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The Meadow

Landscape Plants: A Mother’s Day Remembrance

Richard Dean Prudenti is a post-baccalaureate student in the Department of Landscape Architecture / Regional & Community Planning at Kansas State University. Prudenti is employed by the Beach Museum of Art and coordinates special projects, including Meadow landscape. He also serves as a graduate teaching assistant for the Environmental Issues & Ethics course for the College of Architecture, Planning & Design.

Prudenti dedicates this blog entry to his mother, Josephine Depasquale Prudenti who passed away earlier this year. When he was a child his mother assisted him in creating a special flower garden — starting with the drama of a sunflower seed transforming into a towering figure of hope. This scene has served as a source of inspiration for many of his endeavors throughout life.

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In the Meadow, weeding, during fall 2014. Photo by Kraig Weber.

Have you ever gazed into the face of a sunflower? The rounded form, the seemingly countless seeds, the radiating pedals… these ignite our imaginations. With this flower we are suddenly wrapped in a special moment. Whatever variety, wherever you are, this flower inspires appreciation for our world, especially the universe of plants.

Sunny days are ahead as I think about the meaning this flower has produced for me over the years. I was just finishing the first grade when my mom encouraged me to grow my very own flower garden. My first grade teacher bestowed a gift of two sunflowers per student in my class. We seeded them in a trays kept by the window for sunlight. We were growing a flower that we would take home on the last day of school. My mother helped me prepare a tiny plot in front of our enormous woodpile for transplanting the sunflower “plug.”

Richard making his new garden grow

Me at age 7,  watering my sunflower plants just after completing the first grade, spring 1985. Photo by Josephine Depasquale Prudenti.

At this point I must confess, I stole a seed from one of my classmates. Shocking. For some reason two seeds were not enough in my eyes. So I dug out of the tray a seed from one of my classmates. Perhaps I could say this was an innate understanding about design — the concept of grouping in three’s. The presence of one works as well. So I could say I was doing him a favor, too, right? I would have three and he would have one, and both are perfect design-wise. Okay, kidding. Still, I am now pursuing a degree in landscape architecture, and perhaps it all started with my aesthetically pleasing arrangement of three sunflower plants.

Now that this is off my chest, below is a newspaper article from 1984. My first grade teacher, Susan Armstrong is seated, while my father and mother are kneeling to her left. Miss Armstrong (now, Mrs. Recenello) was an inspiration in many ways, including giving me my first journal (I became a journalist), and encouraging me in drawing (I work for a museum), and of course starting me down the path of enjoyment of plants (I now pursue a landscape architecture degree).

First Grade Teacher who changed it all

Newspaper article from the Mount Olive Chronicle.

My three-point arrangement of sunflowers towering above me and all the other plants had company because my mother encouraged me to grow other flowers. My mother had her own garden up the hill. Too young to appreciate all the scientific wonder of plants, I did appreciate the bounty of seeds that the sunflower produced.

Richard and brother, Danny, with 3 Sunflower Plants

By summer of 1985, the sunflowers grew to a “towering” height. I am on the left, grasping for the sunflower head. My older brother, Danny is beside me.  Photo by Josephine Depasquale Prudenti.

At some point I packed up my garden tools and pursued other interests. These included music, theatre, journalism and art. My interest in plants never died, though, and years later I joined the Master Gardeners training program in Bentonville Arkansas. I am under no delusion that growing a garden is simple and easy. It takes thoughtful planning, hard work, and dedication. One must deal with weather, soil conditions, disease and wildlife. Recent experiences that have bolstered my appreciation for plant species include working at the the Flint Hills Discovery Center. The discovery center brought me to Kansas from Arkansas just over three years ago, and after a year there I realized I had a passion to pursue — the combination of interests in plants, art and design. By fall of 2013, I was enrolled in landscape architecture program at Kansas State University.

Just before this time, Linda Duke from the Beach Museum of Art had brought me on to assist in the development of the Meadow. I started overlapping my work experience at the Discover Center with special projects at the museum in June 2012, and a year later she asked that I be the museum’s representative on the project, working with Katie Kingery-Page who directs the project.

In June 2013, the Meadow “opened” to the public to serve as an educational tool for learning about native plants. The Meadow is an experiment on campus, meant to grow native plants through more natural processes void of pesticides and fertilizers. I’ve been a part of the development including seeding, planting, watering and weeding the Meadow.

An expanded garden

A new season… My brother, Daniel and I flanking the expanded garden I created in my backyard. The sunflowers are gone, but their memories live on. Photo by Josephine DePasquale Prudenti.

Herbaceous plants make up the Meadow inventory, which has great value for me as an up-and-coming landscape architect. I’m in the post-baccalaureate program as a graduate student and plan to complete a Master of Landscape Architecture in May 2017.

Trees are a secondary (existing) material of the Meadow. As landscape architect endeavors to improve conditions through enjoyable outdoor spaces, I grew more interested in the use of trees — how they define space, create place, and provide for the ecological health of the landscape. Below are drawings alongside thee real leaves of the Hamamelis virginia (Common Witchhazel) and Tilia americana (American Linden) trees, on the left and right, respectively. These renderings were created using color pencils during my Landscape Architecture Plant Materials course this past fall.

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I see the creation of landscapes as a way of making the world a better place. Besides the creation of habitat, the Meadow allows people a place to rest, contemplate, soak up the sun, and enjoy life. Within this native plants landscape, sometimes we see volunteer plants pop up. To my pleasant surprise, two, non-native sunflowers managed to make their way into the Meadow ensemble.

CroppedSunflowers

These plants are “volunteers” because they are were not planned. They may have come alongside other seeds or plants that were brought in for the site planting design.

For the sake of establishing prairie plants in the Meadow, the non-natives had to go but the sunflowers served a great purpose for me as they reminded me of where all this interest of mine originated – how the love of a plant could lead to so many experiences in life, and helping me smile throughout my time in Kansas.

I never imagined that I would end up in the “Sunflower State” of Kansas, attending graduate school and pursuing landscape architecture with interest in creating vegetated space for human use.  Sunflowers are not appropriate for every design solution, but they have held a great purpose in a variety of contexts. I’m sure the sunflower will continue to be a source of inspiration as I move forward and upward in this new field and in life.

K-State alumni tour the Meadow. Image by Taylor Lininger.

Me guiding a tour of the Meadow for K-State alumni, November 2014. Photograph by Taylor Lininger.

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This group of volunteers helped “groom” the Meadow with weeding and cleanup, spring 2014. Photo by Katie Kingery-Page.

 

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