A Prairie Story
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Branching Out Blog

BRANCHING OUT

Monthly Horticulture Blog

A Prairie Story

Wild Design

The gardens at Gathering Place are wild! We have 16 acres of prairie, designed by Michael Van Valkenburg Associates and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and we are very proud of them. The prairies can be found throughout the Park, roadways, and trails. The various prairies at Gathering Place are modeled after different Oklahoma ecosystems.

   

As you enter the Park on John Williams Way, the areas surrounding the round are tall grassland with small clumps of trees intermixed. The clumps of trees are called mottes, and they provide shelter for wildlife. Currently, the Park entrance welcomes guests with Black-Eyed Susans and Blanketflowers against a serene backdrop of green. In the fall, it changes to a field of Sunflowers. The prairies are ever-changing and the mix of flowers vary from year to year and season to season.

Driving through the tunnels on Riverside Drive, you will see seasonal, showy flowers. The idea behind the design of the Riverside beds is to be like a wild edge on a country road. This spring, we saw many Pink Evening Primrose and purple Spiderwort. As they go dormant for the summer season, we see a new mix of Blanketflowers, various grasses, and Black-Eyed Susans. This area has an abundance of trees, and will one day grow into a forest.

 

Establishment

Prairies are difficult to establish on a new construction site. While prairie seed can survive in the soil for 50 years, our soil was built in a way that screened most seeds out, so we had to start fresh. We mainly used seeds for the plantings, but also included some plugs, which are small plants. The hardest part of establishing our prairie has been the battle with weeds. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center warned us that it takes about three years to establish wildflowers with minimal weeds, so, we keep weeding and re-seeding!

       

Spring 2017                                                                                        Spring 2020

Another one of our wildflower areas is the Wetland Garden. This area is a staff favorite, as the combination of water, grasses and flowers create a jungle-like, lush space. It was the first wildflower area planted in the Park. The basins were planted with plugs in spring 2017. We used plugs so the seed would not wash away.  The Wetland Gardens are now on year three, and you can see the difference!

 

Maintenance

One large maintenance item is weeding. We weed the prairies by the truckload, and empty them into our compost dumpster. What is a weed? A weed is anything that is undesirable in an area. Some of our weeds are native, such as Horseweed, however, we prefer to remove it because it gets tall and shades out other species. 

Another task is cutbacks. We are continuously cutting back prairie growth in the spring, summer, and fall, but winter is when we do our major cutbacks. We use all the tools! Brush cutters, slope mowers, and hand tools. We even have little millipedes that help decompose some of the thatch.

 

Sustainability

One reason the landscape designers incorporated the prairies into the landscape design was to increase the sustainability at Gathering Place. Prairies need less water, less mowing, less fuel and offer a greater diversity to attract birds, bees and butterflies. Most insects like the variety of pollen found in the prairie flowers but we also have other insects that like the seeds! Birds eat both the seeds and the insects. We have found Monarch Butterflies, Swallowtail Butterflies, and many more enjoying our prairies!                                

          

Swallowtail                                                                                             Monarch

Finally, we love the unique colors the prairie flowers bring! This spring we saw a rainbow of colors ranging from the magenta Wine Cups and purple Wild Geraniums to the Bluebonnets and orange Milkweed!

      

Wine Cups                                                                                              Bluebonnets

     

Orange Milkweed                                                                            Wild Geraniums