“Your garden will reveal yourself.” — Henry Mitchell
I’m humming Neil Young’s rowdy “Are You Ready for the Country” under my breath, and occasionally breaking out in song with the few lyrics I remember. Happy music, for a happy morning. Why? I’m ready to plant some pasque flower seedlings into their new home on the prairie. We collected the seeds last spring, and after a long winter indoors, they’re ready.
As a steward, I look at the tiny wildflowers, so vulnerable in their seed tray, and imagine them repopulating the prairie.
I try to imagine them in bloom after a few seasons…
…and then going to seed, completing the cycle.
Hope for the future.
The seedlings we’re planting into the larger prairie inspire me each spring to try and improve the little prairie patch in my backyard. The first native plant sales have been in full swing this month. My checkbook has taken a hit! On the porch are the results: plastic pots of small prairie plants.
The tiny white wild indigo…
…soon to be as large as a bushel basket. Its white spikes will brighten my backyard, just as it inspires delight on the prairies where I’m a steward.
A wisp of Indian grass looks like nothing much now….
…but I have a vision of what it might be, waving over my head in a slant of autumn light.
I compare my flat of plants against my order list. White prairie clover. Check. Purple prairie clover. Check.
Then, I close my eyes and think about the future.
Queen of the prairie, with its signature green leaves…
…holding the promise of cotton candy color in my backyard prairie patch.
Rattlesnake master, diminutive in its plastic pot…
…will someday throw its summer globes of greenish white into my backyard prairie.
In the biggest pot is my prize prairie shrub; New Jersey tea. Sure, it doesn’t look like much now, sitting in a sheltered spot on my front porch…
…but I can already see its foamy flowers frothing like a cappuccino, planted next to the patio where I’ll sip my first cup of coffee each morning and admire it.
The prairies I steward are works in progress. So is my backyard. Right now, there is standing water. Mud. A whole lot of emerald green growth; some of it not the welcome kind.
But mixed among the weeds in my backyard—and on the prairies where I hike and volunteer—are a kaleidoscope of prairie plant leaf shapes and blooms. The shell-like leaves of alum root. Fuzzy prairie dock leaf paddles. Heart-leaved golden Alexanders.
In my imagination, I see these prairies as they could be: five, ten, fifteen years from now. So much of the joy is in the planning and the dreaming. Sure, rabbits and deer will munch on some seedlings. Weather may not cooperate. Voles may demolish this wildflower, or an errant step in the wrong place may flatten one of the grass seedlings. With a bit of luck, and some coddling, I know many of them will make it.
Seeing these vulnerable plants succeed against the odds always offers hope for my own year ahead, with all of its unknown challenges and potential delights. Watching these plants complete the seasonal cycle never fails to comfort me in some small way. The prairie, vulnerable as it is, always moves forward. It’s always growing. Always changing. Always beautiful in new and different ways.
So much is represented in these flats. So many possibilities in small plastic pots.
Little prairie plants. Big dreams.
Now that’s something to sing about.
The opening quote is from the charmingly cynical writing of the late garden columnist Henry Mitchell (1924-1993). You can read more about Mitchell here. If you haven’t read Mitchell before, I’d begin with The Essential Earthman, a collection of his columns for the Washington Post.
All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens) seedlings, DuPage County, IL; pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens) in bloom, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens) in seed, DuPage County, IL; white wild indigo (Baptisia alba), author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL; white wild indigo (Baptisia alba) and other wildflowers, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), author’s porch, Glen Ellyn, IL; Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea), author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL; purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea), Schulenberg Prairie, the Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra) seedling, author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL; queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) seedling, author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL; rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) ready for planting, author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; heart-leaved golden Alexanders (Zizia apta), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.
Cindy’s Upcoming Classes and Speaking Events:
Thursday, May 16 & Thursday, May 23: A Cultural History of the Tallgrass Prairie, two evenings on the Schulenberg Prairie and in the classroom. The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: register by clicking here.
Tuesday, May 21–7-8 p.m. —Dragonflies and Damselflies: The Garden’s Frequent Flyers, Bloomingdale Garden Club, St. Paul Evangelical Church, 118 First Street, Bloomingdale, IL. Free and Open to the Public
Saturday, June 1: The Tallgrass Prairie: A Conversation, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. Bison tour with book purchase; lecture is free! You must preregister here by May 25 as seating is limited.
See more on http://www.cindycrosby.com