Eye of the Beholder

What our neighbors see …

Our nearest neighbors have a "great" view in to the back prairie, which is next to their mown lot.

Everyone has different tastes, and theirs leans towards mono-culture. They like neatly trimmed grass that behaves itself. 

The difference in preference is very clear. Left side: Mown and tidy. Right side: Those crazy, no-mow people.

I’m afraid it’s going to be a long summer for our smiling, waving neighbors.

They're so nice, but I'm afraid we're going to test our neighbors' patience.

Maybe they’ll eventually come to understand how we see it?

Instead of weeds, I see beautiful potato dandelions (Krigia dandelion) that don't transplant well and are difficult to grow*. Yet, here they pop up with ease after we stopped mowing. *Source: KSwildflower.org

 And maybe they won’t hate us for not mowing?

Instead of an untidy lot, I see more grasses to identify and a batch of geranium-ish looking wildflowers ... fingers crossed they're natives!

Next time … managing the mayhem with selected plantings.

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Grasses: Knowns and Unknowns

Spring 2012 hit us early and fast. We’ve been doing winter cleanup, bed prep and spring planting all at the same time. And, in the midst of all that, we’ve been eagerly watching our “prairie” on this first year of no mow to see what’s out there. The good news is …

Beautiful buffalo grass with seedheads just waiting to help spread their prairie goodness.

We have several stands of healthy happy buffalo grass. We’re hoping that with no mowing, it’ll quickly outgrow any pesky non-natives. And for those more insistent undesirables — well, I’m happy to sit on a bucket and handpull anyone who doesn’t belong. (I’m looking at you, dandelions and crabgrass.)

Mystery patches

It turns out that grasses can be hard to ID, and few patches have left us scratching our heads.

Unknown grasses. To keep or not to keep, that is the question. If they're native prairie grasses, they get to stay. If not, they go bye-bye.

Unknown grasses. We'll leave them in place until we can ID them.

One unknown becomes known

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, we did identify one grass this week!

RESCUEGRASS Bromus catharticus

Rescue grass is easy to spot from its seedheads -- they're large and flat.

To keep or not to keep?

Rescue grass seems to have been introduced into the U.S. from South America in the early 1800s. Some sources list it as “native,” some say it’s been “naturalized” into our prairies … other sources label it a weedy invasive.  

What should we do?  Keep it or hand remove? Our “rule” has been to remove anything that’s not native to North American prairies, so my inclination is to pull out the rescue grass. But I’m just not sure.

One thing’s for certain … buffalo grass is a keeper!

Ahhh, buffalo grass is a beauty, ain’t it? Just looking at it makes me happy.

Next time … the challenge to ID continues

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Happy New Year everyone!

We had guests, food, laughter and wonderful weather here at Hilltop over the holidays. The unusually warm days let the younger visitors comfortably explore the outdoors.

The less young among us were in short sleeves (Mr. Hilltop in his usual shorts), and some even enjoyed an adult beverage (or two) outside on the porch — which is unheard of this time of year. I’m afraid we’ll pay with another hot, dry summer, but we played in the fresh outdoors, faces turned to the sun like budding morning glories. 

Youngsters running around Hilltop was the best part of ringing in 2012.

The “city kids” were a little frightened at first to find a snake skin. But when they figured out it had been vacated by its creepy crawler, they quickly found a stick — not quite brave enough to actually touch it — to carry it to the house to show off.

Almost intact, this snake skin was a prized find by our younger guests. You can see the head at the top right and the tail is just below.

What was last season’s coat for a friendly neighborhood snake is going to be show-and-tell for a kindergartner in a big Midwestern city. Let me just apologize right now to the teacher — whoever you may be — for the squeals and mayhem it will cause, but it makes me smile.

Next time — Back to prairie business! Must we water in January?!

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Invasives removal? Cussing always helps

Some people hunt great deals at the mall. Others go hunting the bars for friends. We know people who hunt deer and eat them. But here at Hilltop House, we hunt the evil sh*t berry bushes (aka “bush honeysuckle“).

Mr. Hilltop and his trusty pickaxe posing with recent "kills" of the non-elusive "bush honeysuckle."

Below is a new target that is starting to grow around a keeper tree. Mr. Hilltop trimmed it back and started digging out the root system over the weekend.

This well-established sh*tberry has branches up to four inches in diameter. Four inches. FOUR INCHES!

Attention all bush honeysuckle:  We will yank you out with our bare hands and burn you to a pulp … er, umm, beat you to ash … no, rip yer leg off and beat you with the bloody stump … uh … well, basically I’m trying to let you know that Mr. Hilltop will put you in the burn barrel after we cut you down and dig you up. You don’t even deserve the inside fireplace. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

A lovely December morning, and Mr. Hilltop is doing his favorite thing -- burning sh*tberry brush. "I like to hear them scream," he says, over the "tssssss" sound of sizzling brush.

Next time: Am I a bad person if I’m more interested in browsing for seeds than finishing the Christmas shopping?

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Sh*t berries — we’re comin’ for you!

They look pretty, don’t they? Especially this time of year when everything else is crunchy and brown. But don’t be fooled! It’s not Christmas holly. At Hilltop House, we call them “sh*t berries,” because when you see them taking over, you say … well, you know. Bad words. Lots of very bad words.

The bush honeysuckle was brought to the US from Asia in the 1800s for erosion control and landscaping. Nice going, 19th Century people. You have ruined my Saturdays and Sundays for years to come.

The bright red berries sparkle in the sunlight … a come hither to birds everywhere. They gobble them greedily, then poop them out across the midwest.

The birds eat 'em, but these berries are the Taco Bell of the bird world. No nutritional value*, so they keep coming back for more. Binge, poop, hit the drive-thru. It's always open. ( * So say experts)

These things send out suckers like crazy, causing an invasion ….

We don't live in the Show Me State, but it was comforting to stumble across this booklet from the Missouri Department of Conservation. (Thanks to a brother-in-law who lives there.)

Above booklet is available online at Missouri’s invasive plant management site.

So, we confirmed our suspicions that we are truly being invaded. Should be we worried that Missouri’s bushy villian is now firmly established in north central Oklahoma? And how many people out there naively think it’s just a “purty holly bush?”

Next time:  Axes, shovels and lots of cussing are effective tools for invasives removal

Resource:  Missouri Department of Conservation Invasive Plant Management 

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It’s a Beauty of Berry

We’ve been watching these little bushes in the understory of our wooded areas. I call them “scribble scrabble” brush, because they look twiggy and overgrown. Nothing really to get excited about during the spring and summer. But when they started popping out bright magenta berries in the fall, we hoped they might be Beautyberries.

Any eagle-eyed natives plant experts out there who can help us verify?

These are keepers, right?

As we clear out some of the invasives (we’re looking at you “bush honeysuckle”), we’ve noticed the Beautyberries are putting out larger berries. This has to be a good thing.

They seem to be short understory bushes, with sparse chartreuse-colored leaves. How good are your eyes? Can you see the rear view of Garden Advisor Sammie in the picture above? She's there in the underbrush, a little camouflaged.

We try to mark the brush and trees we think are keepers, so we don’t inadvertently remove something we can’t ID during its non-performing months. Of course, this time of year, it’s easy to find the Beautyberries. The fruits are not purple like the Beautyberry plants we see at the local nurseries, but we think that’s okay.

Without the berries, these little bushes can really seem like woodland clutter. So, we have to be careful not to remove them when we're in "bush honeysuckle" rage. This has reinforced the value of learning leaf shapes (and remembering them!) .

Most of the berries have been teensy, little dry, sad, shriveled looking things — easy to miss. This is the first year they seem to be bigger and brighter.

Sorry for the blurry picture! It's the only one I had of the larger berry clusters. And, now that I'm looking closer, I see an evil thorned bramble-looking vine trying to innocently blend in with the berry plants. Nice try, buddy! Your days are numbered.

So our question is this:  They’re Beautyberries, right?  And these are keepers?

Oh, and is it Beautyberry (one word), or Beauty berry (two words)?

And, okay, just one more question — Do we need to be better hosts? Do they need anything from us, like pruning? Or, should we just let ’em go?

Next time — Bush honeysuckle, you suck.

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The first planting

It’s been warm for November … more time for digging in the dirt!  Got the plants from High Country Gardens, so why wait til spring?

First up — find spots without native buffalo grass. (That grass is a definite keeper, so try to not disturb it.)

I found bare patches with only Bermuda grass or other non-natives like “cutleaf geranium” or “henbit” . . . or at least that’s what I think they are by using the most excellent reference book "Weeds of the South."

It’s always good to consult with others.

Pre-planting consultant, Sammie, seems to think this is a good spot.

Next, get the plants ready . . .

Blue Switch Grass (panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’) ready to shed its pot.

. . . and plunk ’em in the ground. I’ve learned that prairie plants don’t need fancy pants dirt — just regular old dirt will do it. Sometimes even bad dirt works.

Hello, Switch Grass, welcome to Oklahoma. You’re going to like it here.

It’s a good idea to mark the new plantings’ locations. We used salvaged materials from a construction tear-down for our markings (bricks and PVC pipes).

At the far end of The Square, Llano Indian grass (sorghastrum nulans) and Cheyenne Sky Switch Grass (in back, on the right) are harbingers of the prairie to come. Or, maybe they're echoes of the past prairie that was originally here.

Delicate baby Lead Plant (amorpha canescens) is guarded by a salvaged PVC pipe end and bricks. Can you see the glue blobs on those bricks? Mr Prairie Hilltop takes salvage very seriously. He spent last winter knocking off mortar and gluing broken bricks together.

Hey, Is that a prairie dog? Nope, it's only my post-planting consultant, Baxter, checking out the lead plants.

Total plantings:

3 – Switch grass (panicum v. Cheyenne Sky)
3 – Shenandoah Blue Switch Grass (panicum virgatum)
3 – Llano Indian Grass (sorghatrum nulans)
6 – Lead Plant (amorpha canescens)
1 – Prairie Dropseed (sporobolus heterolepis) – Wish I’d gotten more of this one!

Next — Order up some seeds for wider plantings. I read somewhere that first snows can be a helpful friend by pushing seed into the ground.

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