Prairie View

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

An Elegant Design

We have an unexpected day off from school today because of dangerous windchills.  I'm hoping to get a lot of school work done later today, but for now I'm honoring the hard work of my night editor, who apparently kept churning along while my consciousness surfaced only at brief intervals--too often to suit me, always with nightmarish plant placement dilemmas occupying my half-awake moments. 

I will be sharing here thoughts formed over many years of time.  After a lot of hard work and discussion in a curriculum committee setting, some of them found their way into the documents outlining our school's course of study in science.  Part of the plan created at that time was to plant a pocket prairie on school grounds.  This was to serve as an outdoor learning laboratory that would be close at hand.  Arlyn suggested a spot for it where it's backed by a south-facing wall.  I loved the suggestion, but would never have dared to ask for it there.  The out-back places I visualized early on were needed for play space, were too visible to a drive-by public that would probably not understand their purpose, or were actually not on school property, so my first ideas for location did not work.

I'll spare you further details on why the implementation of that plan has been delayed so long.  Suffice it to say that I've needed more forbearance than I possessed at times.  And this:  significant funding opportunities were lost because no one with certain job/role descriptions agreed to serve on a committee to help develop the area.

I've loved observing the natural vegetation and wild creatures in our spot of the world as long as I can remember.    Others may keep tally of what countries they've visited, what prestigious singing groups they've heard or been part of, which sports figure shines most brightly, or which vehicle is best.  I keep lists of things I've identified locally--grasses, wildflowers, birds, butterflies.  That's part of the story of the formation of these thoughts  "over many years of time."

Another part of the formation story is related to gardening and landscaping.  I've taught classes in both.  While I've seldom met a plant I didn't like (Goatheads--Rocky Mountain sandburs--excepted)  I've especially enjoyed creating various kinds of gardens--always first inside my head, with constantly developing sensibilities about which plants go with what other plants in a given location.  For example, herbs go in a herb garden.  Right?  But some herb combinations make no sense at all for planting in the same garden.  Some herbs need lots of water (irrigation water, in our case) and some die if overwatered.  Some should be close to the kitchen so the cook can dash out for a last-minute garnish or flavor addition to food.  But some kitchen herbs are so aggressive that they aren't safe in a bed with other herbs, so they should be confined to a separate location--probably away from the prized space near the kitchen.  Some are perennial plants.  Others are biennial or annual plants.  Herbs should probably be planted with plants with the same growth cycle.  Consideration of all these variables can be confounding. 

I've designed landscape areas according to traditional design principles, making a concerted effort to use plants that meet design and use criteria and thrive in our climate in the spot where they're placed. At times, I've pushed the boundaries of our climate's limitations, seizing the opportunity provided by a micro-climate created by building structures or neighboring vegetation.  Japanese maples and hydrangeas aren't great choices for our alkaline soils and dry winds, but some varieties, planted in a spot protected from hot south winds, in the shade on the north side of a building can stay reasonably happy and healthy. 

Usually though I don't choose plants for a landscape if I know they'll struggle to survive.  Instead, I choose plants that I know to be related to plants that grow wild in our section of the American prairie, or in similar ecoregions in other parts of the world.  According to one system of classification at least, our ecoregion is called the Great Plains Steppe Province  (synonyms for steppe--Eurasia:  prairie--N. America, pampas--S. America, veldt or velt--Africa).  All are inner-continent grasslands in temperate climates, at moderate elevations, with moderate rainfall.  Experiencing and growing various kinds of gardens is another part of my formation story.

 I've grown many cut flower and food gardens in areas designated for those purposes only.  These are the most high-maintenance garden projects of all--not because of design challenges, but because of the high need for maintenance.  That's another part of the story.

Enter awareness of the elegance of a God-designed prairie.  As is true also of other natural areas, this is the most simple, beautiful, efficient system imaginable.  It survives with zero maintenance.  No watering.  No weeding.  No fertilizing.  No cleanup.  No deciding what plants may come and what plants must go.  Sorting according to suitable soil and climate conditions occurs effortlessly.  Butterflies and birds native to the area find what they need in these natural areas.  Some of the plants have medicinal properties.  Some are simply beautiful.  Some produce nutritious seeds.  Annuals, biennials, and perennials co-exist peacefully.  No one kind of plant overwhelms all others if the prairie is healthy and non-native invaders are absent.  The show is constantly changing as one kind of plant after another comes into its season of glory. 

To anyone who takes time to observe them carefully, natural areas offer a wealth of knowledge and inspiration.  When we know the Creator Who made them, we desire to worship and magnify Him, and we become more like Him in the process.  I think that's a wonderful thing for a God-designed prairie to accomplish.

To be continued. 



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