In the fall, I always welcome some of the reprieve that winter offers. No more mowing. No more weeding. I think I would probably hibernate myself if it were possible.
However, once February rolls around, winter’s romance is usually gone for me. I’m done with snow. I’m tired of ice and slush. It’s time for spring to get here so I can plant and prune and be reunited with all of my long lost green friends out in the gardens.
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL.
Since the ground is still covered with snow, and spring is yet on the distant horizon (52 days away to be exact… but who’s counting?), I suppose I’ll have to just keep biding my time and try to be content preparing for spring’s arrival.
What better way to start preparing for spring than getting plants started indoors? Last year I cobbled together a grow table out of scrap wood and old lights in one of Joslyn Art Museum’s utility tunnels to do just that. After a few small tweaks and upgrades, like over-head misters and better lighting, the table up and running again as a nursery for 2016’s new garden additions.
Last season I took a big step in focusing more on native perennials that support pollinators and other wildlife. I say supporting instead of attracting, because a lot of exotic and non-native plant species can attract things like bees and butterflies, but natives encourage and sustain diversity and a balanced ecosystem, supporting desirable wildlife throughout its entire life cycle.
This year will be another step in the same direction, and most of the new perennials are starting to sprout on the grow table as we speak. I’ll be adding new specimens of a variety of native perennials, many of which being uncommon, rare, or even endangered in their native habitat. A few that I’m especially happy to be introducing are 5 different species of blazing star (Liatris); narrow-leaf, yellow, and pale purple coneflower (Echinacea); and several new species of native milkweed (Asclepias). A few of the new additions are suited specifically to wet areas like the rain garden, but most are prairie plants that tolerate dry soil. I’m planting plenty of the latter in hopes that I can cut down even more on irrigation consumption.
Milkweed? I’m glad you asked! As you may know, last year I started building a living collection comprised of all milkweed species Nebraska and Iowa. That amounts to a total of 21 species. In 2016, Joslyn Art Museum’s Discovery Garden will be home to 19 of the 21 species, along with a couple of other rare, regional natives. Last summer I found myself stuck at 17 species, so I loaded my trusty Honda NT650 motorcycle with a tent and lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and headed out to Ogallala hoping to collect wild seed of the 2 Nebraska-native species that still eluded me (Asclepias lanuginosa and pumila). My pilgrimage yielded 1 of the 2 species (A. pumila) I was hunting for. It also confirmed my suspicions that an 800 mile road trip on a Honda NT650 would be really, really uncomfortable… I didn’t know it was possible for all of my appendages to fall asleep at once.
Last fall Joslyn Art Museum was fortunate to be a recipient of ReTree Nebraska’s “Free Trees for Fall Planting Mini Grant.” That gave us the opportunity to add even more trees to our campus. With a bit of help from some King Science and Technology Magnet school students, I was pleased to plant a plethora of trees, including edibles such as persimmon, pecan, and paw-paw! The grant helped us add to our collection of oaks, selecting scarlet, black, and Hill’s oaks for shade. A group of rocky mountain, Mongolian, liaotung, and dwarf chinkapin oaks (all chosen for their small stature) were also planted behind George Sugarman’s Yellow Ascending in the Discovery Garden, clustered together (next to the 3 paw-paws) to create a small thicket of sorts where children can eventually play. Other new trees included the planting of 2 apple trees by students from Kent Bellows Mentoring Program as part of the Urban Fruit Trail project.
I keep talking about how our campus is healthier and a more balanced ecosystem because of organic products and practices, utilization of native plants, and good biodiversity, but now it’s official! Joslyn Art Museum’s Discovery Garden is now recognized as Certified Wildlife Habitat #195660 through the National Wildlife Federation, AND a Monarch Waystation #12477 through Monarch Watch. That’s exciting news! That’s proof that a landscape can be beautiful, healthy, and functional!
If you couldn’t tell, I’m excited about 2016. I can’t wait to add more plants to the rain garden, see monarch caterpillars munching on the milkweed, and watch the kingbirds catching bugs while I mow. Hopefully all of the snow we’ve gotten this winter will mean that our plants won’t be thirsty when spring does finally roll around. There’s growing to do!
Landscape Maintenance Technician