My seed buying for next year has already started! I’m only five or six months ahead of time! We are planning a prairie garden for a space behind our barn where we used to plant pumpkins, melons, and one year, even corn! My husband and I found that although we both like to plant, neither one of us like to weed. Our intentions are good, but by the time mid-June rolls around, and a few long weekends at the cabin or longer seven to ten day vacations hit, we return home to a weed fest!
Last year, a couple of us refused to eat anything grown in this patch behind the barn because my spouse was using it to burn brush, bury sawdust, and even torch some scrap from siding our house. This was an unhealthy practice that has recognizable roots from my husband’s side of the family – with stories from his father’s “burn barrel” in the back of the family lot when he was growing up. I was trying to come up with ingenious ways to stop it. The smoke bothered my lungs, and with the advent of an adjacent housing development, we both knew the burning had to come to an end.
We had long talked about converting part of our small acreage back to prairie to help the pollinators. This was an easy jump for our thoughts with the personal investment of time and knowledge in my quest to save habitat for monarchs. Our three perennial beds, that also serve as monarch way stations complete with three different types of milkweed and nectar plants are well established, so it was time to think of what else we could do. (And, in the process stop the smelly burning in the patch behind the barn.)
So, onward we forged. We added Mason Bee houses to our home fruit orchard. And, we covered the unhealthy bed behind the barn last spring after tilling the soil. It has remained covered since that time – all through the growing season. Our plan was to put in a pollinator garden behind the barn. But, after selecting plants last winter and getting ready to order, I did some additional reading. What I found was that this bed, about 600 sq feet, should be kept covered for an entire growing season if we wanted to kill the weed seeds. So, I put off my order or rather changed it to a tray of wild blue lupine and other tray of pollinator friendly plants to put elsewhere in our yard, while this bed was kept covered to kill the weed seeds.
What’s with the cement pad in your backyard?
Several questions have arisen during this past year while entertaining and also from new neighbors. From afar. the bed behind the barn looks like a cement pad, with the tarp drawn as tight as possible and stapled down near the edges.
The reason it was covered prompted questions from our new neighbors – the ones who will eventually be blocked out by my plan of 7 foot tall Joe Pye Weed and Heliopsis! It’s nothing personal. The lady who asked the question, and now lives in the house behind our barn, seems very nice. But, the reason we bought this house on this lot was because we did not have neighbors! We liked the space. The space is changing.
Both my husband and I grew up on large lots, (ten and five acres, respectively) and were emulating our shared values regarding the land and open spaces. Seen as how I am even more an ecologist and conservationist that I ever was before, it made sense to want to preserve the nature we had, despite the impending arrival of new neighbors. Thus, a pollinator garden was planned last year that I call our wedge garden. It will have the tallest plants, like the Joe Pye Weed, in the back that will effectively block most of our view of the neighbor’s house. From that seven-foot verdant beacon, species will be planted in a graduated, yet diminishing, stature until the shortest plants are in the front of the bed that faces our home.
The original plan was to buy the native prairie plants that will go in this bed in the spring, but as I mentioned, I was bit by the seed ordering bug very early this year. The bug infected me while I was surfing the internet yesterday morning in anticipation of cyber Monday sales. Not finding any, I turned to my email inbox and there awaited the germination of an idea. Seeds of these native plants were on sale from the very nursery that I had planned to order the plants from.
“Why couldn’t I just grow the plants on my own?” I thought to myself.
I have space, grow lights, a heating mat, and empty two trays of deep, single cells for planting! Sadly, we no longer have cats. But, in truth the cats always interfered with seed germination in our house. Last spring, I was able to successfully germinate zinnia seeds my garden club students had planted. Now, I know that’s not a big deal as zinnia’s are easy plants to grow. But, maybe, just maybe I can grow my own prairie garden plants instead of ordering them!
So, I took a little time and got out my plan from last winter. I know what I bought in trays last year from Prairie Moon Nursery. I perused the available types of seeds – almost all of the varieties that I was considering and that fit our horticultural zone were there to buy at the discounted rate for Cyber Monday! So, without much more thought, I ordered seed on November 26th!
Here is what I’ll be getting:
Amorpha canescens – Lead Plant
Agastache scrophulariaefolia – Purple Giant Hyssop
Asclepias verticillata – Whorled Milkweed
Callirhoe digitata – Fringed Poppy Mallow
Antennaria plantaginifolia – Pussytoes
Asclepias viridiflora – Short Green Milkweed
Castilleja coccinea – Indian Paintbrush
Dalea candida – White Prairie Clover
Delphinium exaltatum – Tall Larkspur
Eutrochium maculatum – Joe Pye Weed
Eutrochium purpureum – Sweet Joe Pye Weed
Opuntia humifusa – Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus
Verbena stricta – Hoary Vervain
Veronicastrum virginicum – Culver’s Root
I think this was a great Cyber Monday sale! I saved 20% on each seed packet, know what I’ll be getting for my garden, will have the seeds when I am ready to start the plants, and can plan the spacing and bloom times so that we always have something blooming in our little private prairie. Maybe, I’ll make a spot in the middle that only we know is there and it can also be our “secret garden” right under the neighbor’s nose, but unable to be seen!
That sounds like a lovely mix of prairie plants. Sowing seeds is such an exciting and optimistic thing to do.
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Thanks, Ali. I have not yet figured out all the details, like bloom times, heights, etc, but picked the plants from my knowledge of what grows on our sand prairie that is a few miles from our home. We, of course, have different soil (which is why that land is protected, and ours isn’t. But, most prairie plants are pretty resilient and I think will do fine for our needs.