PRAIRIEFORM will be heading to Minneapolis to get cracking on the installation of phases two and three of several landscape design projects there. Stay tuned for photos of the installation work in progress, as well as missives from the great wide-open North.

Plant of the week

For an electric-blue swath of color, coupled with a feathery texture, nothing does it better than Helictotrichon sempervirens / Blue Oat Grass. Hardy down to Zone 4a, this grass is tough, drought-tolerant, and, as always, low on fuss. And, for people who have been frustrated with the short lifespan of Festuca glauca, Blue Oat Grass makes the perfect, long-lived alternative. The key to success with this grass is good drainage and sun. Amend the soil with organic matter and a cactus-like mix when planting and you should have good luck. This is a cool-season grass and thus will grow in spring and fall (or winter and spring in the Southwest) but will go dormant during the hot summer months. Just prior to the growing season, cut the grass back to about an inch above the ground to encourage fresh new growth; otherwise, the plant can become overwhelmed with dead blades. For those in Minnesota, stop by the Zenith Avenue and Wooddale Avenue landscapes this spring to see Blue Oat Grass in all its glory.

Heirloom DIY

The designs of PRAIRIEFORM very much seek to locate that intersection between aesthetics and resources, where the design packs in the biggest visual bang for the smallest natural resource buck. This never means a dogmatic “must plant native” approach. It means a design approach that is infinitely more nuanced and always varied. Occasionally, the designs, where requested, may include a vegetable bed here, a groovy chicken coop there. Even in the smallest vegetable plot tucked within a landscape, you can produce an amazing amount of stuff.

When I had a plot at the Manzanita Community Garden in Silver Lake (shown above), it was mildly insane to see how much you could produce in such a small amount of space (my plot measured probably no more than 4′ x 8′). The most fantastic part of the whole thing, however, may have been that I started growing all of my vegetables from heirloom seeds. I got mine from Seedsavers Exchange, whose seed catalog is extensive and full of stories behind each variety of vegetable. Tomatoes passed down from generations of Hungarian immigrants from a remote part of Hungary; varieties of squash unavailble in any grocery store, passed down from generations of French immigrants who insisted that this was the best squash ever.

Nowadays, everyone is jumping on the grow-it-yourself bandwagon (even Triscuit is promoting DIY gardening). The best part about this bandwagon, though, is that it seats everyone. One of the coolest people pursuing her own grow-it-yourself endeavors is Dig-It-Yourself’s (the new DIY!) Jessica Rinks, who has transformed her little Chicago backyard into a veritable agricultural hotbed of DIY goodness.

Rinks grows so much in her small space that she is now bringing her bounty to Chicago diners around the city. In no small help to her newly patented “vegetable bounty resume” she has begun working with restaurants who are seeking to purchase their produce from as close to the Loop as possible, so as to serve the freshest, tastiest dishes around, with minimal impact on the environment. This is a trend that deserves to become not simply a trend but a lasting approach to living and eating. Here’s to 21st Century Heirloom DIY.