I have developed a nice habit of taking daily walks through the park near my house. It started last Summer, when I realized how valuable walking is as a relaxing meditation. I used to jog fairly often through this park, but my attention was on “getting somewhere” rather than enjoying the scenery and my thoughts.
Whetstone Park in Columbus, OH is a large, city park established in the 1930’s. A well maintained bike path runs through the park. This path connects with other river parks and runs almost continuously through about 20 or more miles through the city. I’ve biked the 7 miles from my house to downtown hardly using any streets.
The North side of the park holds the glorious and nationally famous Whetstone Park of Roses, which features thousands of roses in bloom all Summer, and which boasts the newest, cutting edge hybrids the year before they are publicly released!
Just a few blocks from my house an entrance to the park leads to the path along the Olentangy River. (Locals like to jokingly call it the Old and Grungy River, because it’s not very clean or pretty.) The photo shows the are I pass through soon after leaving my house.
About 5 years ago, a large field which had been used for soccer and dog running was converted into a prairie. The middle of the field was often soggy after a rain. The park is large and has numerous other, better fields for soccer and field games, so this seemed like a good spot for a prairie. The wet spots are now “vernal pools”, which hold water during the rainy seasons and are necessary breeding ground for frogs and other amphibians. Dragonflies and Damselflies also hunt there. At sunset, the dragonflies can be seen flying high the pool, intermingling with the evening Swallows and perhaps getting eaten.
The Whetstone Prairie is a joint effort between the Columbus Parks and Recreation Dept. and Columbus Wild Ones: Native Plants, Natural Landscapes, a local non-profit branch of a national organization, Wild-Ones. Hundreds of volunteers help prepare and maintain the field.
At first the field was let to grow somewhat wild. The grasses went to seed and grew several feet tall. I’m guessing this was to shade out some of the smaller weeds. Designated paths were kept mowed to be passable on foot.
A few months later, I noticed that a few acres of the 6 in the field had been sprayed with herbicide. I wasn’t sure if this was particularly kosher for developing a natural habitat, but I could also understand, considering how weed infested the ground is.
After the cleared area settled a bit, perhaps a month later, I noticed a few dozen small plants had been placed near what was to be the main entrance for the prairie. These were demonstration plants for visitors to learn names and shapes. It’s nice to be able to get close to each of several varieties, especially for photos. The wild field is difficult to walk though. Nor would I want to disturb nesting creatures.
The rest of the cleared field was seeded with dozens of varieties of prairie flowers: Cup Plants, Bee Balm, Black Eyed Susans, Queen Ann’s Lace, Cone Flowers, Cardinal Flowers, Butterfly Weeds, Gay Feathers, Asters and various other sun flowers. Over the next year these plants matured into a dense, thicketed and healthy prairie.
The remaining 4-5 acres were never sprayed, but were seeded with millions of wildflower seeds. However, those areas have struggled with nasty weed infestations such as dandelion, plantain and crabgrass.
I have watched the purveyors of the prairie try several methods to favor the natural prairie flowers. This year they mowed those parts down and raked up the dried stems, perhaps allowing light and air to reach the somewhat established prairie flowers. So far it still looks pretty weedy. I’m not sure what they plan for this area. Perhaps it will take times for the prairie flowers to dominate, which are ultimately quite durable once established. I plan to learn more of these methods and will report back to you.
This Spring the original few acres were “scorched” to weaken some invasive tree seedlings and other weeds. Prairie plants have amazingly deep roots, often 8-10 feet, which allow survival after scorching. In natural prairie settings, dry years often bring flash fires which scorch the earth, accomplishing the same goal. Apparently, firefighters used propane flame throwers to do the job, under the supervision of prairie experts. I remember the brown and black earth smelling of smoke in early Spring. Now it’s filled with 9 foot giant cup plants and hundreds of other flowers.
It’s difficult to capture the mood of the place; exuberant bird song fills the field, echoing off the high canopy of trees surrounding it. There are two large trees in the middle of the field, which often “hold” the sun as it sets. Hundreds of goldfinches flutter around the sunflowers now in bloom.
Glancing around the blogosphere, I’m sure there are numerous such projects. One post I found was about a Dallas area park featuring wild areas for mixed use.
Another lesson from this local wild prairie is which plants might be useful in our own private gardens. Native plants and wild flowers tend to be more durable over the long run and will also help rejuvenate the local habitat of your area. Many of the flowers listed above are easy to grow and beautiful in any garden.
In my next post I’ll feature photos of many of the flowers now in bloom.