Where did summer go? I looked at the calendar, and September is almost over. Time does fly when you’re having fun, and there’s been plenty to enjoy in the gardens at Joslyn Art Museum this season.
Planting is, of course, a common garden activity, but this year we seriously took that to a whole new level. The first planting project was major renovations of the Veach Atrium Garden and the large landscape bed next to 24th Street. Both were freshened up with new perennials, almost all of which are Midwest natives. The Veach Atrium Garden tends to be more on the moist side, so the plant selections there were chosen because they don’t mind—or even prefer—having wet feet. Some of those new perennials include: prairie blazingstar (pictured), ‘Blue Select’ lobelia (a bumblebee favorite, as pictured below), meadow blazingstar, gray-headed coneflower, bluestar, ‘Marshall’s Delight’ bee balm, ‘October Skies’ aster, and swamp milkweed. The bed by 24th Street is sunnier with average levels of moisture, so the palette for that space included: Virginia mountain mint (a new favorite of mine, pictured), ‘Prairie Jewel’ Joy-Pye weed, showy milkweed, bowman’s root, button blazingstar, yellow (paradoxa) coneflower. All of those perennials were selected because they are (or are derived from) Midwest-natives and of value to pollinators and wildlife. The goal for the Veach Atrium Garden is that, once the garden is established, you’ll be able take in the activity of busy butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and other wildlife just on the other side of the glass, while enjoying a delicious lunch compliments of our Café Durham.
The second major project this season is our new rain gardens. Starting this spring, we began construction of a series of four rain gardens in our Parking Garden. A rain garden, put simply, is a bowl-shaped landscape bed that collects water. The primary function of Joslyn’s rain gardens is to capture and hold storm water runoff from the parking lot and hold it so it can infiltrate into the ground instead of going into the sewer. This helps reduce the load from our campus on our municipal sewer system, conserve water, improve water quality, and allows us to add a native wet-mesic (wetland) element to our gardens. Plants in those areas are chosen for their ability to handle temporary flood conditions, but also drought during dry periods. Many are also valuable to pollinators and wildlife. We had great volunteer help from students and staff from Blackburn High School, First National Bank of Omaha, and Hexagon Lincoln. The project is partially funded by a grant from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. Plants for the rain gardens were sourced from Bluebird Nursery, The Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, and grown from seed by myself.
The native plant theme is one that is increasingly becoming more visible on Joslyn’s campus as new plants are added and old plants are replaced. The motivation for doing so has several facets. The primary motivator is simply a desire to be good stewards of our environment. Instead of planting something that simply looks good, why not plant something that looks good AND supports wildlife? Why not have both function and fashion? Native plants do precisely that. Populations of native pollinators, like monarch butterflies in particular, have suffered major declines in recent decades, so it makes sense to manage our greenspace in a way that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also functional and beneficial to our environment.
This is Joslyn’s second year as a Certified Wildlife Habitat and a Monarch Waystation. Our efforts to care for our campus naturally are frequently rewarded with abundant sightings of birds, bees, bugs, butterflies, and a plethora of other wildlife. One new discovery this summer was finding evidence of leaf-cutter bees (check out the picture on the right), which are a native, solitary bee. They trim out sections of leaves to line their nests in hollow plant stems, cavities in trees, rocks, and walls, and anywhere else they find suitable. When most people think of bees, they think honeybees. However, most of our native bees are actually solitary and live alone instead of in hives or other communities. Many also don’t even have stingers, and only about 6 species even produce honey.
We try to promote good biodiversity in our gardens, but monarch butterflies are one species that gets some extra attention. Although our collection of Nebraska and Iowa-native milkweeds slowly continues to grow (milkweed being the only plant that monarch caterpillars eat), monarch butterflies have remained disturbingly scarce throughout the US this season. I have regularly seen them in our Discovery and Veach Atrium Gardens all summer, but it sounds like that’s very much been the exception. Major spring storms in the US southwest devastated the early migrating monarchs, dramatically driving their numbers down this season.
One specific genus of plants that I’ve been tinkering with a bit over the last year or so is Carex (aka sedge). Sedges are a group of grass-like plants that are quickly gaining popularity because of their durability and versatility. There is literally a sedge out there for any landscape situation, from hot sun to standing water to even the dreaded dry shade. Interestingly, some sedges don’t seem to care where they grow, and thrive in any situation they’re in. With water conservation becoming more of a concern all the time, some smaller sedges are even being utilized as low-maintenance turf grass alternatives. Part of the Veach Atrium Garden renovation involved removing some existing turf grass and replacing it with Pennsylvania sedge, which is a popular turf-alternative choice. Six different sedges were also planted in our new rain gardens, including our very own Nebraska sedge. For you plant nerds, that adds up to a total of 14 species of Carex represented on our campus. Although that may not seem very exciting to most people, it’s just one of a long list of little things that makes Joslyn Art Museum’s Sculpture and Discovery Gardens unique.
Come and check out all the new additions! Many new plants are blooming or will be blooming soon. Late bloomers like Joe-Pye weed, goldenrod, and blazingstar are just gearing up. The seven-son flower in the Discovery Garden will be covered in butterflies in a few weeks. Fall color will be peeking out soon. Although the season will be starting to wind down before we know it, there’s still plenty to enjoy.
Upcoming programs for Garden Lovers:
Sunday, October 9 @ 1pm
Fall Garden Walk with Joslyn’s Landscape Maintenance Technician and ISA certified arborist Kyle Johnson
Tuesday, October 11; 1:30-2:30 pm
Establishing a Garden for Monarch Butterflies and Other Pollinators in Your Backyard or Community (in partnership with the Nebraska Wildlife Federation)
Thursday, October 27; time TBA
Joslyn Sculpture Garden stop on the Omaha Arboretum Tour (in conjunction with Nebraska Statewide Arboretum)
Landscape Maintenance Technician