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.
Be on the lookout for upcoming volunteer days to transplant plugs. Species include:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
Post written by Richard Dean Prudenti and 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
Three weeks since broadcast seeding two custom mixes of native plant seed (one for shade, one for sun), there are signs if germination and growth at the Meadow.
Several species of seedlings and juvenile plants have been identified, including little bluestem, prairie dropseed, american beakgrain, purple prairie clover, purple coneflower, and plains coreopsis. More are to come in the next week. Thus far, we have identified only those plants we can see from the paths, as we are careful to avoid damaging the young plants by walking in the site.
If you’re on the K-State campus, maybe you have observed our team at work. Since seeding, we have planted about 350 live plant plugs, focusing on areas where the native grasses need an extra boost to out-compete weeds. We have also begun to plant the very edge of the site, focusing on seeding a buffalograss mix at sunny edges. Shady edges will be seeded with a different mix in the fall. In general, current planting and weeding has occurred gingerly from the edges. For now, weeding is limited since we cannot walk over the small native plants.
“So what is the plan to keep weeds in check?” you may wonder. Very soon, in about four weeks, the site will be mowed to a height of six inches in an effort to suppress many annual weeds by preventing seedhead formation. This mowing will also knock back the tree seedlings we see growing in some areas.
We’ll continue to keep the young, growing plants and their weedy competitors mowed back to six inches throughout this first season. Some desired plants may not emerge until next spring’s greening in mid-May. Next season, we will continue the mowing and may begin more hand weeding, depending upon the hardiness of the native plant stand.
To all who have volunteered, thank you! Your hard work is already paying off.
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.
This is free information on making the following types of paint:
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/.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last Friday and Saturday, dedicated and generous volunteers enjoyed a morning learning to mix and hand broadcast seed. The weather was hot, but the company was stellar!
Thank you to all our volunteers and participating project team members:
Cornelius A. Hugo
Richard Dean Prudenti
We accomplished seeding the vast majority of the site with 20 different plant species. These species were divided into a sun mix and a shade mix, combined with sawdust to bulk up the mix for proper distribution, and broadcast by hand. The planning team selected a June planting because this timing tends to favor growth of warm season grasses over cool season weeds. The site will now be watered periodically throughout the growing season.
Sunday morning, just hours after seeding, we received plenty of water from a rain and hail storm. A few small areas of seed were washed out by the rain, but most survived. We expect to see the first seedlings in about a month.
Now we need to come up with a name for the Meadow’s volunteer cadre, because it’s clear that involvement with the Meadow may be habit-forming. The Prairie Hearts? Meadow Tenders? …something better? Please post a comment with your suggestions.
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
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.
Sunscreen, hat or other clothes that protect from sun
Hard rake (if you have one)
Sturdy shoes that completely cover your feet
Please email email@example.com 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.