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The Meadow

Category: Landscape Aesthetics

Summer in the Meadow…landscape of memory

Friends of Trevor Davis plant wild blue indigo in his memory, early May 2015. Image by Richard Dean Prudenti.
Friends of Trevor Davis plant wild blue indigo in his memory, early May 2015. Image by Richard Dean Prudenti.

The Meadow was conceived, in part, as a contemplative space in the heart of the K-State campus. The Meadow’s initial installation was possible thanks to a memorial donation in honor of Professor William C. Hummel and Sara T. Hummel. Descendants and extended family of the Hummels have enjoyed visiting the Meadow and often take part in volunteer work days.

Summer 2015 brings a new layer of meaning to the Meadow. This spring, a group of K-State staff in the Division of Communications and Marketing decided to remember their colleague, Trevor Davis, through a contribution to plantings at the Meadow. Thanks to Mr. Davis’ friends, nearly 200 wild blue indigo (Baptisia australis) plants will blossom in the coming years. Wild blue indigo typically takes two years of growth before it blooms, so we’ll expect to see this purple tribute in 2017.

Mr. Davis, a writer, is remembered by his colleagues as full of verve for life and a true joy to be around.

June 2015 Meadow after heavy rains. Image by Katie Kingery-Page.
June 2015 Meadow after heavy rains. Image by Katie Kingery-Page.

Meadow Update! Your Questions, Answered

Winter in the Meadow, February 2015. Image by Lindsay Smith.
Winter in the Meadow, February 2015. Image by Lindsay Smith.

Post written by Richard Dean Prudenti and Katie Kingery-Page.

Seeding of the Meadow began nearly two years ago. In that time the campus and community have witnessed the growth of a native plants landscape at K-State, just north of the Beach Museum of Art. Many people have shown great appreciation for the plants, the habitat and the landscape design elements. This became apparent when Richard Prudenti (graduate student in landscape architecture and co-author of this post) provided a tour of the Meadow for several alumni of landscape architecture during the 50th Anniversary celebration of the landscape architecture program at K-State.

MLA student Richard Dean Prudenti leads a K-State alumni tour of the Meadow, November 2014. Image by Taylor Lininger.

The alumni questions and observations were enlightening, as this was their first visit to the Meadow. For example, one person inquired about the non-native trees in the landscape: How is it possible to create a sustainable Meadow with the current tree inventory? Will we replace them with native trees? As we await the regrowth of spring, we want to take a moment to answer these questions and others posed by visitors to the Meadow:

Q: Will we replace the current tree inventory with native trees?

A: The site currently holds six trees; two are native to Kansas: a Chinquapin Oak and an Eastern Red Cedar. The trees provide shade conditions that are much denser than that of an upland prairie, but this canopy does evoke a savannah-like feeling. Understanding the amenity of healthy trees in a campus environment, it makes sense to preserve these trees for their qualities of shade and enclosure of space. To a purist, preserving the healthy non-native trees that came with the site might be anathema, but the Meadow is a landscape of compromise between human needs and the desire to showcase native plants.

Our plan is that in a few more years, the Meadow can sustain itself and require very little maintenance. But just as in a natural grassland, tree seedling growth must be suppressed. Currently, seasonal mowing suppresses seedling trees in the Meadow.

Q: How was the under-story of plants designed?

A: The plant palette is drawn from the documented plant composition of the nearby Konza prairie, and includes species selected for a cohesive aesthetic effect as well as creation of animal habitat and a resource for understanding human use (for example, some native species are used by pollinators; others have been used by people for food and dye plants). Species were combined in five different mixes in response to sun/shade and edge conditions of the site. Still in its second year and a work in progress, it will take 3-5 years to reach the point where the Meadow maintains a dynamic equilibrium of native grasses and wildflowers.

Schematic planting areas, by condition. Image by Katie Kingery-Page.
Schematic planting areas, by condition. Image by Katie Kingery-Page, 2013.

During the 2014 growing season, transplantation of plants from K-State greenhouses increased species on site from 20 to more than 40, including milkweed and other species that provide food and habitat for Monarch butterflies and other pollinators. In the future, monitoring pollinators will be paramount to validating the Meadow’s existence and perhaps supporting the creation of additional “meadows” on campus.

Q: Will the Meadow be burned at some point?

A: Gaining permission for controlled burns is a concern, especially as close as the Meadow is to the Beach Museum of Art, McCain Auditorium, All Faiths Chapel, and other campus buildings. We feel a controlled burn could be safely planned as a celebratory and educational event. If the planning team is successful in obtaining permissions, a burn still cannot be held until the plants have sufficient root growth to survive a fire–typically not until 2-3 years after planting.

Q: What are the sustainability goals of The Meadow?

A: We have altered the landscape from turfgrass to native plants with far less water and chemical use than conventional lawns. Once fully‐established, the Meadow’s need for herbicides/pesticides and water usage beyond rainfall should be minimal or nonexistent. In addition, we believe the Meadow will decrease stormwater runoff into existing inlets on the site. We hope to begin monitoring stormwater runoff, chemical and water inputs, in comparison to a typical campus site, later this year.

Q: Will there be lighting in the Meadow?

A: Currently there is not a budget for expanding electrical service on the site and adding light fixtures. Our aspiration is to develop artful lighting.

Q: How is this landscape funded?

A: Thus far, the Meadow has been made possible by the generosity of private citizens such as the Hummel family (William and Sara Hummel Memorial Fund) and the Henley family (John and John T. Henley Meadow Excellence Fund). K-State’s Green Action Fund, a pilot fund through the Student Government Association, has also provided support. In addition, numerous in-kind hours of work have been given by faculty, staff, and community. We continue to seek out funds to accomplish a number of objectives.

Q: How will the memorial function of the Meadow be visually expressed?

A: From the beginning, the Meadow has served as a living memorial, which will be recognized on a sign planned for summer 2015. Since the construction, several people have approached the planning team asking that further memorials be incorporated in the Meadow. The Meadow planning team feels that for the meadow to function as a contemplative landscape, it must remain free of visual clutter. Thus, people have developed creative and meaningful ways to memorialize, including sponsoring and participating in planting days and donating seating elements.

K-State alumni tour the Meadow. Image by Taylor Lininger.
K-State alumni tour the Meadow, November 2014. Image by Taylor Lininger.

Q: Will there be signage to explain the goals of the Meadow?

A: Every effort is being made to preserve the visual aesthetic of the Meadow. A subtle sign planned for the Meadow will refer visitors to a touchtable exhibit inside the museum. This display of visuals and information is currently under construction.

Q: Will we be monitoring the changes in soil and habitat, the use of water, etc.?

A: Kingery‐Page led an interdisciplinary team to plan and design the Meadow with “ecosystem services” in mind, as defined by the Sustainable Sites Initiative:

  • Local climate regulation
  • Air and water cleansing
  • Erosion and sediment control (the former turfgrass had areas of erosion from runoff and native plants now slow and capture sediment).
  • Hazard (flood) mitigation
  • Pollination
  • Habitat functions
  • Human health and well‐being benefits
  • Food and renewable non‐food products
  • Cultural benefits

In Fall 2014, faculty from the departments of Landscape Architecture/Regional & Community Planning and Bio-Agricultural Engineering applied for an EPA grant to monitor several sites on campus. The research anticipated at the Meadow will compare the chemical and water inputs as well as stormwater infiltration at the Meadow to a typical turfgrass area of equal size on campus.

Q: What is the primary goal of this project?

A: One of the overarching goals is to heighten awareness of the need to protect grasslands worldwide. More than 49% of grasslands have been destroyed worldwide and only 4 percent are currently protected.

The Meadow is a setting for careful observation, discussion, and drawing activities, encouraging visitors to make meaningful connections between art, science, and enjoyment of the natural world. The site fosters lifelong learning about the Flint Hills ecoregion and sustainable landscape management.

K-State alumni tour the Meadow. Image by Taylor Lininger.
K-State alumni tour the Meadow, November 2014. Image by Taylor Lininger.

A Special Thank You

We greatly appreciate those who participated in touring the Meadow fall 2014. Your interest in learning about the Meadow, its purpose, and what we might be doing next proved quite valuable in our planning efforts. Your thoughts and responses to the Meadow experience will continue to help us as we develop the Meadow.

Spring…weed, plant, contemplate

The Meadow in early June, 2014, looking toward the Beach Museum of Art. Image by Katie Kingery-Page

Since May, we’ve been busy planting native plant plugs (some we grew, some we purchased, all funded by K-State Green Action Fund), weeding, and grooming the Meadow.

Native plant plugs growing in K-State greenhouses, sponsored by the Green Action Fund. Image by Caleb Melchior.

Plant establishment is going well, as you can see in the lush photos, but we are still fighting several weed species. We continue to rely upon cutting back (weed whipping) and hand pulling to manage weeds. We did make a rare exception for a one-time herbicide application to a very small area of bindweed (about 12 feet along a 3 foot deep swathe of the western edge of the Meadow).

Long view of the Meadow early June 2014, from the museum ramp, All Faith's Chapel in the background. Image by Katie Kingery-Page

This week, we enjoy the blooming bee balm, butterfly milkweed, plains coreopsis, and rose verbena.

Grass and forb growth early June 2014. Image by Katie Kingery-Page
Forbs in bloom, early june 2014. Image by Katie Kingery-Page
A rare place on campus to pause outdoors: Meadow seating area. Image by Katie Kingery-Page

Spring 2014 thank you’s are due to:

Kathrine Schlageck, Boy Scout organizer extraordinaire

Boy Scouts of Manhattan Troop 75

Karen Hummel

Dr. Valerie Wright

Dr. Rhonda Janke

Dr. Zakary Ratajczak

Sarah Lott

Lee Skabelund

Blake Belanger

Troy Britt, museum employee, art student, and expert ‘raking artist’

Chelcie Sutherland, museum employee and photographer

Lindsay Smith, museum exhibit designer, willing weeder, and constant Meadow groomer

Richard Dean Prudenti, museum special projects employee and LARCP student assigned to the Meadow

Joe Myers, Annette Finkeldei, and Dan McGee of K-State Grounds for their expert and timely assistance

Early September, more than two months since seeding


An early evening visitor enjoys the new hackberry benches. Image by Katie Kingery-Page.

We’re finally feeling some hot days in the Kansas Flint Hills. In the Meadow, we have already cut back growth three times, in an effort to keep weeds in check as the native species grow in. I describe this to passerbys as allowing the growth above ground to catch up to the growth underground. Many studies have shown the effective growth pattern of perennial native prairie species, which tend to first put down deep roots to ensure survival, rather than showy growth above ground in the first season.

Thanks to the heat wave, I had a chance to reconnect with the Meadow while watering Saturday morning. Watering time allows me to closely observe species growth, to reflect on Meadow maintenance, and to observe visitors to campus using the newly installed Meadow Benches. In the morning, several people came through and paused on the benches; traces left by other visitors were evident. I had taken this photo the evening before:

Over the past week, I noted three new species in flower: pitcher sage, butterfly milkweed, and wild petunia.

Salvia pitcheri (pitcher sage or blue sage) puts up its first influorescence. Image by Katie Kingery-Page.
Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed) nestled between young little buestem and echinacea plants. Image by Katie Kingery-Page.
Ruellia humilis (sometimes called wild petunia) shares a piece of ground with young bergamot (bee balm) and Indian woodoats plants. Image by Katie Kingery-Page.

Beyond watering (which has been occasional since August–just in response to the sustained, dry heat) and cutting back, some other maintenance is needed. We will put out a call for volunteers, soon, asking for those who may be willing to gingerly hand weed from the edges of paths. Hand weeding is an excellent chance to learn plant identification. For the upcoming volunteer day, we will have at least two K-Staters on hand to help identify native plants. Stay tuned for date and time.

In closing, please join me in making this week  a grassroots “grounds crew appreciation week.” The Meadow benefits greatly from the continued guidance of Joe Myers, KSU Physical Plant Supervisor, Facilities Grounds Maintenance. He and his colleagues have helped the project in numerous ways through their generosity of knowledge, time, and skill. These are some of the people who make our campus beautiful.

More soon on the volunteer day!

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.

 

Minimalist Regionalism: aesthetics of the Meadow

Katie Kingery-Page is an assistant professor of landscape architecture at Kansas State University. Kingery-Page has studied sculpture, art theory, ecology, and landscape architecture in the United States and Brazil. Her design work includes streetscapes, school yards, and stormwater meadows. Kingery-Page is focused upon art as a mode of knowledge for landscape architects, meaning both humanities research and design as a conceptual art practice.

 

The Flint Hills southwest of Manhattan, Kansas, dusted with a spring snow. Image by Katie Kingery-Page.

Living in northeast Kansas can be a constant aesthetic and intellectual experience with the Flint Hills. The tallgrass prairie landscape of the Flint Hills is rare, globally-speaking, and is both challenging and satisfying, aesthetically. The Flint Hills (and indeed other grasslands) challenge conventional wisdom regarding landscape aesthetics. For decades, professional evaluation of a landscape’s scenic value (such as that conducted by the National Forest Service) has been based upon notions of diverse visual experiences.

Quoting the Forest Service Manual, a “Class A” landscape scores high in the “…visual perception attributes of variety, unity, vividness, intactness, coherence, mystery, uniqueness, harmony, balance, and pattern.” While “variety” and “vividness” in landscape scenes may work very well as criteria for evaluating forest, mountain or seaside landscape, I argue that these criteria are inherently less relevant to the aesthetics of the Flint Hills. The Flint Hills can be understood as scenes of unity, intactness, and subtlety.

Flint Hills landscape shortly after spring burn at the Konza prairie near Manhattan, Kansas. Image by Katie Kingery-Page.

When I experience the Flint Hills from a distance (let’s say while driving), it’s the unity of form, texture and color within a single scene that is so compelling. This minimalist landscape aesthetic can be understood through many lenses: the study of 20th century minimalist art; the wabi-sabi aesthetic of Japanese landscape; and even the high lonesome aesthetic of country and bluegrass music. The Beach Museum of Art collection contains work by many artists who capture the minimalism of the Flint Hills grassland, such as Larry W. Schwarm’s Two Hills with Burned Grass, Chase County, Kansas, 1994.

When observing the Flint Hills up-close (the immersive experience of walking through the grassland) what strikes me is the bodily experience of topography and the limitless complexity of tallgrass species which hold in tension visual unity and (yes) variety: look ahead and see a unified sea of grasses and forbs, look down and see the many structures of individual species. This tension of unity and complexity is what my colleagues and I have begun to term “meadow-thinking:” an ability to move seamlessly between the whole and its parts, between detailed concerns and the big picture.

As a native planting designer, I was mentored early in my career by landscape architects, a landscape ecologist, an agronomist, and landscape design professionals. I mention my mentors because I value the informal learning that occurs when designing and building landscapes. The first native plants establishment I designed and helped to install (advised by Dr. Tim Keane and Dr. Clenton Owensby) is a large seeded and plugged landscape near Olathe, Kansas, now in its sixth season of growth. This planted prairie gives a hint of what’s to come in the Meadow.

Prairie establishment at the Johnson County Nolte Office building, shown in late winter 2012. Image by Katie Kingery-Page.

As the Meadow at K-State lies dormant, just beginning to show its life through sprouts of new grass and wildflower shoots, it’s difficult to visualize the intended aesthetic of the Meadow. Over the next two years, the Meadow’s maintenance regime will require it to be mowed to six inches height. It won’t be until the Meadow’s third growing season that the aesthetic created by plant selection, planting strategy, and path design will be fully visible.

So, I reveal a bit of the aesthetic intent here. The Meadow at K-State (just through the Beach Museum of Art archway) is designed to be a unified landscape fabric of grasses and wildflowers, all less that 40 inches in height. This fabric is incised with a simple system of crushed limestone paths. The path color will contrast strongly with the green, summer growth of the Meadow, but in fall and winter, the effect will soften as the plants mature to tan and rust colors.

Schematic Site Plan showing path and gathering space layout for the Meadow. Image by Katie Kingery-Page

Because the Meadow site is relatively small and surrounded by a diverse scene, a simple, unified design seemed best to achieve our goals. These goals include creating a quiet place for restful contemplation and setting the stage for close observation of plants and processes in the Meadow. Aesthetic decisions have been made in context of the Meadow planning team discussions and charrette, considering diverse viewpoints. Many functional, pragmatic factors (which for sake of focus, I have not discussed here) have affected the team’s decisions. Guiding all decisions has been a conscious appreciation of the minimalist landscape aesthetic of the Fint Hills eco-region.