July 20, 2017

Mesmerizing Views:
The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

welcome sign

For those who've taken road trips across the U.S., do you take a northern or a southern route? Over the years, we've tended to drive through Iowa and Nebraska on our way to family reunions and gatherings in Colorado and New Mexico. A few times, we've taken the southern route through Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, and the panhandle of Texas.

But for some reason, I'd always wanted to drive through Kansas. I'm fascinated by it. It's the middle of the country, in so many ways. I don't know...maybe it stems from watching "The Wizard of Oz" as a kid and wondering what the vast, open prairies of Kansas actually look like (in reality, it was filmed at MGM Studios in California).

tallgrass prairie

So, I talked the fishman into driving through Kansas on the way to and from our family reunion last summer. After seeing dramatic views at the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Ariz., Monument ValleyDurango, Colo., and the Four Corners area, one might think Kansas would seem ho-hum.

historic landmark

Au contraire--at least for me. While all those destinations were awesome, Kansas was nifty, too. We took a side trip on the way home to stop at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, which protects a nationally significant 11,000-acre remnant of the once vast tallgrass prairie that covered 170 million acres of North America. Today, less than 4% remains, mostly in the Kansas Flint Hills.

Depending on the source, and the specificity of the data, the North American tallgrass prairie stretched from Manitoba south through Eastern Oklahoma and parts of Texas, and from Nebraska east through Indiana and parts of Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennesee. This was prime bison country, and to see a map of where the bison once roamed is mind-boggling. (Sadly, the bison area of the preserve was closed off the day we were there, although I've seen bison in other locations.)

Of course, my first priority was to study the prairie plants at the preserve. Since Southern Wisconsin includes Oak Savanna and Prairie plant communities, most of the plants at the preserve also are native and commonly found here. What I didn't expect was the smaller size of these plants in Kansas--likely due to somewhat lower precipitation levels, difficult soil conditions (rock and clay), and a harsher, more windy habitat than in my area.

It's a testament to their toughness, though, that these plants survive and thrive in the severe, open prairie habitat.

hoary vervain
Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta)

illinois bundleflower
Illinois Bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis)

white prairie clover
White Prairie Clover (Dalea candida)

wavyleaf thistle
Wavyleaf Thistle (Cirsium undulatum)

prickly pear
Common Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa)

butterfly weed
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

leadplant and butterfly weed
Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) and Butterfly Weed

green milkweed
Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis)

compass plant
Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum)

The plants were awesome, but the views were mesmerizing--prairie as far as the eye could see. The day was misty, which created an air of mystery to the landscape. If you click on the next photos, you'll get a better idea of the expansive landscape at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve--definitely worth a side trip next time you're traveling through Kansas.

prairie scene 1

prairie scene 2

July 12, 2017

Cheap Tricks and Silly Solutions

raspberry asiatic

When wicked winds bend your stems and critters gnaw new seedlings, do you finish what they started ... clip the tops or trash the plants, and move on?

cheap fixes
Wooden skewers, electrical tape, and floral tape.

Or do you break out some cheap tools and see if you can save the plants, the flowers, and the new growth?

cheap fixes applied

Sometimes it's worth applying a little tender loving care, right? And if you're lucky (and there's still enough life flowing through), you'll see this:

orange daylily

And this:

autumn beauty sunflower

And this:

cream asiatic

And this:

zowie zinnia

(Of course, deadheading an established plant and spent blooms are entirely different matters.)

July 03, 2017

An Afternoon With Rockford's Roses

rose garden 1

On a recent picture-perfect Midwestern day, I needed some rose therapy. I headed down to Rockford, Illinois, to Sinnissippi Gardens--a little over an hour’s drive from my house.

Because of the perfect weather, and the fact that it was a Friday afternoon, many people were walking dogs, jogging, and sightseeing along the Rock River, which borders the gardens.

Sinnissippi Gardens features an All-American Rose Selection (AARS) accredited rose garden with about 2,000 rose plants of 62 varieties, including the year’s newest award-winners. (Since AARS is now gone, the new roses are trialed by the American Rose Trials for Sustainability (A.R.T.S.) and Earh-Kind. See Pat's--The Common Weeder--comment at the end. Thanks, Pat!)

The rose garden adjoins the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens complex, which I’ll share in a later post.


light show sign

light show river

This summer, the gardens have an installed light show. I didn’t stick around to see it at night, but you can see highlights from their Instagram feed.

rose garden 3

As you walk from the conservatory toward the rose garden, the views are grand.

view from rose garden

As are the views from the rose garden back to the conservatory.


The trellis is the focal point of the rose garden and gives the entire area simple architectural interest.


A 32-foot floral clock planted with annuals changes every season.

The highlight this time, for me, was the roses, and I lost myself in the beauty for a few hours. Here’s a sampling of the roses, in no particular order:

winnepeg parks
'Winnepeg Parks' Canadian Shrub Rose

wild ginger
'Wild Ginger' Griffith Buck Shrub Rose

Unmarked Floribunda

sweet fragrance
'Sweet Fragrance' Grandiflora

sunshine daydream
'Sunshine Daydream' Grandiflora

strike it rich
'Strike It Rich' Grandiflora

'Serendipity' Griffith Buck Shrub Rose

rainbow sorbet
'Rainbow Sorbet' Floribunda

queen elizabeth
'Queen Elizabeth' Grandiflora

prairie clogger
'Prairie Clogger' Griffith Buck Shrub Rose

nearly wild
'Nearly Wild' Floribunda

modern fireglow
'Modern Fireglow' Canadian Shrub Rose

'Honeysweet' Griffith Buck Shrub Rose

flamingo kolorscape
'Flamingo Kolorscape' Shrub Rose

easy does it
'Easy Does It' Floribunda

prairie star
'Prairie Star' Canadian Shrub Rose

double knockout
'Double Knockout' Shrub Rose

hawkeye belle
'Hawkeye Belle' Griffith Buck Shrub Rose

dick clark
'Dick Clark' Grandiflora

cinco de mayo
'Cinco de Mayo' Floribunda

mordon blush
'Morden Blush' Canadian Shrub Rose

cherry parfait
'Cherry Parfait' Grandiflora

glowing peace
'Glowing Peace' Grandiflora

'Champlain' Canadian Shrub Rose

carefree beauty
'Carefree Beauty' Shrub Rose

aunt honey
'Aunt Honey' Griffith Buck Shrub Rose

winter sunset
'Winter Sunset' Griffith Buck Shrub Rose

all the rage
'All the Rage' Shrub Rose

'Quietness' Griffith Buck Shrub Rose

rose garden 2

If you live near Rockford or you're planning a visit nearby, it’s definitely worth a trip to Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens. In the summertime, be sure to check out the rose garden.


Happy Independence Day to friends and gardeners in the U.S.! And to everyone: Peace be with you.