betula poulifolia ‘White Spire’, Hylotelephium spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’, Liatris aspera, Liatris pychostachya, Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’, Pycnanthemum verticillatum var. pilosum, Schizachyrium scoparium, Silene regia, and Vernonia fasciculata (all are thus far single plants within the landscape).

Come May of next year, we will be repeating the process all over again – laying down the grid, noting the species, location, and quantity. More likely than not, a new grid of a different composition will emerge, as the landscape will undoubtedly have already evolved – some plants multiplying, some staying in place, and some perhaps saying, “So long.” Anyway, stay tuned for more updates on the project.

-John Kamp

Weed or native plant?

In a landscape of native plants and young seedlings, it can be a true chore to tell the difference between the ones you want and the weeds you don't
In a landscape of native plants and young seedlings, it can be a true chore to tell the difference between the ones you want and the weeds you don’t. This is what the #ButterflyRedux landscape looked like pre-weeding.

There is many a native plant that when young (or even when not in bloom) looks like a weed – or could be confused for one. Even though I’ve been a landscape designer doing design/build for 10 years, there are times where even I’m not sure if the young plant I’m looking at is supposed to be there or is a volunteer of the weedy variety. This reality poses real challenges not simply for burgeoning gardeners who are looking to invite in a bit more of the wild but also for larger landscapes that require maintenance crews to keep the landscapes relatively weed-free. A certain level of skill and experience is required to discern the difference between emerging plants you want and the weeds you don’t, and a certain level of care is required as well, as these young plants are oftentimes relatively fragile and simply won’t take well to the traditional mow-and-blow treatment. Thus it is little wonder that default for so many landscapes great and small are cultivars, as their intentionality is readily apparent, and thus they are unlikely to be accidentally ripped out by a maintenance crew or an everyday gardener.

You wouldn't be scolded for confusing this hyssop seedling for stinging nettle or another such weed. They look extremely similar.
You wouldn’t be scolded for confusing this hyssop seedling for stinging nettle or another such weed. They look extremely similar.

In native-plant catalogues and in photos accompanying purchased, potted native plants, we most often are only presented with a pretty photo of the plant in bloom and close up. As such, we can be left in the dark when it comes to seedlings of the plants and what they look like when emerging. Additionally, we are left in the dark as to the overall form of the plant when it isn’t in bloom, thereby complicating the design of a landscape, as that form will be what people perceive most of the year, with the bloom merely lasting a couple of weeks.

A photo like this should accompany either a maintenance guide or the photo of the mature version of the plant. In this way, it can be clear that this is to be left and not pulled come spring or when the plant emerges.

Whether it be for the training of maintenance crews for a larger landscape, or for just your everyday gardener or designer of smaller landscapes, it is really high time that the photo of a plant – in particular those that could be confused for weeds – be accompanied by another photo of the plant when just emerging and young. As such, those maintaining or managing the landscape can know what to pull and what not to pull, and we’ll end up with fuller, more thriving landscapes in the process.

John Kamp

Project #ButterflyRedux

Some of the plants that will form the backbone of the Prairieform #ButterflyRedux landscape
Some of the plants that will be forming the backbone of the #ButterflyRedux landscape

In the realm of authentically exciting news, we’ve begun work on our newest landscape project, dubbed the #ButterflyRedux and which involves retooling and reworking what has amounted to a well-intentioned but hot-mess-looking butterfly garden. Of course, never ones to just plant something pretty and call it a day, the #ButterflyRedux project is a thoroughly two-layered endeavor:

Layer 1: Explore how self-sowing native plants and more tried-but-true garden stalwarts and cultivars can be combined within one – ideally harmonious – landscape.

Layer 2: Serve as a US- and Minnesota-based research site as part of English writer and plantsman Noel Kingsbury’s ongoing and extremely important work on how such landscapes of self-sowing plants and what I will call “stay-in-place” cultivars evolve over time.

Over the next week, we will be retooling the existing landscape and giving it some good bones (see some of those bones in the photo above), and then we will be laying a grid atop the finished product to then document the species and location of every plant within the space. This grid we will then be laying over the landscape every spring to see how the composition of the landscape evolves over time. Kingsbury’s (and by extension our) intention is to really explore and observe how horticulture and ecology intermingle in such a landscape, and then to generate a set of data and observations on how dense plantings can reach a sort of natural equilibrium that maximizes visual heft and impact, creates a carbon-capturing ground cover, and minimizes maintenance.

Notes from the planning stages of the Prairieform #ButterflyRedux Project
Notes from the planning stages of the #ButterflyRedux Project

Pertaining to Layer 1: Heretofore, many a wildlife garden has been treated as seeming sacrifice for a cause: who cares if it looks weedy, as it’s doing so much good for the world? Additionally, mixing cultivars into a native-plant landscape has been seen as somehow “weakening” the value of the space. We are thoroughly of the opinion that wildlife appeal and aesthetics shouldn’t and don’t need to be mutually exclusive but that achieving this two-pronged landscape requires mixing cultivars with native plants. As such, we will be exploring what techniques can be employed with varying shapes, colors, textures, and forms to create a landscape that can read as an intentional garden space on the one hand, and as an actual attractor of wildlife on the other. Our ultimate aim of this endeavor is to generate a series of key principles and how-tos for creating a new kind of wildlife-friendly garden that is rooted as much in human psychology and how we perceive landscapes and space and their intentionality and beauty as it is in attracting the beneficial insects and critters that we are increasingly realizing are integral to the overall health of our world.

You may read further blog posts/updates on the project HERE and/or follow the work on Instagram.

Noel Kingsbury’s blog site can be found HERE.

John Kamp

What else does irrigation-free look like six years later?

The first irrigation-free landscape, six years on and looking wild and amazing and just as it should
The first irrigation-free landscape, six years on and looking wild and amazing and just as it should

Just another photo from our visit to the first irrigation-free landscape six years later. It was so fascinating to see how the landscape had taken on a life of its own, and how the wild and exuberant self-sowing plants had mixed in with the more stay-in-place cultivated ones. There were even new arrivals to the landscape that weren’t weeds, something we had never seen before. Anyway, happy Friday.

-John Kamp

Diversity does not mean ‘native only’

nepeta x faasenii 'walker's low', prairieform, joppa avenue landscape, pollinators, diversity, native plants, landscapes, landscape design
Nepeta x faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’ with a mix of other cultivars and prairie natives in the Joppa Avenue Landscape

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that pollinators are drawn to areas with a diverse variety of flowering plants they enjoy dining on. The National Academy of Sciences recently released a report on the matter, and the findings further underscore the importance of plant diversity for encouraging pollinator subsistence and survival. However, some have seen fit to take this evidence and create a causal relationship that the research conclusions do not: plant only native plants, as if ‘diversity’ and ‘native plants’ were one and of the same. They are not. Rather, diversity, simply implies a large array of plant species that, in this case, are concentrated in one area that pollinators like. Plant 100 plants endemic to your region but then add one cultivar that pollinators also love, and just by sheer numbers you have created more plant diversity in your landscape than one with just those 100 native plants alone.

We take Nepeta x faasenii ‘Walker’s Low’ as a case in point. In the Joppa Avenue Landscape (which has become a bit of a testing grounds for the plants we choose to use or not use in other landscapes we do) we have planted over 15 Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ interspersed with other cultivars, and plants of the Minnesota prairie. Since the Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ began blooming over two weeks ago (while none of the plants of the Minnesota prairie we have planted have yet), we have observed in considerable numbers the following flocking to the plants: over five kinds of soliary bee, various varieties of hoverfly, honeybees, multiple varieties of bumble bee, hummingbird moths, hummingbirds, ants, and pollinating wasps. And no, we didn’t somehow trick them into coming to the plants; they came of their own accord. The plants have served both as an early source of color and a wonderful stand-in for pollinators before the huge flush of native plants of the prairie make their big emphemeral show in July.

One could make the argument that cultivars and exotics end up “crowding out” native species and thus should be avoided. We do buy this argument in the case of a habitat restoration project; in a garden or landscape settting, however, we do not. Gardens and landscapes are by their very nature intentional spaces and the human hand in their creation is real and always evident (even however slight at times). As such they are enhanced or magnified versions of nature, containing groupings and mixings of plants designed to please the eye and that would not otherwise occur in a purely natural setting left to its own devices. Cultivars and exotics are not breaking any proverbial “rules” by their presence in the landscape. Additionally, It is a misperception that most cultivars and exotics are invasive and/or weedy. University of Minnesota Associate Professor of Horticulture Jeff Gillman conceded this point recently in a column on native plants in the StarTribune. “There are many exotics, such as Japanese maples and most crops, that are well-behaved and stay right where they’re placed,” said Gillman. Added to that list would also be Nepeta x faassenii ‘Walker’s Low.’ It won’t spontaneously take over your landscape with seedlings sprouting up everywhere but will simply grow in the place where you have planted it. And there are many more like this that are well-behaved and attract endless numbers of pollinators when many native plants of the prairie aren’t in bloom.

At the end of the day we are really advocating for people to graduate from the notion that landscapes can only be one of two things: all cultivars and exotics, or all native. As if there was nothing in between. There is, and the research on plant diversity in the landscape supports such hybrid, mixed landscapes. Finding the right mix depends on the particular landscape, the tastes of its creator, and the type of wildlife you seek to attract.

So, plant and landscape enthusiasts the world over, go forth, diversify, mix, and be merry.