MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

April 16, 2014

Kansas arboretum provides native plant landscaping aid

There is no doubt that a prairie garden is the ultimate low-maintenance, low-water usage and environmentally friendly choice for gardeners. But many homeowners assume that it would mean a messy yard and landscape.

“The more examples of native plant gardens people see, the more they realize the beauty of native plants,” said Scott Vogt, the executive director of the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains in Hesston, Kan.

The Arboretum was established in 1981 as a gift to Hesston College from Harold and Elva Mae Dyck when they bought 13 acres and donated it to Hesston College for use as a prairie restoration garden.

Today, the Arboretum is one of the largest native plant gardens in the region, featuring more than a thousand varieties of native and adapted trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses. Eighteen more acres have been purchased for a native plains garden.

“We teach native plant landscaping classes for homeowners,” Vogt said. “Participants bring drawings of their yard, and we help them select native plants and explain how to prepare the site and arrange the plants to the best advantage.”

When class participants complete their first native plant bed, they always come back for the annual plant sale because they found that they can have beautiful gardens with less work, less water and plenty of butterflies. Vogt said they like it because it works.

“Establishing a prairie garden is not effortless,” he said. “If it were easy it would be called growing, not gardening.”

Seeds for the gardens at Dyck Arboretum were collected from within 60 miles of Hesston so they would be indigenous to the area. The plants for the gardens are grown from seed, stem cuttings and root division in the on-site greenhouse.

The annual plant sale April 25-28 will offer thousands of native woodland plants that were grown by staff and volunteers.

“We go out onto the grounds and collect seeds,” said Vogt. “Additional seeds come from companies like Missouri Wildflower Seeds (www.mowildflowers.net), where seeds are also hand collected.”

The Arboretum website has many educational resources. Specifically, the Spring 2014 newsletter’s “Prairie Window” link provides garden layouts as well as lists of recommended perennials, ferns, and grasses. Each entry lists the Latin and common name, flower color, plant height, bloom time, sun and soil preferences.

There are paths to walk, a two-acre pond where visitors can watch wildlife and butterflies.

“Earth Partnership for Schools Summer Institute” in June brings teachers from all over the region who learn to engage K-12 students in prairie gardening on school grounds. An outline of their Multiple Intelligences curriculum is on the website.

“When visitors see the spring native plants blooming from the end of April to mid-May, they say it was not what they expected,” said Vogt. “They are surprised by the beauty.”

Spring-blooming native plants include: Penstemon, Echinacea pallida and Zizia aurea. Summer flowers include Asclepias tuberosa, Rudbeckia fulgida and Monarda fisulosa. Fall color comes from Solidago, Asters, and Sedum (a non-native adapted plant). In the winter the arboretum is dominated by grasses such as Panicum virgatum Northwind, Schizachyrium scoparium Blaze, Andropogon gerardii Pawnee, and Sporobolus heterolepis.

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