Posts Tagged ‘establishing a prairie garden’

DSCN5402I just came in from watering and weeding and watching. It is serious work – for there I stood, with a hose that was leaking in several spots onto the driveway, the grass, and me. Snippers and garden knife in one hand, leaking water wand in the other, I decided what I really needed was a cup of coffee. I set a slow drip on the roses, went in for a cup of Joe, snatched a few molasses cookies, and settled myself on a bench in the arbor.

As I sipped and dunked my cookie (are you a dunker?), I could hear a hawk screeching above, his majestic wingspan just visible over the canopy of trees. Mama Robin swept in and out of a branch where I could see her nest of babies peeking up for morsels. The wrens chattered as they tended to their own – in the bluebird house. Then, in the brush next door, I could make out the form of a doe. She was pulling down branches for a morning treat, then, she walked past me, amazingly unaware of my presence. She moseyed past the grassy knoll and went on her way, perhaps to check on the twin fawns.

It is these tiny moments in the vastness of time that bring me joy. I fret about the weeds, the weather, the work, but it is these brief passages that bring poetry into my life and this little retreat that gives me time to reflect.

This arbor, commonly called Penny’s Arbor House, was designed and constructed by Tom,. It has grown into a refuge as it softens the space between the lawn and the house, which is hard blacktop.

grass-areamayThe arbor was envisioned long before we started the grassy knoll. Indeed, it was while sitting in the arbor that the idea was hatched to attempt a prairie garden. A space was marked, soil was turned, and a few plants were slipped into the soil, and a garden slowly emerged.  This photo was taken in the early summer of 2013.

Over the past year, through the generous cuttings and divisions of friends and through amazing opportunities, our vision of a bit of a prairie grew into a reality.

One of my oldest friends, Phyllis, shared grasses and clematis, that latter of which is currently clambering up the arbor and will burst forth in white blooms later in the season. Phyllis and I have been friends since high school. I don’t think either of us thought, way back when, that we would one day be granny gardeners.

Dear Jan has shared tall grasses and other plants that have enhanced our landscape dramatically, turning our eyes upward and outward as they have filled not only this grassy knoll just beyond the arbor, but, are holding court further back as well, training our eyes away from the expressway that passes us by.

Right now, the bee balm are in favor, along with Joe Pye weed shared from the herb garden in Elmhurst as plans were underway for the refurbished  conservatory.  Other plants are coming into their own – and I can’t wait to see what they are. Surprises abound in our garden – gifts yet to be enjoyed.

We have a long way to go with this project; a gate and some edging or fencing to define the space and help cut down on weeds. We keep talking, my Antler Man and me, sitting in the arbor, dreaming. A fire pit is planned and a desire to use what we have on hand to contain the space. In-the-meantime, ’tis good to have a spot to sit and watch the tiny moments of life pass by.

Here are a few photos of the grassy knoll/prairie garden right now. If you click onto the photos, especially those of the grasses, you will see much more. DSCN5392




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DSCN2680Do you remember our Wildlife Habitat, and how we are endeavoring to introduce grasses and native plants into this area of our garden? I know I’ve mentioned my garden club and the wonderful women gardeners in it.  I know I have, many times, if truth be told, and now I am mentioning both here, because, dear friend, our little gardening experiment grew to twice its size in the past few weeks – in spite of our aching backs and dirty fingernails, we are experiencing supreme delight.

Members of our garden club maintain the herb garden at Wilder Park in Elmhurst. A small band of women, on bended knees, plant and weed and tend to this garden from about May to October, much to the pleasure of all who walk past it, sit on benches amongst its fragrant mist, or get married a few steps away under the Park District’s wedding tent.  The herb garden is a delight to behold. Garden clubs throughout the States, and, I’m sure, throughout the world, do just this sort of volunteer work, making your pathways and byways more pleasant and bringing nature home.

I digress. Back to the herb garden, in all its glory, until a few weeks ago Sunday. You see, major construction is going on at the adjoining greenhouse and conservatory, necessitating the uprooting of the herb garden. As such, our club members were invited to help dig up the herbs and the grasses to make way for construction – and to keep some of the plants for our own use.

Shovels in hand, Tom and I headed over, bright and early in the morning. We arrived home  several hours later with a car full of lavender, thyme, bee balm, Joe DSCN2687Pye weed, lemon grass, and Echinacea; plants we were hoping to introduce to extend our little grassy knoll which lies just past the arbor.  I cannot begin to express our gratitude at having acquired all of these plants, nor can I adequately describe the scents in the car that fueled us home, or the thrill of the bees that were immediately attracted to the gifts of nature we immediately planted.

Tom rolled out the wheelbarrows and transformed himself into a sodbuster. We added compost, filled with friable soil and wiggling worms, planted and watered and watered again, until our newly adopted natives had their feet set firmly into the soil. How good it felt to sit for a spell in our arbor, sipping something cool, sharing some cookies, and watching our prairie grow.

Once everything was in, we needed to cut most of the plants back. Not quite ready to abandon the sweet fragrance of the Joe Pye weed, I slipped some of the cut stems into a honey jar and set it next to a wooden bench that had been languishing elsewhere. An old tree stump and a relatively new watering stone quickly found each other and became a birdbath, and our vista suddenly changed and our habitat expanded.


It will take a few years for our new garden to flourish and mature. A bevy of birds already frequent the new watering hole. Our eyes, then our feet, are daily drawn to this growing space. We feel a sense of exhilaration at having acquired such healthy stock from the herb garden that the women so faithfully tended to.

Come late winter and early spring, our garden club women will work with the park district on a new configuration of the herb garden. I can’t wait to see how they develop it. This is what all gardeners do, don’t they? They plant and plan, dig out and replant, share growth and garden wisdom and the comrarderie that grows among them, along with the herbs and flowers. What a busy summer of expansion, planting, sharing and nurturing we have had this summer. Phew! 


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