Though we now live in climate-controlled dwellings, drive automobiles, and buy food in supermarkets, our awe of natural landscapes reminds us that we are still creatures and part of a created order. At Prairiescapes, we identify what it is about natural landscapes that continues to inspire, and then incorporate those principles in our modern residential, commercial, and public spaces.
Central Minnesotans are fortunate enough to live in the transition zone between the North American tall grass prairie to the west and the hardwood woodlands to the east, as well as the wetlands to the north and northwest. Many of the landscapes we work with have remnants of these biomes from which Prairiescapes gains inspiration.
The North American prairie contains many aesthetic features seen in the photos on this site, but the prairie contains practical features as well. Like all ecosystems, the North American prairie is an ecosystem that is made up of species of plants that have evolved together over tens of thousands of years. These plants will compete with each other to get a foothold in any plot, but the end product is a community of plants that strengthen and sustain all the members of that ecosystem.
Why Use Native Plants?
We at Prairiescapes privilege the use of native plants, not only because we care about our natural environment, but also because native plants work together in a way that does the gardening for us. To say our landscapes are “sustainable” is to say that the plants—not us—do the sustaining by promoting each other and keeping each other in check. In this way, the gardener is not so much a laborer but a manager of plants, or a plant community, which does the work.
The Conventions of Gardening
For many, “gardening” is mostly about weeding. But when you walk an established prairie, one is hard pressed to find weeds. This is because the prairie ecosystem does not leave space between plants, like we do in our gardens, spaces that are colonized by opportunistic weeds. The prairie ecosystem has an array of plants that work together to thoroughly cover a patch of ground, and in the process “muscles out” weeds.
This is quite at odds with the conventions of landscaping in which we are taught to go to the local nursery, pick plants that have the color, height, or shape we like and arrange them in a way that is visually pleasing to us, leaving space between them when we plant.
The problems with this are many: most of the plants in the garden center are hybrids—plants that have been cross bred with other plants until they have lost many of the qualities that allowed them to function within their ecosystem of origin. Such hybridization is for humans (color, size, and shape), not the health of the plant. But even if nursery stock was not hybridized, these plants have been removed from their plant communities of origin and will be dropped into a miscellany of other plants, each from different ecosystems, doing little or nothing for each other but making more work for those who care for them.
Each of these plants will have its own list of needs: shade/sun, wet/dry, light/heavy soils, acidic/non-acidic conditions, etc. The gardener struggles to meet such disparate needs, and if she falls short, the plant struggles. But the biggest struggle in conventional gardening is controlling the weeds, for which an industry of products and services have been created: landscape fabric, mulch, landscape rock, and pre-emergent and post-emergent herbicides to name a few. Such products are expensive to buy and install and end up frustrating a plant’s ability to thrive.
Designed Plant Communities
In contrast, we are saying one can enjoy a landscape that is nature-inspired (and therefore exceptionally beautiful); sustainable (meaning that it “gardens” itself; you more or less manage it); is functional (in that it provides habitat—see other sections); and conserves the resources of the wider planet (in that it requires no fertilizers, very little herbicide, mowing, and watering).
Contact us if you would like Prairiescapes to assess the possibilities of transforming your landscape.