Bluebell Blooms Bring Back Spring

When I see Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica), I know that, despite the calendar date, Spring has truly arrived!



Delicate new blooms

Ephemeral spring beauty

Look down. Don’t miss it!


Along the Crest, Crested Iris

Enjoyed another fantastic day at Shaw Nature Reserve.  Following my volunteering stint, I hiked through the dry glades and woodlands near the Meramec River, evaluating the Spring’s continuing transition in color.  Among the most vibrant and prolific today was Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata).  Just another native to consider in your garden!

Fall Bloomer in the Prairie

This was also in the prairie at Shaw Nature Reserve along with the Gentian (See previous entry).  It appears to be Slender False Foxglove (Agalinis tenuifolia), formerly known as Gerardia tenuifolia.  It is a beautiful native, late-season annual.

Living Wall Prezi

I recently experimented with the innovative presentation tool called Prezi.  This is an amazing way to visualize presentations, get the bigger picture, and allow for a less linear look.  This is a presentation I made last week outlining the basics about living walls

“Introduction to Living Walls”

Let me know what you think.  If the embed code didn’t work…view it on Prezi.

The Yard: Golf Course or Natural Resource?

(This post was inspired by my experience in last week’s St. Louis Sustainable Backyard Tour.)

It’s a summer Saturday morning.  You’ve slept in as late as you possibly could.  Light now infiltrates your window blinds and morning sounds prevent any more snoozing.  You listen to cicadas, melodic birds, a passing breeze in the trees–and suddenly the overbearing roar of a neighbor’s lawn mower cancels out all the pleasant sounds as well as your chances for nodding back off.  You begin stirring around your home and preparing to do yard work of your own.  The dissonant sound coming from the neighbor’s yard has now shifted from droning lawn mower to growling leaf blower.

The neighbor’s yard is a glowing-green, pesticide- and fertilizer-ridden, ecologically nonfunctional, and environmentally negligent golf course.  That lawn is mowed twice a week to an unnaturally short height, irrigated daily with potable drinking water, and manicured tediously to look more like painted pavement than a patch of grass.  There isn’t a dandelion in sight since a trigger-happy pesticide lover sprays anything that isn’t a blade of grass (no beneficial insects survive, no wildflowers pop up).  That said, it probably isn’t safe walking through their yard barefoot!

You visit your front yard to see what needs tending.  The front yard entails a full landscape of native plants, with a pleasant mini-trail leading to the mail box.  You’ve learned that native plants aren’t weeds, don’t require much maintenance, reduce the need to mow, and provide micro-habitats and travel-stops for insects, birds, and whatever else.  You prune a few things and manually pull a few weeds and then head for the water faucet.  No, municipal drinking water isn’t being fed to the flora.  Instead, you reach for the spigot on your rain barrel and water the newer plants (to promote proper root establishment).   The rest of the front yard gets a dash of water and you’re done.

You make your way to the backyard, which follows a slope separated by a couple of rows of retaining walls.  The small terraces make up your backyard edible garden.  This is your fresh produce-producing backyard.  Another rain barrel feeds your crops and fresh compost nourishes them.  Your compost bin takes in your food scraps, leaves (not bagged up like the neighbor with the leaf blower).  Food fills your garden; even the retaining walls are in production.  You’ve used Living Retaining Wall blocks to grow fresh strawberries.  The grass patches surrounding your garden are mowed with a reel lawn mower to a height that encourages healthy growth and better competition with weeds.  Your fences are not bland wood or boring chain-link.  They are ivy-planted privacy screens that complete this backyard garden.

After you’ve tended your garden and picked the day’s basket of food, you turn towards the house.  The neighbor’s emission-spewing roars have stopped, but you can catch a whiff of oil and gasoline…the smell of soon-to-be-obsolete yard care.  They’ll learn.  After putting a basket of fresh produce on their porch, they’ll learn.


Shining Stars of Blue

My eyes are continually opened to new and amazing native plants that thrive in Missouri and the Ozarks.  A few days ago, I was surprised to find, among the horse-trampled acres of my parent’s land in southwest Missouri, several clumps of Blue Star (Amsonia spp.).  At first, I thought they were a kind of milkweed, but quickly honed in on the Amsonia genus.  Without returning to the plant with a taxonomic key, I’d have to guess that it’s Eastern Blue Star (Amsonia tabernaemontana) or Shining Blue Star (Amsonia illustris), also called Ozark Bluestar.  Common names often lead to confusion.

Blue Star in front of a clump of Oxeye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum)

Anyway, these were found in clumps in the rocky bed of an ephemeral stream and in the field next to it.  Based on the plant specs, it appears to like moist, sunny conditions but can tolerate some dry conditions as well.  This plant is often referred to as an instant shrub, since it quickly reaches 2-4 feet tall.  This sort of flower will attract certain bees, hummingbird moths, hummingbirds, etc.

Just beginning to see open flowers...

You can add this to your garden as a hardy native plant.  If you’re looking for something slightly more drought-tolerant, consider something like the Threadleaf Bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii).  Grow native!