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Thoughts From the Prairie - My Life with the Prairie

September 23, 2015

Today we bring you Thoughts From the Prairie...from the eyes of a homeowner we've worked with over the past couple years. Please enjoy her's been a true pleasure working with her and experiencing her enjoyment.  And as always, the Prairie Guys are available to help you craft your perfect pollinator paradise.

My Life With the Prairie

Last year, we moved from a city lot to a mature garden with lawn of nearly an acre, circled by native trees of maple, oak, pine, cherry and more. Surrounding the house, a combination of ferns, epimediums, hellebores, hostas and spring bulbs offered a dense, care-free ground cover. All lovely, except for that lawn. We would have to exchange our little reel mower for some power machine, and then only have green grass.

With all the information over the decline of birds and loss of pollinators, it was only natural for us to turn much of that lawn into native plants. Less mowing and as I thought then, perhaps a few of the pleasures remembered from the past just might return; the erratic and nervous flight of hummingbirds and butterflies, bees matting over my thyme patch and even a garden turned aviary. As a garden designer, I had advised homeowners for years, but for installing a prairie in town, I turned to the experts at Ohio Prairie Nursery, based in Hiram, Ohio. They selected seeds appropriate  for our soil and sun conditions, counseled on soil preparation (no tilling), warned that it takes three years for the complete growth of annuals, perennials and grasses, and came an sowed the seed after a wet spring (in a semi-circle, leaving turf for the badminton net and dogs to run).

That first year we had annuals; Partridge Pea, Cornflower, Indian Blanket, Black-eyed Susan, Coreopsis and others. The property was transformed. The sterile green grass was a field of yellow, blue, red and orange, with its own thrumming pollinators. This, the second year, we have had huge growth of native rudibeckia, asters, ratibida, coreopsis and goldenrod forming a dense circlet of gold around our dog playground. This gold, dotted with red and the late blooming asters, grew tall enough to transport us into another world; into our own retreat. In the strip of soil next to the wall edging the terrace I planted non-prairie zinnia, verbena bonariensis and cosmos as domestic see throughs to the prairie. All this has brought an explosion of pollinators, native bees I have yet to identify, hummingbirds, hawk moths, many butterflies and finches rising in flocks from the perennials. I have retrieved those memories I thought to have lost, of sight, sound and fragrance right here in my own yard. We are surrounded, not only by beauty, but what can only be called a life force, a throbbing energy which is contagious, and at my age, much needed and again at my age, so blessed to thrive without my help. Sitting within arm's reach of a tiger swallowtail at breakfast, I now know that my senses had been atrophied. i had missed that dazzling show of fireflies, the arrival of strange insects and birds, the thick hum of bees, the fragrance of the individual flowers and their structures so perfectly designed for the appropriate pollinator. I have always been a gardener, but never had the scope to incorporate all these creatures which seem so desperately to need somewhere to forage or perhaps, never has the need been so great.

In this small refuge, I feel that I have rescued thousands of animals; not the pet dogs and cats but the unseen or forgotten insects, bees, birds and plants, all desperate to thrive and in doing so help us in this chaotic world. What I had thought of as our own retreat I now know is also haven for the refugees of nature, the survivors of mowing, poisoning and hybridizing. Here surrounded by what seems untidy and messy to some, a natural order is allowed, stricter than any chemical lawn or tight edges. Here specific pollinators arrive on time for a specific plant, the birds breed when there is a bounty for their young, be it insects or seeds, the plants germinate, grow, seed each according to their order. I see this prairie with eyes open to the tight constraints and fluctuations of nature, unrestrained by chemicals.

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