Two Bur Oaks and a Crawdad

A group of swamp white oaks Healthy soil is important, but for whom?  In the Garden  The young bur oak would not be kept down. Yet again it revealed itself among the standing dead stalks of a large patch of purple bee balm, a good three feet tall and leafing out. In spring, a bur oak’s leaves look like sharp-edged, glossy cutouts. They are not green, but shade delicately among soft corals, tans and pinks. The green comes a bit later, like a slow-motion wave gently pervading each leathery leaf. The question, as it had been for several years, was what to do with this young newcomer to the garden.  About ten feet away and across the walk from house to garage stands a second bur oak that I’d started from an acorn some twelve years ago. I’ve enjoyed watching it grow its first sets of true leaves, become large enough to attract birds and then mature enough to bear acorns. This winter I limbed it up three feet from the ground, mainly to give the sedges and wild geraniums growing underneath a

A Small Prairie Garden

Here is a piece I wrote for a Triton College email newsletter for faculty and staff:
Triton College Prairie Garden in Bloom

Triton College is known for its neat, manicured landscape featuring acres of carefully tended lawns, trim bushes, and bright annuals and perennials. However, something a little wilder is going on in an area in back of the science building, where Triton’s Greening the Campus Committee and biology students have established a small prairie garden.

In December 2009, students and committee members prepped the area and sowed into sod the seeds of nearly 100 native prairie species. We had learned that native plant areas started this way take longer to establish, but there are fewer problems with weeds. We also collected seeds in local forest preserves, which we cold stratified and propagated in the science greenhouse for planting out the next spring.
The first spring and summer not much happened, though as the soil warmed we saw a few seedlings, and the plants we had set out grew well. Would the experiment work? We weren’t sure. As advertised, there were very few weeds, but mainly it looked like someone’s badly neglected lawn. Since we had determined on a five-year timeline, we reassured a few questioners and more-or-less patiently waited to see what the next year would bring.

This spring Triton’s grounds crew de-thatched the area and removed an ailing ash tree. We set out more plants we had propagated, and waited. Would this second year show improvement? Would there be more flowers? Tall grasses? When spring semester ended, prospects seemed dim, though a diligent searcher could find many more tiny native plants among the turf grasses. The campus geese also seemed to like the area, and something—geese? deer? —was grazing when we weren’t watching. More waiting ensued.

After a hot, rainy summer, this fall we are pleased to announce that not only are flowers and native grasses in bloom, but beneficial insects rarely seen elsewhere on campus, such as monarch and sulphur butterflies, and several species of bees, moths, beetles and solitary wasps have appeared as well. The project seems as though it will succeed, and we hope to grace the area with an informative sign and possibly a bench. We have started collecting more seed to propagate, and plan to conduct our first burn when weather permits, either in late fall or early spring.

(Photos courtesy Biology instructor and Green Committee co-chair Joe Beuchel.)

Related Post:
Midewin Means "Heal the Land"

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Comments

margaretart said…
What an interesting project. Amazing that people can restore the "original master plan." I hope it will continue to develop well and cast its own type of beauty against the too-trimmed grounds. Any place that welcomes butterflies and bees has to be a good place.
Anonymous said…
Congratulations, Adrian! What a great project. I hope you'll share more photos and a progress report of how it's doing next season. -Jean
Hi Margaretart and Jean,

Thanks for the encouraging comments. It does look a little raggedy this year. I'll definitely post pictures when we have our burn and then will continue on next year.