The benefits of creating an urban native plants meadow are many: habitat and forage for pollinators, increased stormwater infiltration of runoff on a site, increased plant bio-diversity, potential for informal learning about eco-systems….These are just a few of many reasons.
Related to establishing community meadows, Katie Kingery-Page recently gave a keynote address to the Kansas Native Plants Society, “Ten Lessons for Urban Native Plants Meadows.” See a summary of this talk on the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains blog.
The Meadow blog’s mission is to be a living archive about the Meadow and a helpful resource for those interested in community-based native plants meadows. We’ve been digging through our archives from the very start of Meadow planning and selected this Plan of Work document to share. It was an evolving document and later changed to reflect roles of the Meadow partners. For example, faculty in K-State’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional & Community Planning, along with Beach Museum staff, have led Meadow maintenance with the help of so many terrific volunteers.
If your community is planning a meadow, we recommend having a clear document assigning roles and outlining the work needed to build a slow landscape. Below is our example.
 For more on slow landscapes, see Elizabeth K. Meyer’s article “Slow Landscape: A New Erotics of Sustainability” in Issue 31 (2009) of Harvard Design Magazine.
The Meadow was conceived, in part, as a contemplative space in the heart of the K-State campus. The Meadow’s initial installation was possible thanks to a memorial donation in honor of Professor William C. Hummel and Sara T. Hummel. Descendants and extended family of the Hummels have enjoyed visiting the Meadow and often take part in volunteer work days.
Summer 2015 brings a new layer of meaning to the Meadow. This spring, a group of K-State staff in the Division of Communications and Marketing decided to remember their colleague, Trevor Davis, through a contribution to plantings at the Meadow. Thanks to Mr. Davis’ friends, nearly 200 wild blue indigo (Baptisia australis) plants will blossom in the coming years. Wild blue indigo typically takes two years of growth before it blooms, so we’ll expect to see this purple tribute in 2017.
Mr. Davis, a writer, is remembered by his colleagues as full of verve for life and a true joy to be around.
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.
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.
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).
This week, we enjoy the blooming bee balm, butterfly milkweed, plains coreopsis, and rose verbena.
Spring 2014 thank you’s are due to:
Kathrine Schlageck, Boy Scout organizer extraordinaire
Boy Scouts of Manhattan Troop 75
Dr. Valerie Wright
Dr. Rhonda Janke
Dr. Zakary Ratajczak
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
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.
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.
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.