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.
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.
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.
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
Human health and well‐being benefits
Food and renewable non‐food products
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Pitcharticle 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 firstname.lastname@example.org