The gardens have been buzzing at Joslyn Art Museum this summer. A healthy environment means life, and that’s what I’ve been seeing a lot of this season, which is exciting. Using primarily organic means to care for our campus the last 3 years has helped create an environment that is healthier and safer for everyone who enjoys it, not only for those that visit, but also for those that call 2200 Dodge Street home.
Our pair of western kingbirds has also returned for the third year. I occasionally hear them chattering in the trees and flying overhead, but as soon as I start mowing they are front-and-center, ready to nab anything takes flight. They have to be sharp, though. Plenty of hungry American robins and barn swallows also want their spot at the bug buffet.
Other noteworthy bird sightings have included a common yellowthroat warbler, spotted hopping around in the Discovery Garden, a peregrine falcon seen eating its kill in one of our large locust trees, and a nesting pair of gray catbirds. The catbirds (a favorite of mine) have made themselves cozy in the Veach Atrium Garden, and found a nice spot in one of the arrowwood viburnum to raise three healthy babies. Gray catbirds are more accustomed to woodland settings, so it’s nice to see them giving Joslyn a good enough review to call it home.
This spring we were fortunate enough to be the recipient of the Omaha Public Power District’s Tree Promotion Program for the second year in a row. I’ve been putting a lot of focus on native plants this season, so this was a great opportunity to add some native trees to our gardens. We planted 12 shadblow serviceberry, 7 ironwood, and 1 boxelder maple. All are native to Nebraska, and were grown by and purchased from Great Plains Nursery in Weston, Nebraska. A chinkapin oak and dwarf chinkapin oak were also added to our gardens, separate from the OPPD grant. Also native trees, those were obtained from the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.
In the future I hope to create a series of rain gardens in our Parking Garden. They would help make Joslyn more efficient and sustainable, as well as adding more native plants and other unique landscape elements to our campus. In the meantime, I’ve renovated a small bed on the north edge of the Discovery Garden, and turned it into a small rain garden. It’s an area that tends to be soggy anyway, so why not fill it with plants that like being soggy? Everyone wins when you put the right plant in the right place.
In addition to native trees, I’ve been hard at work looking for opportunities to incorporate more native perennials into our gardens. Many of which are in the rain garden I previously mentioned. One motivation for that pursuit is to help support native pollinators, which has produced great results so far. The monarda and coneflower in the Discovery garden have been covered with a plethora of pollinators all summer. Bumblebees have been the most prolific bee, but I’ve also seen mason bees, green metallic bees, leaf-cutter bees, and honey bees. Fritallary, red admiral, tiger and black swallowtail, yellow and white sulphur, and monarch butterflies can also been seen in the Discovery Garden, as well as an occasional clear wing hummingbird moth.
It’s great seeing bees and butterflies in the gardens, but diversity is the most important part. The more variety there is, the better balanced an ecosystem is. That’s why I’m always encouraged to see other insects like ladybugs, mantids, lacewings, tiger beetles, ground beetles, and a myriad of others. The more the merrier.
A specific part of my native plant efforts has been to create a collection of all milkweeds native to Nebraska and Iowa. This amounts to a total of 22 species. Milkweed is the sole food of monarch butterfly caterpillars, and raising awareness for their declining numbers has been a motivator in starting the collection. Creating the native milkweed collection also gives people an opportunity to see some rare, native plants that they would otherwise probably never see.
This winter I started growing milkweed from seed to start building the collection, and many of the specimens have made it into the Discovery Garden. Unfortunately, hungry bunnies also noticed their presence, so many are small from being nibbled. Monarch caterpillars have also done a number on some of the plants. Sometimes I have to breathe deeply and remember that is what I want them to do. Occasionally I have to play musical milkweeds and move caterpillars around so they don’t totally defoliate some of my more rare specimens… Breathe deeply…
By next season I hope to have a complete collection. The Mead’s milkweed, which is on the brink of being an endangered species, will by far be the most difficult specimen to obtain seed for. Fortunately, I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy. Mead’s milkweed only grows in 34 counties in the whole U.S., and produces very little seed, making it extremely rare to encounter in the wild.
Summer is winding down and leaves will be turning before we know it. Although many of the flowers in our gardens may be passing their peak, there’s still plenty to enjoy, and there’s always more to come. Our gardens are a great place for anyone and everyone to walk, read, play, and rest. Being outdoors is therapeutic. Schedule your next “nature therapy” session with Joslyn Art Museum today.
Landscape Maintenance Technician