Urban prairie envy

Urban prairie envy

I’m not the owner of this house, nor am I the designer of the pictured front yard, but I do admire  the knowledge,  commitment and creativity of whoever made this garden.

I came across this house on a random trip around town while driving down a street that I may not ever have seen before.  Finding it is a testament to a friend’s practice of purposely driving unusual routes from point A to point B on occasions when you’re not in a hurry. I was with the aforementioned friend and we took a detour for him to show me a small hidden park in Manhattan.  This house was a WBC (wow!-brake!-camera!) event—defined by a moment when you are stunned by a garden while driving, suddenly slam on the brakes, and take a photo out the window to document the vision of the gardener.

Here is everything we’ve been talking about in natural landscape: a smaller, minimal-carbon-footprint house, a front yard of ornamental grass that needs mowing only once a year (composed primarily of what I think is Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’), and a few native perennials to brighten up the edges (notice the Rudbeckia remnants at lower right).  It seems to be right out of the recommendations of such influential texts as Sara Stein’s Noah’s Garden. I didn’t go creeping around the house, but there is likely only a very small back yard surrounded by some woody areas. I took this photo knowing I’d blog about it, all the while hoping that the owner wasn’t calling the police about the stalkers taking pictures from the road.  (The house number was eliminated from the picture.)  They’ll get a visit soon enough, however, from the Garden Tour group with an eye towards being a future tour site.

I love this landscaping and this house (particularly since our empty-nest home seems suddenly too large), but I also know that I can’t do this on the Flint Hills prairie that I live on. This property is relatively safe, surrounded as it is by miles of paved crossing roads, but imagine this yard and house out on the Kansas prairie (or in Southern California) with a grass fire moving towards it.  Yikes!

Posted by

James Roush
on October 6, 2014 at 7:48 am, in the category Guest Rants, Lawn Reform, Real Gardens.


    • E
    • 1st January 1970

    Karl Foerster grass will not self-seed because the seeds are sterile.

    • Garden Rant
    • 27th June 2014

    Gorgeous. And ornamental grasses are a huge group and some very popular ones bloom too late in the season to be a problem to anyone. Susan

    • Laura S
    • 18th August 2016

    I like the idea, but would have liked a native grass more.

    • Laura S
    • 12th September 2016

    I like the idea, but would have liked a native prairie grass more, especially in Kansas!

    • admin
    • 23rd November 2016

    Hahaha! Once again, you can’t win on Garden rant!
    Lots of comments criticizing typical landscapes and now that we’ve got something a little different – BAM! Its just not good enough.
    I like that planting. It works in its context.
    I can’t grow that Calamagrostis very well in the heat, but I don’t have a good native grass that is as uniform and useful for this kind of massing either. I wish I did.
    Oh, and, its kind of important to recognize that different genus, species and selections of grasses act differently – just like all plants. Making a blanket statement about “grasses” being “invasive” is silly. You would say that about trees? Don’t plant trees because mimosa is invasive?

    • admin
    • 4th December 2016

    Oak maple and elm are all pests in my garden. They seed everywhere and comprise the majority of my weed pulling. Are trees invasive?
    And claiming that grasses are boring is kind of subjective isn’t it? My farm garden includes acres of mixed grasses and forbs in what would be probably called a “meadow” type planting scheme (NOT Tara turf!). Shouldn’t a meadow have grasses?
    And, also, I think that the term “monoculture” implies something far more vast than a swath of the same plant in a small urban garden.
    Gardens should be able to express artist license.

    • Marcia
    • 11th December 2016

    I just think the owner of this property tried to grow something of value, but just wasn’t educated enough to make the right choices. Heck, I was a big buyer of nectar producing plants when I started and neglected the hosts. That changed as I read up.

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