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The Meadow

Author: Richard Dean Prudenti

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.

DSC_0035

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.

Common Witchhazel IIIMG_5696

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.

 

Making Seed Sowing Successful

Getting ready to sow seed in Dr. Janke's greenhouse for Meadow plugs. Pictured (left to right): K-State biology PhD student, Zakary Ratajczak, and K-State landscape architecture grad student, Caleb Melchior. Image by Richard Dean Prudenti.

With the cold winter behind us and the advent of spring, volunteers are returning to weed and plant a second wave of species in the Meadow on the campus of Kansas State University.

Less obvious, however, is that even in the heart of winter, volunteers and team members have been busy: starting in late January a team of students, faculty and staff sowed seed that had been stratified in cold storage within greenhouses in the northwest area of campus. Seeds were either purchased through monies provided by the Green Action Fund or donated by Valerie Wright, retired environmental educator for the Konza Prairie Biological Station and adjunct professor of entomology at K-State.

Prairie plants are now growing in the greenhouse. These native plants of the Kansas Flint Hills will be transplanted to the Meadow in the coming weeks to increase species on site from twenty to more than forty, including several milkweeds and other species to provide food and habitat for Monarchs and other pollinators.

Blazing star (Liatris). Image by Caleb Melchior.

Be on the lookout for upcoming volunteer days to transplant plugs. Species include:

Asclepias sullivantii
Asclepias tuberosa
Asclepias viridis
Aster drummondii
Aster ericoides
Baptisia bracteata
Carex blanda
Carex meadii
Dalea purpurea
Elymus villosus
Glandularia canadensis
Liatris aspera
Liatris pycnostachya
Monarda fistulosa
Oenothera macrocarpa
Ruellia humilis
Ruellia strepens
Salvia pitcheri
Schizachyrium scoparium
Verbena stricta

Professor Rhonda Janke, Extension Specialist & Sustainable Cropping Systems, generously donated soil, supplies and space at the mist house on campus. This has allowed plants to stay hydrated in a controlled environment monitored by professors and students. Leading the effort is master’s student in landscape architecture, Caleb Melchior. He selected plants to grow from the existing Meadow palette as part of his master’s thesis work. Caleb collaborated with Troy Britt, an undergraduate student in the department of art and an employee of the Beach Museum of Art, to create a series of designs for adding the new species with visual impact.

Zak Ratajczak, Biology PhD candidate and graduate teaching assistant, Melchior, his major professor, Katie Kingery-Page, and Dr. Janke received funding for the second wave of planting through K-State’s Green Action Fund. Also part of the plug growing team is Richard Dean Prudenti, an employee of the Beach Museum of Art and a first year student in the post-baccalaureate program for landscape architecture.

Thank you, Green Action Fund, Dr. Janke and Valerie Wright, for making the plug growing possible!

Hackberry Benches To Complement Meadow

This log from a hackberry tree removed from the Meadow last month was used to create a bench to be installed next week. Photo by Jake Hofeling.

Sit. Breathe. Relax.

The addition of benches made out of the former hackberry trees in the Meadow will allow this place to be your get-away spot for momentary relief and contemplation.

Installation of four “meadow pews” this coming week brings to completion the collaborative design-build efforts of architecture and landscape architecture professors and students.

The hackberry trees were cut down a couple months ago for safety reasons, but organizers of the project didn’t want any of it to go to waste. Therefore, the larger pieces were used for the benches.

“The benches are a wonderful complement to the Meadow, bringing into sharp focus a minimalist aesthetic of materials and form,” said Katie Kingery-Page, assistant professor of landscape architecture. “Architecture students Jake Hofeling and Landon Hubbard express their considerable talents in design and fabrication through these custom milled benches. They have created something that is beautiful and reasonably durable.”

Kingery-Page is in charge of the Meadow project, volunteering many hours this summer to seeding, planting and managing the maintenance and care of this plot that will take 3-5 years to develop.

The benches will be located within the site, most under shade trees. “That will be the most comfortable places to sit for much of the year, especially the months of May through September when the Meadow planting will be in full growth each year,” Kingery-Page said.

Three benches are to be placed at edges of the gathering space, which will be used actively for teaching and speaking events. A fourth bench will be placed in a sunny, contemplation space, just off the main path through the Meadow.

As funding becomes available, the hope is to commission an artist to create permanent benches to be placed within the Meadow and adjacent to the concrete sidewalk on the edges of the Meadow. Benches at the edge of the Meadow would serve as an informal sign that this Meadow is meant for use – for hanging out, resting or eating lunch. Those benches would require concrete pads; Meadow leaders hope for donations to make this possible.

After participating in the cutting of the logs last month, the students went to work to solve two practical problems and in design “let the beauty of these massive logs speak for themselves,” said Hubbard, a fifth-year architecture student.

The cutting of the wood was made possible through the generosity of Larry’s Sawmill Service. The hydraulic equipment enabled the students and professor Josh Cheek to mill the pieces so as not to damage the wood and even the bark was salvaged for use on other projects.

Architecture students Jake Hofeling and Landon Hubbard assist in cutting a large hackberry log that eventually became a bench for the Meadow. Photo by Richard Dean Prudenti.

The students had to figure out how to solve two challenges. Hackberry is an extremely sweet wood and insects like termites love to snack on it. Also, wood tends toward cracking once the bark is removed.

“We can’t just take these and set them out there. We have to raise the benches off the ground so they can last longer,” Hofeling said.

Hubbard and fellow student Jake Hofeling decided to fabricate small steel “ski’s” for the logs to sit on in order to raise them off the ground away from standing water and termites. These legs are short in height and recessed in order to make the logs appear to float from closer vantage points.

The benches are a temporary solution to a long-term need for seating in the Meadow. Mother Nature is often not very nice to any kind of outdoor furniture. To slow the process of decay, the students applied a mixture of penetrating oil and mineral spirits to slow the curing process of the wood (hopefully limiting large cracks in the wood) and protect them from bad weather.

The cracks themselves create a sort of aesthetic for these contemporary, light-colored benches, appropriate in a natural setting like the Meadow. The cracks do continue to shrink and grow up to a quarter-inch or half-inch, moving throughout the wood.

Larry’s Sawmill Service provided the equipment and expertise to cut the logs. Photo by Richard Dean Prudenti.

For the students, this is their first public work, having previously made small pieces of furniture from reclaimed wood under the advisement of professor Dick Hoag. Hubbard and Hofeling’s earlier work impressed Kingery-Page and Linda Duke, director of the Beach Museum of Art.

Kingery-Page and Hoag worked with colleague Josh Cheek in informing the students about what values the design would need to embrace as well as selecting the final design.

The College of Architecture, Planning and Design supported and sponsored the design-build work of these students. The philosophy is that students not only design but participate in the “real world” fabricating of the product.

“It’s not just something on paper. As you work with material the design changes. It’s a give-and-take between the design part and the build part,” Cheek said.

Hofeling said he finds the design process almost comical at times. “Our sketches don’t mean a thing until we actually start the project and let the materials begin to inform us.”

He further explains that good design is a process of distillation that happens throughout the process from inception to completion. In stripping the design they define what’s really important. “Anything that detracts from the design or muddles it in any way is discarded. In this case once we cut the logs our ideas about the project completely changed,” Hofeling said.

For this reason the benches do not have backs. They students spent several days sketching ideas and talking about execution. However, once they cut the logs, they realized that adding anything to the beautiful wood surface felt inappropriate and foreign to what they needed to accomplish.

What is exciting about this project is the use of the natural resources of this area have not been wasted, so that the wood from the Hackberry has been used in several ways including to create sawdust to mix seed for the native plants that are now growing in the Meadow and as wood substrate for growing mushrooms. The Beach Museum of Art’s education director, Kathrine Schlageck uses the stump and slice of the trunk and a few boles to help students study the growth of the trees. By looking at the rings they can determine age of trees and what years were dry or wet.

Design is about the narrative of place. These trees were taken down at the Meadow, but not ultimately removed. They are just evolving into something else. It’s still a part of the site. It hasn’t left. It just changed.

The Meadow team extends a special thanks to Josh Cheek for his mentorship of students creating the benches. Deep thanks also to Dean Tim deNoble and Dean Wendy Ornelas for their support of the student’s design-build efforts.

The cracks in the hackberry wood will continue to expand and contract, adding character and aesthetic to the benches even after installation in the Meadow. Photo by Jake Hofeling.

 

Here are images of the final product:

Here are two of three benches located on the south side of the Meadow.
The benches on the south side of the Meadow are near the Beach Museum of Art.
There are a total of four benches, one is on the north side of the Meadow near All Faith's Chapel.

 

Starting From Scratch With Soil Paint

Artist Rhonda R. Janke helps children and adults create soil paint during the Meadow Open House on June 10.

 

Mud on canvas? Well, sort of…

Take some raw soil, mix it with a water-based medium such as honey, water or glycerine, and what do you get? If you guessed “soil paint,” you are correct.

Did you know that artists’ paints were all soil-based – until about 150 years ago chemists figured out other ways of creating the more commonly manufactured colors used today through machine-grown pigments. Most modern paints are created synthetically rather than from pigments derived from earth, soil, rock, metals, plants, mushrooms, insects and/or shellfish.

Artist and soil scientist Rhonda R. Janke could buy synthetically created paint to create her works. Why take this easy way out when she finds joy in creating paint from scratch – that is, from the earth. Depending on how much paint one needs and availability of materials, soil paint can be an economical alternative to purchasing paint, she said.

Here’s a link to a handout developed on how to make paint, comments on toxicity (soil paint is a lot safer than contemporary paints) and the historical context: http://parideazafarmart.wordpress.com/workshop-on-making-paint-from-soil/.

This is free information on making the following types of paint:

  • Casein
  • Egg tempera
  • Encaustic
  • Gouche
  • Oil paint
  • Pastels
  • Water color paint

“Paint was mysterious and confusing to me until I did a lot of reading and experimenting. The mystery has turned into empowerment, but hasn’t lost its magic!” Rhonda states.

Empowered is a good word for the arts in general impact us – art makes us feel powerful, like we can do anything if we set our minds and focus on what we want to accomplish. The power of the earth is its ability to grow plants from seeds. The power of some artists is to take soil from the earth and mix it with other natural substances to create a medium for expression.

Rhonda invited children and adults to share in the “magic” a few weeks ago during an Open House celebrating the beginning stages of the Meadow project. Representatives from collaborating departments and local Boy Scout Troops 74 and 75 also were there and participating in the creation of soil-based paints.

At the time, we hadn’t yet planted seed. Rather than disturb the soil of the Meadow, Rhonda made a metaphorical connection by bringing three buckets of local soils along with yellow, orange, green and black pigments made from the soils of Italy, Spain and elsewhere. She brought other materials to complete the recipe for paint. Besides pigment, other essential ingredients for paint include a binder that makes it stick together and an adhesive to make it stick to canvas, wood or paper. Open House guests worked on paper, and the hope was that they began thinking about the physical link between art and nature – the fact that “soil can make great art, and has been used for centuries,” Rhonda said at the site.

What lay below our feet matters for the growth of plants as well as the wonder of materials for everyday use.

In her artist statement, she writes: “I feel that materials used can be part of the message… Making the paint and fiber is as important as making the image. I also see nature as a collaborator, not as a resource to be exploited. To read her complete artist statement, go to http://parideazafarmart.wordpress.com/biographic-data/.

Also, here’s another link some contemporary soil artists: http://parideazafarmart.wordpress.com/favorite-soil-artists/.

“Making paint and using local materials will probably be a major part of my practice from now on, since it fits with my value system of using non-toxic, local materials, and also fits with my aesthetics of knowing where things come from, and how they are made, in addition to just seeing how they look,” Rhonda states.

The Meadow project is intended to bring us back to basics, too. One of the benefits of native plants includes no need for pesticides and fertilizers and less need for mowing. The creators of the Meadow intend this special place to be a meaningful compliment to the museum, and part of that is to provide an extension of the work of Beach educators to make meaningful connections among art, science and enjoyment of the natural world.

This young artist is creating a work using soil-based paints he created moments earlier.
Working with natural materials can add to the fun of making art.
The power of this artist is in taking soil from the earth and mixing it with other natural substances to creates a medium for expression.

 

Volunteers Needed to Seed the Meadow

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccafolium) is one of numerous plant species native to the Kansas Flint Hills. This will be among 50 plant species to be seeded or planted in The Meadow of Kansas State University. Image by Richard Dean Prudenti.

Please help make our garden grow — The Meadow, that is, just north of the Beach Museum of Art at K-State.

If you’re a person who enjoys sowing some tender loving care, we can put your volunteer hands to work Friday and Saturday, June 21-22, from 8 a.m.-noon. Together we will plant more than 20 species of native Kansas grasses and wildflowers. More species will be added in the second and third years, for a total of approximately 50 native species of grasses and wildflowers.

We need your help with the following tasks:

  • Mix seed and filling buckets
  • Rake soil to prepare for the seed
  • Broadcast seed
  • Rake to lightly cover seed

Weather permitting we will meet at 8 a.m. under the archway of the Beach Museum of Art. There you’ll receive instructions from Katie Kingery-Page of the Department of Landscape Architecture / Regional & Community Planning, and Kathrine Schlageck of the Beach Museum of Art. If it’s hot, no worries; Kathrine is organizing water refreshments in the shade that morning.

Don’t forget:

  • Sunscreen, hat or other clothes that protect from sun
  • Protective eyewear
  • Garden gloves
  • Hard rake (if you have one)
  • Sturdy shoes that completely cover your feet

Please email beachart@k-state.edu with the days and time you would like to volunteer. We encourage you to stay an hour, two hours or the full time. We plan to complete all activities each day by noon, possibly sooner. Planting is dependent on weather and soil conditions.

We hope you will join us in this unique opportunity to convert a conventional lawn into a meadow that features various plant species native to this part of Kansas.