“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. ” – T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding“, 1942
Landscaping in the context of Modern architecture and design often takes the idea of minimalism and structure a bit too far in my opinion. Often what is most pleasing to look at and experience, is a space that achieves a balance of different textures and feels. The clean lines and minimalist approach of Modern architecture can be accented and balanced beautifully by the grace and elegance of native plantings. With their dynamic, sensual and soft present, prairie plants are a particularly good compliment to stark minimalist forms. Our eyes have been trained to see the typical closely sheared lawn as a lovely open space to surround our homes with but an earlier observer of the great plains would have found the immense vastness of the grasses and flowers of the prairie to be an almost overwhelmingly open space. We need to unlearn the standards we have accepted with the modern lawn and learn to see the unity and cohesion amongst prairie grasses and flowers. This unified aesthetic of prairie plants can be a more ecologically and visually rich replacement for the often too minimal Modernist landscape design that relies on one or two plant species.
We designed and implemented a project last year that played with the balance of minimalism, angles, space, texture and form. The square cut flagstone with decomposed granite fill provides a nice compliment to the house that in turn, is softened by the grasses and native flowers.
As Ludwig Mies van der Rohe put it “We should attempt to bring nature, houses, and the human being to a higher unity”.
Back in early June, the Central Chapter of the Oklahoma Native Plant Society took a field trip to the Lexington Wildlife Management Area. With almost 10,000 acres of “natural” areas, this place is a potential treasure for native plant enthusiasts. As a landscape designer in Cleveland county, I’m always on the look out for under utilized plants that do well right here in my neck of the woods. I was glad to explore some place a bit on the fringe of my region. The most interesting areas we found were the prairies that were mainly along the roads. Two of my favorite finds were two “Texas” plants that also make their home here: Bouteloua rigidiseta (Texas Grama) and Nassella leucotricha (Texas Winter Grass). The latter of the two is not documented as growing in Cleveland county. Always cool to find things not listed. Toward the end of our visit we were blessed with a lovely early Summer thunderstorm. The clouds made for a fantastic backdrop and the rain was just right for cooling the small band of intrepid botanical explorers as we headed back to our caravan (and no one was struck by lighting!). In our short trip we barely scratched the surface of what this place may have. We will certainly be going back!
On a recent family trip to Quartz Mountain I took some time out for a little botanizing (of course!). I’m really interested in the “xeric” ferns of western Oklahoma and Quartz Mountain had some awesome examples. The “Star Cloak Fern” was a new one to me and quite striking at that. The Seri people of Sonora used the leaves in a tea to promote fertility and they believed it had “supernatural value”, providing protection to those that carried some in a pouch. It’s rugged gray fronds have a distinct star pattern and curl up when dry. The grey/silver Cheilanthes (probably eatonii) fern that I found also had a rugged and striking appearance. I like all things with gray and silver foliage! I also found what I think to be Pilularia americana (pillwort). These strange ferns have no fronds and look more like grasses or spike rush. I did see what appear to be sorus looking features which lead me to my ID of this. I hope to go back in the summer sometime and see the grasses and forbs in full glory. Overall a very interesting place thats unique features create pockets of cool and somewhat rare plants.
Lawns…those ubiquitous constructions of man that have turned vast areas of the world into virtual green deserts and parking lots. A conservative estimate for lawns in the U.S. is 41 million acres, most of which are comprised of non native shallow rooted turf grasses that require constant mowing and provide little ecological benefit. Here in Oklahoma, the number one lawn grass is Bermuda grass. The irony of this is that Bermuda grass is one of the most invasive weeds we deal with on a day to day basis. Although it is a tough and drought tolerant plant, it’s ability to spread unchecked via rhizomes and stolons have made it a pervasive weed in the built landscape. We spend countless hours every year removing, containing, mowing and contending with this grass. Others have succinctly described the negative ecological impact of traditional lawns, but is there a way to reverse many of these negatives by simply choosing different turf grass species?
Researchers at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center have delved into this question and come up with a blend of three native turf species that work together to create an adaptable, deep rooted, low-maintenance turf that can go a long way to making the lawn more ecologically beneficial. We, amongst others, have been using Buffalo Grass (Bouteloua dactyloides) as a Bermuda grass replacement and for the most part, we’re happy with the results. Using the Habiturf blend as a starting point we are exploring our own mixes of native turf and forb species to create an adaptable “Eco Lawn” for Oklahoma. In a following post, I’ll share some of our experiences with this process and give some how to advice. Here’s to a new turf paradigm!
Oklahoma Gardener’s current issue has an article I wrote about our Pi House gardens. Check it out on the stands now.
My porch gardening article in Oklahoma Gardener magazine is hitting the shelves. I took the photos and wrote the article based on the assignment of Life on the Porch: Beat the Heat by Gardening on the Porch. I came up with the concept of the three P’s of porch gardening. Pick up a copy to find out what they are and how to use them.