Drought? What drought? Part 2
July 26, 2012
If ever there was a summer to convince people to plant prairie flowers and grasses instead of lawns and exotic flowers, this is it. I began to plant my prairie garden in 1998, starting with the front foundation, entry walk, and along the front walk, adding more gardens every year. I retained grass pathways and some lawn on the parkways. This is what my gardens look like today. They have NOT received any artificial watering for years.
Rosin Weed (Silphium integrifolium) grows 2’ to 5’ tall in the prairie; 4’ to 8’ in my garden. It’s a good back of the border or center of an island planting–full sun.
The cheerful, brilliant yellow-orange daisies of False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) begin to bloom in late June and carry on through August. Large, long-stalked, triangular leaves climb up 3-4’ smooth stems, that form a loosely branched clump. It is found in disturbed prairies, woodland borders, and savanna openings. Adaptable in the home landscape, it grows in full sun or partial shade.
“This noble relic is a hallmark of our once vast prairies.” Dick Young describes Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) in Northern Kane County Wild Plants & Natural Areas.
I like to plant Prairie Dock, not at the back of the garden, but in the front row where the magnificent basal leaves become a focal point. One can see through the tall, sparse flower stems.
Tall Coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris) makes a see-through veil. Its tiny, brown-centered, yellow flowers bloom at the top of 6-7’ tall, smooth, wand-like stems, translucent against a blue and white sky. Plant them at the back of the border or as a focal point.
Black-eyed Susan says “Midwest” more than any other flower. The biennial or short-lived perennial Common Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is ubiquitous throughout the Midwest especially in degraded prairies, pastures, and roadsides. Showy Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia speciosa var. sullivantii) is a hardy perennial and the workhorse of the July-August garden, shown here with Nodding Wild Onion. The golden-petaled daisies with chocolate centers bloom from mid-to-late-July until mid-September on a bushy plant, 2-3’ tall and up to 4’ around. In nature, Showy Black-eyed Susan is found most often in calcareous wet habitats, although it occurs in drier habitats, as well.
The charming Nodding Wild Onion (Allium cernuum) seeds itself about, in bloom in July and August in prairie and savanna. Its sharply nodding, leafless stems rise from long, flat, narrow, onion-like basal leaves. Then clusters of individual, tiny bells form a globe at the end of the stems, white at first, then becoming pink and rose as they age. It seeds itself with abandon, but if you think you have too many in one location, the plants are easy to transplant to another. Place them along edges with Wild Petunia and Purple Prairie Clover. They like to grow next to sidewalks, flagstone, or gravel.
Cylindric Blazing Star (Liatris cylindracea) is the most diminutive of the Liatris species, only growing 6-18’ tall. Showy, rose-purple tufts spill out of its cylindrical bract vases. My notes–such as they are–tell me that in 1998, I planted 14 plugs of Cylindric Blazing Star along my entrance walk. It’s mentioned every year as blooming; then in 2002, I state that there is only 1 plant, which has then been recorded every year since, including this one. I still have it, but why did the others die? Or why did this one survive? Cylindric Blazing Star is found in dry and sand prairie, growing along railroad tracks in Kane County. Mine is growing in mesic soil next to my entry walk. READERS–What has been your experience with this charming plant?
I can’t say enough about Prairie Baby’s Breath (Euphorbia corollata)–it’s one of my favorite plants. (You will find it listed as Flowering Spurge in catalogs, but I think Prairie Baby’s Breath is a more descriptive and certainly, prettier name.) In any case, Prairie Baby’s Breath is also found in a variety of sunny, dry habitats, but, it thrives, as well, in mesic prairies. It seeds itself about freely, a trait I despair of, in, say, Cup Plant, but welcome joyfully from Prairie Baby’s Breath. A corymb of dainty white flowers forms at the top of erect, 2-4’ tall, smooth stems, in bloom in July and August.
Delicate, airy panicles of aromatic flowers have begun to emerge on stiff stems 2-3’ above the whorled, arching mound of the narrow blades of Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis).
The stiff leaves and stems of Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) have a decided bluish cast in spring and summer–some more than others. Flower spikes have also begun to emerge from the axils of its leaves and stems.
So, dear readers, how are your Prairie Gardens faring this summer? Let us know?
Many of these plants are grouped together in a design called “Island Daisy Garden” on pg. 79 of my book, Design Your Natural Midwest Garden. I suggest, however, that you make a few changes–plant Tall Coreopsis in place of the Cup Plant–Cup Plant seeds itself too aggressively. The same for Indian Grass–beautiful as it is, I believe it is too aggressive for small home gardens. Substitute Little Blue Stem; then replace the three Switch Grass with Prairie Dropseed. Finally, use Rough Blazing Star in place of Prairie Blazing Star.
PS Yesterday, I washed a load of laundry, then tossed the clothes in the dryer and turned it on. It made a terrible racket , so i quickly turned it off and took out the laundry. I’m ashamed to say my first thought was to take it over to my daughter’s and put it in her dryer. Almost immediately, however, I said to myself, it’s 90 degrees and sunny outside–I don’t need a fossil fuel dryer. I don’t have a clothesline–I can’t figure out where to put one–so I draped the clothes over the lawn chairs, and sure enough, they dried–wrinkle free and smelling like sunshine. So I’ve decided not to replace the dryer until next winter. Who needs it?
Do any of you give up your dryer in warm weather?