Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Renewal indeed

In a previous post, about 2 1/2 months ago, I wrote about our prairie garden and my lapse of faith in its capacity for renewal. Here's a picture of the front now:

Some of the wildflowers are four to five feet tall, and they may not be done growing. The bulk of what you see here is false (oxeye) sunflower, not yet in bloom. We're now talking about thinning it out to give the other forbs and the grasses a chance to compete.

In fact, the garden is growing so exuberantly that one of our neighbors filed an anonymous complaint with the county weed-control office, which is tasked not only with the control of noxious weeds such as purple loosestrife, tamarisk, and various non-native thistles (we have none of the above) but also with enforcement of Lincoln's 6-inch limit on lawns. Both the complaint and the initial inspection (apparently a hurried drive-by inspection) occurred before anything was in bloom; we were found to be harboring "weeds and worthless vegetation" and ordered to cut same.

I phoned and later e-mailed the superintendent of the weed-control office, who agreed to re-inspect the garden personally. That's been two weeks now, and I've yet to hear back from him, but I know his department is severely overworked. Here's some of what he'll find when he does come out (all of these photos were taken in the last few days):

Purple poppy mallow

Indian blanket


Desert prince's plume and white sage

Coreopsis and narrow-leaved purple coneflower

Black-eyed Susan

Butterfly milkweed

"Husker Red" penstemon

Wild penstemon

Prairie coneflower ("Mexican hat")

So what do you think? Weedy and worthless?

Me neither.


Henry Chappell said...

First, I really like the look of your neighborhood. Second, I'm impressed - by your fortitude as well as your garden. My neighbors and the city would go absolutely nuts if I tried something similar. So we water St. Augustine and Bermuda on erstwile Blackland Prairie.

Steve Bodio said...

I think it's great. Thank God I live in the kind of New Mexico town where I could have a yard car full of chickens and nobody could complain!

Matt Mullenix said...

Have you thought about making, say, a "gesture" of lawn along the sidewalk, something to show that you are re-wilding your property on purpose and not just through negligenge?

I could see a thin strip of perfectly groomed turf with a little sign on it saying: "Past this point, Native Prairie."

Mark Churchill said...

We may have to consider a strip of "lawn" at some point, since the taller wildflowers do have a tendency to lean over into the sidewalk's airspace. If so, we'll go with buffalo grass, or maybe a mix of blue grama and sideoats grama. (All three of those were in the original seed mix, and are present to a degree, but dominated by the forbs.)

As regards signs, Susan has suggested something similar, identifying the garden as composed of native prairie plants, perhaps with a chalkboard listing flowers currently in bloom—maybe even an invitation for passers-by to cut a flower or two. She argues that it would be good PR, though I doubt it would change the minds of whoever filed the complaint in the first place.

Matt Mullenix said...

I'm with Susan on her PR slant. You have to educate folks if you want them to appreciate something new, even when it's something good. Her instincts to be welcoming and to make an event out of it are right on.

I remember defending the fence around the yard of my first home with Shelly. We were proud of it and excited about having a place to run the dog and weather the hawk. Yet the neighbors were agahst and came down the block in force one night to inspect and to decide (right in front of us) whether we could keep it.

I was furious. It was a nice fence, and expensive. We took pains to make sure we installed the best "so that the neighbors wouldn't complains."

No such luck. With the covenant and a lawyer on their side (we eventually got our own, but to no avail), I had to concede to pulling it back off the road about 6 feet.

I was made for a while but realized I'd learned a good lesson.

You've taken something from your neighbors---the possibility of having a uniform block within which to conform. The lawn is an expedient concept that allows us to demonstrate boundaries and dilligence and cooperation in a way that doesn't take up more than a couple hours on a weekend.

What you may have done is redefine the space and call into question the wisdom of the conventional lawn. Of course, I think that's exactly what you intended, right?

But you've made your neighbors lives more complicated by forcing them to rethink these basic ideas. It's not the eyesore they're complaining about (flowers or self-evidently attractive!); it's the headache you're giving them. :-)

Anyway, a theory. Personally I think you've done a very cool thing and I understand the risk and the work you've accepted in doing it.

I want you to be able to keep it.

Matt Mullenix said...

Forgive the several typos above. :-)