Boliou Hall overlooking prairie restoration at Carleton College
An ongoing conversation on PRAIRIEFORM has centered around the recurring persona non grata of maintenance, and how landscapes of increasing botanical complexity are oftentimes poorly maintained (which then begs the question of, Is there a point?). One of the more successful examples of a lawn-to-prairie conversion on a large scale is the Carleton College campus, where, since 1978, the college in conjunction with the Cowling Arboretum, has been turning over swaths of the outer areas of the campus into restored prairie, and oak savannah. There will ultimately be 140 acres of restored prairie within the lower arboretum along the campus grounds. Within the more formal areas of the campus, planting beds now consist almost primarily of uber-en-vogue-but-reliable prairie faves: schizachyrium scoparium, diervilla lonicera, and sporobolus heterolepis. What is most noticeable within these restorations and plantings is that they have been impeccably maintained – through skilled weeding, and prescribed burns. Rather than use merely run-of-the-mill lawn maintenance crews, students, and staff at the Arboretum play an integral role in the maintenance of these prairie and savannah zones.
The juxtaposition of these wilder zones against and within the formality of the campus and its architecture could not produce lovelier results. They firmly root the campus in its place and have graduated the campus away from the tired English-garden approach to planting where every campus outside of New England attempts to trick you into thinking you actually are in New England. For the botanical-historical-curious who are in Minnesota, who are Minnesota-adjacent, or who might be visiting Minneapolis, a daytrip and stroll through the Carleton College campus is well worth the journey.