Prairie Tour


Our Prairie

Every day I wake up and realize I am living in one of those Jacquie Lawson animated cards. My aunt sends them to me periodically and I always watch them all the way to the end, never skip ahead to the greeting. Usually an unpersoned paintbrush is making a beautiful garden scene. A butterfly or two or four flutter above. At the end everything fills in with color. TaDa! Outside my window is a scene I call “Monarchs in Ecstasy.” Flitting all over the place in ones and twos!

And yet on Sunday all I could think of that I wanted to do was go see some virgin prairie. My thought was to go to Gradeen Prairie, which we visited years ago in the fall. What would it look like at the height of flowering?

Jeff told us that because it hasn’t been burned in several years, it is a bit of a bust right now. We decided instead to do a little local prairie tour, starting with Jeff’s backyard garden in a nearby subdivision where he is cultivating a dizzying array of specimens, including the native lilies above (not to be confused with exotic tiger lilies). He has several things I’ve definitely not seen in our prairie and a few succulents that are native to the Midwest. It was more a “natives” garden tour than a prairie walk, but it was very impressive. I tend to think of Jeff as a bit of a wild man, and he’s famous around our place for leaving tools out and leaving plants strewn about and digging up things and stacking them here and there, but his vegetable garden and his flower and grass plot are extremely tidy. He’s been working out there for nine years and has really made an incredible exhibit.

Rattlesnake Master in Jeff’s garden

Cup plant at Jeff’s garden, something we’ve been growing this year in the greenhouse.

After that we stopped by three of Steve’s prairie projects, one pretty far along and two that are just begun. He had texted ahead so we could tromp around a bit at one house where the owner was away.

Then we headed out to Roscoe, looking for Roscoe Prairie, an extremely well-hidden patch of virgin prairie. It’s impossible to say why this particular piece of land was spared the farming that took place all around it. Too marshy in spots? Too rocky? It took us two tries, even with our smartphones, to find the right dirt road to access it.

Steve at Roscoe Prairie, which is much lower than our prairie but full of flowers.

It was exactly what I wanted to see. A short prairie heavy on “the forbs,” or flowers.

The place was loaded with bees and butterflies, a butterfly I’ve seen before that is plain on the underside and brilliant on the outside of the wings. You only get the display when the wings open, like an illuminated book.

A flower I’ve only seen at Roscoe Prairie.

It was full also of blazing star, one of our favorite flowers but also one that didn’t come up this year in our prairie. It’s hard to say what will appear each year, especially after a burn. This year has been an awesome display, and right now there are all these giant bouquets of purple bergamot. But it was fun to go see what had happened out there in Roscoe, between corn fields and marsh, in a spot where flowers have bloomed for thousands of years.

(Back in town the Roscoe Rangers were playing the Richmond Royals and the stands were full. We hoped to catch a few innings, but it was the bottom of the ninth. Still, everyone stuck around to finish up the hamburgers.)

Blazing star and other flowers at Roscoe Prairie

me at Roscoe Prairie

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3 Responses to Prairie Tour

  1. Aunt Carol says:

    Thanks for the tour

    Seeya in Cape May NJ

  2. Julianne says:

    This is a wonderful tour! I feel like I was walking beside you while you were sharing all these treasures. Thanks for sharing both your gift of writing, your passion around preserving prairies, and the beautiful photos that bring it to life.

  3. Kathy Brown says:

    Thanks Susan. I love prairies! And what fun it is to see different prairies growing different flowers. All beautiful.
    And great to see you in a photo!!! Looking marvelous, Susan.
    Enjoy our MN summer,

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