Friday, January 27th, 2023
Friday, January 27th, 2023

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‘Warm thoughts’ inspired by native plant ideas help pass the winter months

“Prairie Up” by Benjamin Vogt has been released by the University of Illinois Press. It highlights using native plants for a variety of gardening and landscape projects. (Photo by Gretchen Steele)

It’s that time of year when we dream of warmer days and spring gardens. Like many households, I spend hours paging through seed catalogs in early January. I shuffle through and catalog the stacks of envelopes of seeds I have saved from last year’s riot of blossoms and blooms.

This hoping and planning for spring was always an early winter tradition in my home. My mother meticulously planned her plantings. She also believed in landscaping with native plants long before it was a trend. For my mother, it was a matter of practicality. Native plants and the small-pocket ecosystems she built around our farm were easier to care for. They didn’t require much of her time, energy, or money. We had a ready supply of manure and a compost pile; seeds and plants were gathered from the woodlands, creek bottoms, and grasslands that comprised our property. Her native plantings didn’t require fussing and feeding or much in the way of care.

Whatever weather conditions they encountered, they handled them with ease.

Like in nature, there was always something blooming, always something to attract the insects, the pollinators for her vegetable garden, the songbirds, and small mammals. Everyone got a seat at her natural table. From the first tiny shoots of bloodroot to the last winter frost-covered asters, her gardens and landscaping brought nature to her door.

It was New Years’ Eve when I was gathering the seed catalogs, the scraps of paper with loosely drawn plans to expand my native gardens a bit, and inspecting the little envelopes of seeds I had saved, when the mailman brought me a most delightful and timely delivery.

Into my pile of garden dream flotsam and jetsam fell University of Illinois Press’s newest release, “Prairie Up, An Introduction to Natural Garden Design” by Benjamin Vogt. It had to be fate!

The 176-page paperback is a resource that any landscaper, native plant enthusiast, or home gardener will definitely want on their bookshelf.

Utilizing native plants in our home landscaping has become an essential and emerging trend. Whole neighborhoods have banded together to turn ugly, resource-sucking, manicured lawns into riots of year-round color that benefit not just the pollinators but all manner of native creatures.

Prairie Up is chock full of resources aimed at gardeners and homeowners and provides a complete blueprint, or “cookbook,” if you will. Vogt’s informative book is loaded with “recipes” for bringing natural and native landscape schemes to life in various settings.

The guide is filled with beautiful and inspiring photographs of all manner of native and natural landscaping settings. As if that wasn’t inspiration enough, there are step-by-step blueprints that assist readers in creating aesthetically pleasing plant communities that support specific wildlife. Prairie Up does a wonderful job walking even the most inexperienced gardener through the steps of building a rich and diverse native garden and landscape design.

Vogt doesn’t stop there.

Prairie up also is filled with expert advice and insider information on proper garden tools, native plants, and seed sources. The book even contains valuable advice for dealing with city ordinances that may still favor the more traditional mowed, sterile, chemical-filled lawns of yesteryear.

This book provides even the most novice native plant gardener with an invaluable reference tool in sustainable garden design.

It doesn’t matter if you only have one small suburban lot or acres to transform. Readers will find that in this book, a clear path is set forth for transforming your landscape and living area into a good space for Mother Nature. Prairie Up will become a trusted resource for designing and implementing a beautiful landscape that provides year-round enjoyment and will delight you with all manner of small (and sometimes not so small) creatures.

It is inarguable – we must begin to take a long, hard look at how we approach landscaping, plantings, and gardening.

Precious resources and habitats are being used up and lost at an alarming rate. The number of fertilizers and chemicals we use to maintain that picture-perfect yard each growing season is costly to our planet and pocketbooks.

I’ve already poured through the volume twice. There are little sticky notes and tabs scattered throughout its pages. I’ve defaced the gorgeous, glossy, brand new squeaky clean pages with notes in margins and highlighted sections.

That’s just the kind of life I’d like to imagine that Vogt envisioned for his book. A book that will always be handy on the bookshelf or in the potting shed. A book that will likely end up a little worn and dirty but much loved and utilized. Prairie Up will be a book to pass down to the younger folks in your life when they start their own native and sustainable landscaping at their first homes.

Thanks to the beautiful full-color photographs, my vegetable garden has entirely fallen off my radar on this dreary winter day. I am dreaming of a more extensive woodland garden, a buffer strip between the back field and the rest of the yard. I’m thankful once again for the lessons my mother taught me about planting to keep the beauty and diversity of nature just outside my door.

Lest anyone question the author’s credentials or level of knowledge in this subject area, Vogt is the owner of Monarch Gardens, a prairie-inspired design firm based in the Midwest. Vogt also authored the disruptive, call to action, “A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future.”

I’m issuing a challenge to all of you reading this: This year, instead of trotting off to the local big box store to buy flats and pots of mass-produced annuals, grab a copy of this most excellent guide and start your version of “defiant compassion” and conservation and begin with just a small space to transform your landscape, garden, and property into a beautiful, sustainable, ecosystem.

Even the most minor steps in conservation and sustainability can add up to giant leaps.

Consider “Prairie Up,” your trail guide for navigating the change we need.

Prairie Up can be purchased from the University of Illinois Press, local booksellers, and Amazon. Get your copy and start planning your new native landscape today.

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