I’m a flatlander. While others wonder how we can stand the flatness of Illinois, I have a deep appreciation for it. I especially love driving down I-57 toward Champaign-Urbana around sunset. The colors in the sky are beautiful and all you see for miles is an open expanse of land, mostly farmland. The horizon is dotted with the occasional tree, barn, silo and house.
I was lucky to grow up living in the big city but experiencing small town farm life. My father came from a small town in southern Illinois near Effingham [home of John Boos Butcher Blocks — I wonder if they have an outlet store? Will have to check that out!]. My aunt and uncle still have a farm there and “back in the day” they were farming over 1000 acres. Not a big farm, but nothing to sneeze at. They grew mostly soybeans, corn and cattle. They also had a pick-your-own strawberry patch for a number of years. I “worked” down there one summer during college. I did some weed hoeing, which I don’t wish on anyone, but for the most part my cousin and I played bridge while manning the stand.
Anyway in the late ’60s my uncle was the president of the Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Association. The farmers that belong to this association work on ways to conserve natural resources. I don’t know all that my uncle did for conservation, but there are forested areas on his land which are good for the soil and a creek also ran through it. He planted switch grass and probably other prairie grasses along the creek to help prevent erosion and also as a food source for the cattle.
I wasn’t very interested in the prairie at that time. I was more into climbing to the top of the bales of hay, feeding the cattle, driving the tractor or playing with the cats and dogs.
But I think it instilled something deep down in me that finally emerged when we started our backyard garden.
I began by planting some grasses in our raised bed perennial garden, including switch grass. After a few years we decided to get rid of a long useless stretch of grass along the side of our property and grow a native prairie. What I love about this prairie is that it is so low maintenance. I have found that while I love the garden, I don’t necessarily love TO garden.
This is probably the 7th or 8th year of it and I’m hoping to transplant some of it to the new yard. But since the roots of prairie plants can grow quite deep, I don’t know how much I’ll be able to transplant.
It grows in fast and furious this time of year with a couple of early bloomers. The top picture is Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea). It only grows under the shade of our magnolia tree, so obviously it likes more moist soil and partial sun. Not too showy, but nice and bushy nonetheless.
The middle picture is Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). There are lots of varieties and even the ones we have here differ in color.
The bottom picture is the view from our backyard toward the front. Oh, and the chain link fence? Not ours. It’s our neighbors’. And yes, the tall privacy fence is theirs too. They both surround their property like that. Don’t ask. At least the prairie will soon be tall enough where we won’t have to look at it.