He hated yard work. Trying to take care of Kentucky bluegrass in the middle of the great American desert was lunacy.
—Dan O'Brien, Brendan Prairie
Lincoln residents, I've heard, lead the nation in per-capita spending on lawn care. I've never quite understood the cult of the lush green lawn, particularly in a place with such inconsistent rainfall, but I've seen the cult at work. A former neighbor used to power-wash the underside of his mower in between cutting his front and back yards, so that if he happened to pick up a weed seed in the back yard it wouldn't contaminate his front yard, or vice versa. People who obsessed about crabgrass and dandelions, I used to believe, were insane.
Now I'm one of them, but with a crucial difference.
Last year, to the consternation of most of our neighbors, Susan & I eliminated a good portion of lawn. We killed it with a liberal application of Roundup, then power-raked the whole area, leaving bare dirt—which we then sowed with native (and mostly drought-resistant) grass and wildflower seeds. Owing to our late start, we had time for only one round of herbicide, which did the job on the existing crabgrass but left many years' worth of weed seeds unaffected.
When our seeds germinated, so did the weed seeds, and I can't begin to tell you how many hours we spent sitting or kneeling on the ground under the blazing sun, weeding out crabgrass, dandelions, morning glories, bindweed, etc., by hand. I sweated profusely, put enormous strain on my back and knees, and cursed the non-native pests with a fervor I couldn't have anticipated.
We never got them all, but we kept them from taking over, giving the native plants we had sown a chance to prosper. After all the hard work, I was pleased with the results of our prairie-garden experiment. (My daughter called us "prairie wierdos", but I think she liked the garden, too.)
It's probably just fatigue, but I started having second thoughts today. The doubts started as we raked up mats of fallen oak and cottonwood leaves and I saw how little green is so far underneath. Even as I cut and piled the giant skeletons of last year's annual sunflowers, I began to lose faith in spring and the capacity of our little prairie patch to renew itself.
So I'm posting these pictures largely to remind myself what it looked like last summer. I'll try to remember the goldfinches, the monarchs and painted ladies and blues, the box-elder bugs. And I'll try to have more patience, more hope. The warm-season native grasses will come back when it gets warm; it's too soon to expect much growth now. The flowers will grow and bloom, the birds and butterflies will return, the sweating and cursing will probably continue but will be worth it in the end.
* * *
[Illinois bundleflower leaves and seedpods]
[Ratibida and Susans]
[False ("oxeye") sunflower]
[Purple coneflower and big bluestem]
[Last two: A little of everything. All our seeds, by the way, came from Stock Seed Farms. Their website is not just a seed catalog, but also loaded with how-to information on small- and large-scale prairie restoration—including recommendations for a second spraying of Roundup. When we get around to doing the back yard, I will get an earlier start and then follow their instructions to the letter.]