Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Patchwork Prairie

Several years ago now, I asked for suggestions on what to name our little piece of property.  I got a few suggestions, but none of them seemed right.  The ideas I was coming up with didn't fit either.  So I let the concept brew for a while longer and eventually a name suggested itself.

Patchwork Prairie.

It's not a fancy name...but, then, this isn't a fancy piece of property.  The name fits on many levels and, most importantly, it comes naturally as I think about our land.  So Patchwork Prairie it is.

So what do I think about our property?  Why does the concept of "patchwork" seems to fit so perfectly?

First of all, prairies themselves are patchworks of many plants:  a clump of this, a spread of that, a few individuals stitching things together throughout, another large swath of something else over here.   Different patches appear during different seasons.  It's a crazy quilt design where some pieces intermingle with others and it all changes from year to year.  To give you examples, right now, on the back 5 acres (Back Five) that we are working to restore from highly overgrazed pasture to reasonable prairie, I have large swaths of tall dropseed (Sporobolus compositus) developing.  I didn't notice any tall dropseed at all in our Back Five until the second year we were here; now it's a major component of our grassland.  In the photo below, the tall dropseed is occurring in the two lighter gold sweeps that run from one side of this photo to the other.





There are almost a dozen patches, ranging from large to small, of dotted gayfeather (Liatris punctata).  The first summer, I noticed fewer than a dozen gayfeathers in one single, small area.  Presumably, all of the current patches have either spread from those original plants or the plants in each of them were simply too stunted to bloom for the first several years.






Heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides), the small, white flowers in the photo below, and silver bluestem (Bothriochloa laguroides subsp. torreyana), the grasses with the soft, fluffy seedheads in the same photo, are found throughout the Back Five, stitching all of the recovering prairie together.




An increasing number of compass plants (Silphium laciniatum) are beginning to appear scattered throughout the Back Five, acting as another "stitcher."  I found my first ones about 3 years ago, and have now counted over 2 dozen individuals.  The photo to the left shows one of only 3 compass plants that were mature enough to bloom this year.


Another stitcher, this time one that's declining as the grassland recovers, is the annual threeawn grass (Aristida sp.) that was so prevalent 6 years ago - I can walk the paths and not get a single awn in my socks these days, which is a major change from when we started.  The whitish grass, leaning over the mowed path, is a threeawn plant that I found this morning.





There are large, diffuse patches of white prairieclover (Dalea candida) in the spring






and I've even noticed a few small patches of whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) developing.






On the other hand, another milkweed known as green antelopehorn (Aslcepias viridis) is dispersed everywhere during the spring, but is nowhere to be seen at this time of year.






It's not just the recovering prairie that's a patchwork on our 10 acres.  The entire property is, itself, a patchwork quilt:  the house and lawn (moving towards buffalo grass, Buchloe dactyloides) with flower beds form one major patch with smaller areas forming patterns within it.  Other patches include the courtyard; the vegetable garden; the lagoon area; the Draw; the Cedar Grove; the front tallgrass areas; and the Back Five, the recovering pasture/prairie. Within each of these patches are smaller patterns:  aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) in the flower beds, rows of eastern redcedars (Juniperus virginiana) forming hedges at the edges, different vegetables in each of the raised vegetable garden beds, a large area of prairie wild rose (Rosa arkansana) in the Cedar Grove, panicled aster (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum) in the draw, pokeberry (Phytolacca americana) along the edges of the draw and up near the house.  Paths stitch the patchwork areas together.


Finally, patchwork is a perfect historical term for modern human life on the prairies too.  European and other settlers had a tradition of using even small scraps of cloth from wornout clothing or from other leftover material.  The women would gather these scraps and sew them together to make warm, artistically beautiful and intricate quilts:  patchwork quilts.  The settlements themselves formed a patchwork on the prairie of different cultures from around the world.  And, of course, the farms soon created patches in the landscape - eventually forming a quilt that almost completely replaced the original prairie with agricultural fields.

Patchwork Prairie.  It's the right name for now, and we'll be working to increase the richness of our crazy quilt of a property for as long as we are its stewards.  The pattern is set.  Our success will be measured in the future.

17 comments:

Randy said...

Just beautiful! I love the liatris! I had it for a little while, it disappeared on me. To me the purple is so much more pretty than the white.

~Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

I like it.

Jason said...

I love your prairie. It looks pretty great to me, and ten acres sounds like a very big spread.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Randy, I've learned that there are many different species of Liatris - L. punctata (dotted gayfeather) seems to be the best for our conditions here; the others don't last very long. I'm not even sure if dotted gayfeather is available commercially - mine was here when we bought the property and is slowly increasing on its own. (And I totally agree with you about purple vs. white!)

Gaia Gardener: said...

Thanks, GonSS - I'm glad it doesn't sound too hokey to you!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Jason, the larger photos definitely have "borrowed views" in them - generally our property goes to whatever fence line is in the photo! That said, one of the things I love the most about the prairie is the feeling of spaciousness.

jayneonweedstreet said...

Really fascinating! What happiness must come from watching the progress!

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

I think Patchwork Prairie is a perfect name for your place. Love the plants you have in your prairie.

troutbirder said...

What a wonderful project. The compass plants are a true sign of success. And yes I love our limited number of surviving prairies and have done many posts on the ones, especially in our State Parks where my GSD and I love to hike...:)

Melanie said...

I love it!! Great name! I also love the concept of us as stewards of our little pieces of heaven here on earth!! Enjoyed your writings!

Sunnyside Dru said...

wonderful choice of name!

Heather Holm said...

What a great piece of property, and I like your name choice. My husband always tosses around ideas for naming our property but we haven't found one that fits yet.
Interesting that the Wild Lettuce stems are hollow and possibly utilized by native bees. Great discovery.

gardenwalkgardentalk.com said...

I love the idea of your Patchwork Prairie. Like you described, patchwork takes into account many aspects of life and history. I love your 10 acres. So much that is natural and constantly changing.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Thanks, everyone, for your kind comments! No one seems to think "Patchwork Prairie" unsuitable; now I need to decide how to formalize the name! Maybe a limestone sign out by the end of the driveway?

~Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

I love limestone signs as they "belong" out on the prairie. Using native materials always feels right. But, maybe...also...a flag or banner that is quilted or looks like a patchwork quilt? Just a thought. Happy planning. And, Happy New Year!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Great idea, GonSS! That thought hadn't even crossed my mind!

Happy New Year to you and your hubby, too!

Nelson said...

Growing perennial native plants from seed can be challenging. Most species exhibit some degree of seed dormancy, an innate mechanism that prevent seeds germinating too quickly, or all at once. Seed dormancy has evolved to promote germination at the optimum time, usually in spring when soil moisture levels are high. A few simple techniques can be applied to overcome seed dormancy and ensure reasonable levels of germination. Knowing which technique to apply to each species requires some research or experience.