As I've mentioned before, my husband and I have been helping pay college tuition. This, coupled with our ecological lifestyle, has led us to go beyond frugal into the land of thrifty, close, parsimonious, and cheap when it comes to personal expenditures. So an opportunity to get free plants does not pass unnoticed.
Now sadly, I'm something of a plant snob. With increasing ecological education has come increasing pickiness. It's not just any orphan mass-produced Impatiens or Petunia I'll bring home. Oh no, these days it's got to be native and preferably unusual. (I do have annuals in pots, but that's for another post.)
When I found out about Native Seed Gardeners last year, I got on it. Native Seed Gardeners is a collaboration between Citizens for Conservation of Barrington, Friends of Spring Creek, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Audubon Chicago Region--and home gardeners.
Here's the deal: volunteers collect wild seed of rare plants from CFC and forest preserve property, folks at the Chicago Botanic Garden propagate it, and the tiny plants get distributed to home gardeners to nurture and grow. Because they are perennials, the plants mostly don't flower the first year, and in fact look pretty pitiful while developing their root systems. The second year they generally flower and set seed. A few may take longer. Then we gardeners collect the seed and return it to CFC for reseeding 3,910 acres at Spring Creek Forest Preserves.
Photo from Friends of Spring Creek Forest Preserves
This year I got: four prairie species--Stiff Aster (Aster ptarmicoides),
Cream False Indigo (Baptisia leucophaea), Prairie Cinquefoil (Potentilla arguta), Prairie Violet (Viola pedatifida); and one woodland species, White Lettuce, or Lion's Foot (Prenanthes alba). Photos are in order of mention.
These are all fairly rare: not likely to be seen at a local garden center and not that often out in the field. There are mail-order outfits in the Midwest where you can order the seed, but none to my knowledge in Illinois; and of course in restoration, local provenance is very important.
I'm looking forward to caring for these plants, to observing and taking notes on how they grow, and to harvesting and sending back the seed. It's a great way to add biodiversity to my garden while aiding a local conservation effort. It's also a good example of reconciliation ecology in action. For me that's about as good as it gets. I don't know if this kind of project is taking place in other regions, but I hope so.
Flower photos are from Native Seed Gardeners and Dr. John Hilty's excellent Illinois Wildflowers. Both sites are well worth a visit.