Landscape Plants: A Mother’s Day Remembrance

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

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

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

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

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

Richard making his new garden grow

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

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

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

First Grade Teacher who changed it all

Newspaper article from the Mount Olive Chronicle.

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

Richard and brother, Danny, with 3 Sunflower Plants

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

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

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

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

An expanded garden

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

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

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

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.

 

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

 

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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!

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Seedlings Emerge

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.

Little bluestem juvenile plant, slowly growing in July 2013 at the Meadow. Image by Katie Kingery-Page.

Purple prairie clover juvenile plant rises above the straw. Image by Katie Kingery-Page.

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.

A buffalo grass edge has just been seeded by Meadow helpers, Richard Prudenti and Troy Britt. This edge will occur along most sunny lengths of the site. Image by Lindsay Smith.

“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.

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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.

 

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