Monday, August 8, 2011

My Prairie Path

     When we moved into our new house on Lake Michigan in 1998, I determined that I wanted two patches of native prairie plants, one on each side of the drive back to our house. I lovingly seeded these two areas with a prairie seed mixture I purchased and grey headed coneflower seeds I conned from a neighbor. I also got some plugs of split leaf coneflower and purchased a few other mature potted prairie plants. As recommended by prairie experts, I then overseeded with annual rye, in order to give time for the prairie seedlings to get going without competition from the weeds that would move in otherwise. Initially the area to the north of my drive was the better area with more prairie plant success. The patch on the south side was worse soil, with more clay and less topsoil. It took a lot longer for that side to get going. But the big tall prairie plants there did just exactly what they were supposed to do. They put down their long, long roots (up to 6 feet deep) and multiplied and spread. Now that is the best side. I have some trouble with invasion by thistles and crown vetch on the north side so I need to do some corrections.
"the North Prairie"

"the South Prairie" The drive to the street runs right down between them.
     My husband hates these "wild" areas and calls them "jungles." But he does me the favor of mowing both sides of the driveway every late fall to keep the trees and shrubs from invading. We live in too suburban an area to burn these patches which is what is recommended. I am told that whether you mow or burn determines what plants become the most common in your prairie in the end. So I will have a "mowed" prairie, I guess. I am not clear which plants are in which type of prairie. I do know that the split leaf yellow coneflower, the grey headed coneflower, cup plant, prairie dock, sweet black eyed susan, echinacea, rattlesnake master, Culver's root, Joe Pye Weed, wild bergamot, Monarda (beebalm), Canada golden rod, early golden rod, various asters, vervain, speedwell, evening primrose, yellow flag, Virginia creeper, yarrow, Virginia bluebells, , big blue stem, and little bluestem are my main inhabitants. I do also have some non natives which includes a fair amount of dames rocket. I plan to clean some of that out and have already killed the crown vetch. But it is indeed a tall grass prairie.
      Originally I had put some paths through these two patches, but after some years of neglect, the paths are totally overgrown. I determined this year to reopen those paths and try to do some of those invasive corrections I am talking about. We had a cool June and that allowed me to get into that north patch. I decided to dress up the entrance to the paths, by putting up symetrical white metal arbors, one on each side of the driveway. I had tried an arbor before and planted a trumpet vine next to it, but even that strong grower couldn't break through the clay, never bloomed and slowly succumbed. This year I just seeded some morning glories and sweet peas to climb them.
     To remake this path, I had to start right under the arbor, sat on the ground on my old pillow, and began to cut, pull, and spray growths to start to produce what would appear to be a path. I spread wood chips behind me as I slowly moved forward with my slash and spray technique. I swung the path this way and then that way to go around something of value growing there. I was slathered with sunscreen and insect repellent which as the day wore on made my eyes burn. Several more sessions were required. The hardest was getting through the 8 foot tall split leaf yellow coneflower patch. Those stems are an inch in diameter. As I found the old path ( by the ground fabric I had laid down fully 12 years ago), and followed it around the curves into a wooded area at the front corner of the patch, I found an infestation of buckthorn which I still have to clear. The last time I was back there, this shrubby border was made of native redtwig dogwood. Clearly the non native buckthorn is stronger and has killed out the dogwood. I will have to work on that shrub border. The "woods" consists of a colony of quaking aspen. But there is buckthorn to deal with in there as well. In the spring this woody area is covered with Virginia bluebells. When I created the path originally, the destination was a small cleared area in the "woods" surrounded by spring daffodils. I had put two Adirondack chairs back there and sometimes found this little area just 20 feet from the road but surrounded by the aspen colony a wonderful retreat. That small area still exists; I just couldn't have gotten there. Now I can! The clearing needs a little clean up. But there is a wonderful carpet of Virginia creeper that will turn a lovely red this fall.

My rejuvenated path with Monarda, rattlesnake master, and split leaf coneflowers behind.

     We have had that long drawn out hot spell and I was not able to work out there. I went out to check it out and take these photos yesterday. My path is surviving. The crown vetch has died. The Monarda is flourishing since I removed some of the golden rod that was choking it. As I swatted mosquitoes in yesterday's humidity, a humingbird dive bombed the Monarda and then actually perched on one of the 8 foot tall split leaf cone flowers. Wow! That's why I do these kind of things. My little piece of wildness!
     By the way, you might wonder why these photos have kind of a blurred artsy look to them. This was totally unintentional. As I was taking the photographs, it started to sprinkle. I guess the lens of the camara must have gotten a little moist. I should have really come back in and cleaned the lens and then gone back out after it stopped raining. But by this time, I was bit up by mosquitoes and I decided to use what I had for this blog. I don't know. I think the watercolor somewhat abstract effect is enchanting so I decided to mount them here. What do you think?

Echinacea, wild bergamot, Canada goldenrod, and one plant of "White Swan" Echinacea.

Echinacea, grey headed coneflower, and a single bloom of "Turkey Foot" (big blue stem protruding from the top.)

Echinacea and grey headed coneflower.
Anothere stand of split leaf yellow coneflower.

Flowering rattlesnake master in the center of these Echinacea.

Black eyed susan.

Wild bergamot and some stands of blue vervain.

Culver's Root really likes my south prairie. It is spreading all over the place.

My stand of cup plant.

Entrance to north prarie.

Monarda surrounds my bluebird house.

Entrance to my north prarie. The tree to the very left is a young walnut tree. My mother gave it to me as a seedling. Unfortunately it will eventually shade out much of this prairie planting. But that's OK, because it's a walnut. I have read that walnut trees put some chemical in the soil that prevents some plants from growing beneath it. So far I have not seen this with this young tree. Time will tell.

     I have some plans for these areas again, looking into the fall and into next spring. In addition to the continuation of the paths, and the clean up of invasives, I want to move some lupines from my beds around my house and plant them into a sandy area in the north prairie where a pile of sand was left over from our building. Also I want to add some baptisia (false blue indigo). I have one blooming plant in the south prairie and I love it. It is a beatiful blue color and forms almost a shrub appearance in the border. I want to put several in the north prairie. I have some wild columbine from another area to plant in the somewhat shaded area back near by retreat circle. Also I have red trillium and wild ginger to move to the wooded area. They are now growing on the north side of my house and could be thinned to provide stock plants. I have volunteer spiderwort and wild geranium also to seed and transplant to the north wild shady area. Considerable plans! I will let you know next year if I have managed to carry any of these out.

My favorite wet prairie plant in the center: Joe Pye Weed.

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