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The Meadow

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Grooming the Meadow

 

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama) in late September. Image by Richard Dean Prudenti.

The Meadow is a work in progress – it will take 3-5 years to reach the point where the Meadow holds a dynamic equilibrium of native grasses and wildflowers, cut back each year, but allowed to grow tall in vibrant beauty each season. Until then, we have periodic cutting and weeding days to control weeds as the native plants become established.

What that means is, the weeds growing in the Meadow are expected and make sense when one considers the long history of the site as a cultural landscape. For more than 100 years, the ground cover of the site has been composed of various exotic (non-native) turf grasses and exotic weeds.

Buckets and piles of weeds. Image by Richard Dean Prudenti.

Take, for instance, crabgrass, which was one of the turfgrasses of the site prior to Meadow seeding. It’s a notoriously difficult weed to eradicate (it’s a plant even though we consider it a weed, the latter being a “plant out of place”). In one sense, it’s attractive, but it’s undesirable (therefore we call it a weed) because it fights for control of territory. Therefore we fight against it with consistent and deliberate weed whipping (cutting the vegetation, including the desirable plants) to six inches. We have chosen not to use chemical herbicides, due to their environmental persistence and potential effects upon soil and water health. The Beach Museum as a partner has been very supportive, leading the call for a chemical free landscape in the Meadow.

So what about the native plants that we want to see thrive? In most areas, they’re winning the fight already, but not just in the light of day. The fight is underground. Whereas weedy plants spread quickly across the surface of the earth, below ground the “good plants” are taking root and preparing for the major battle – the battle for soil moisture and nutrients.

All ages are welcome to weed! Beth Krehbiel with Ruby Smith. Image by Richard Dean Prudenti.

Some people may be disappointed, thinking we are not keeping up with the weeds. But the truth is, using limited resources, we are making good progress toward realizing the Meadow. We understand wishing the Meadow to be already “complete.” So much development happens over days rather than years, and turf sod is an instant pleaser to the eye – it happens over hours, not even days. We are accustomed to instant landscapes. Take heart as many desirable plants are thriving in Meadow. In fact, “Grooming the Meadow” (our way of describing the process of weeding) showed us that our seeding efforts from this summer were a success.

Plains coreopsis and Wes. Image by Richard Dean Prudenti.

Interest in the Meadow is growing as staff reporter, Shelton Burch, of the Collegian recently wrote an article updating the campus community about this inter-departmental project. http://www.kstatecollegian.com/2013/10/04/meadow-connects-science-math-engineering-and-art/

If you walk by the Meadow this month, you’ll see that the K-State Grounds Maintenance team has just performed a scheduled fall cutting of the growth. We anticipate more germination of seed in the spring, so we’re removing as much plant thatch as possible now, while the plants are still fairly upright and easy to cut. A huge thank you to the K-State Grounds Maintenance personnel and our Meadow Grooming volunteers:

Wesley, student in landscape architecture. Image by Richard Dean Prudenti.

Troy Britt

Beth Krehbiel

Wesley

Richard Prudenti

Lee Skabelund

Lindsay Smith

Ruby Smith

Lee Skabelund, associate professor of landscape architecture. Image by Richard Dean Prudenti.

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

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.

 

Rainy Day Meadow Update

Dispatch from the Meadow on a rainy day: Despite the weeds (weed tree seedlings and pigweed–amaranth–being the most noticeable), quite a bit of positive growth is occurring for native plants. Grasses seen taking hold include little bluestem, american beakgrain, and hairy wild rye. Forb juveniles seen in abundance include the annual plains coreopsis (which will bloom, even if we top it off, due to lateral growth), sweet coneflower, purple coneflower, and purple prairie clover.

Plains coreopsis blooming six weeks after seeding the Meadow. Image by Katie Kingery-Page.
Of our very recently seeded edges, the buffalo grass germinated almost immediately–many small seedlings can be seen. Now we need some good, hot weather to help it grow! Meadow-helpers Troy and Richard seeded the buffalo edges, along with a swath of side oats grama along the sunny part of the ‘humped edge.’ Allow me to explain what the ‘humped edge’ is: the northwestern edge of the side, most prone to erosion, is still protected by a compost berm created by piling up sod stripped from the site. Side oats grama was also seeded around the water connection, to restore the area disturbed by a leak and then replacement of the hookup. The side oats grama has germinated well and is filling in. Our erosion control measures continue to hold up well.
The Meadow site in August 2013, six weeks after seeding. Image by Troy Britt.

The last area to be planted will be the shady edges, which include several areas, one being the compost berm nearest the museum. Typically, we would not plant the cool season natives of this mix in high summer. Had I known we’d be seeing 60s and 70s in July, I might have tried it! But a more rationale approach is to seed these areas in         the fall.

We had a surprise last week: learned that a new utility may be routed through the Meadow site in the spring. We have received assurance that any disturbance will be restored. Apparently the need for this utility came up rather quickly, in the last two months. I will keep you posted as we learn more.

The plan for August is to weed wack the lushest areas back to about six inches high, in order to control weedy growth. Also, hand weeding from the edges will be done, strictly for cosmetic purposes. So in about two weeks, it should look a bit more tidy. Please keep in mind and pass the word that “messiness” is part of the game in the first two years. We knew this, expected it, and will manage weeds with planned mows and weed whacking while the native plants slowly grow in. Case in point: A typical little bluestem juvenile can put down 2 feet of roots in the first year, even though above ground it may only grow to 4 or 5 inches.

Last but not least at all, two architecture students have been busy working on custom benches from the hackberry logs under the guidance of LARCP faculty, Josh Cheek. The benches will be minimalist forms featuring the beauty of the hackberry grain. Photos of the raw logs and the work in progress will follow in another post, soon!

What is The Meadow?

The Meadow is a learning landscape of native plants adjacent to the Beach Museum of Art in Manhattan, Kansas.

The creation of The Meadow on the K-State campus will foster:

  • a demonstration of sustainable landscaping that requires less watering and pesticide use than conventional lawn,
  • a natural laboratory for a variety of both graduate and undergraduate research projects,
  • a resource for the teaching of plant identification and native plants establishment,
  • an experiential component for Beach Museum tours, allowing visitors to examine, touch, and smell some of the plants depicted in regionally significant art displayed in the Museum’s galleries,
  • an extension of the work of Beach educators and faculty across campus to make meaningful connections among art, science, and enjoyment of the natural world.

From a recent Pitch article by Nancy Hull Rigdon: “When complete, the building’s mirrored archway will give way to native grasses amid a backdrop of limestone buildings, a scene intended to highlight the commonalities between art and science. ‘Looking carefully, noticing details, finding words to describe visual discoveries, thinking about meaning and significance — these activities go on when people study the world scientifically, experience it through art, or just enjoy nature,’ says Linda Duke, the museum’s director.”

Volunteers will broadcast seed The Meadow June 21st (Friday) and June 22nd (Saturday) 2013, weather permitting. Interested volunteers can meet at the Beach Museum of Art Arch at 8am both days. To learn more about this project, or to get involved,  please contact beachart@k-state.edu