Almost a year ago when we first made an appointment to look at the land, as we walked it with the real estate agent, he remarked on “how natural” the property was. Sure the terrain was nice and the many large oak trees on the property were nice, but I had my doubts. I mean sure, it wasn’t planted in corn, soybeans or alfalfa or even tobacco as many of the fields of the neighboring farms are since the land is variously too low, too steep or too rocky for tillage, but on the other hand I whispered to D. that I didn’t see a single native forb or grass. And in June, I identified quite a number of invasive weeds, but not the full catalog I now have in my head. For starters, I had the vague idea that wild parsnip was “bad” for unknown reasons and I had not yet made the acquaintance of multiflora rose. In June, I saw garlic mustard and stinging nettles, but we didn’t know to look for tansy and had little idea of the scope of the burdock problem or that late in the summer thistle seeds would blow from west to east down the valley almost like snow.
So far, we’ve worked some on getting rid of some of the bad plants and this weekend certainly holds more of that. More hacking through wild parsnip roots with a shovel. More tilling between the garlic rows and the rest of the garden to make sure burdock doesn’t take hold and grow to heights of seven feet or more. We’ll be pulling stinging nettles and garlic mustard before they can set seeds for next year, but my favorite thing that we’ll be doing is planting some wet prairie plants. I only bought a flat of plants that I had pre-ordered to pick up at the UW Arboretum Plant Sale yesterday. The sale itself is tomorrow. It’s a small start, but restoration takes some money and really it takes time. I hope these plants can take hold. I hope they are the start of something wonderful.
Additionally, this week we received a letter from a company which works in the field of conservation, restoration and creating sustainable landscapes for new projects. Working on a project funded by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, they want to come out to land including ours to do a visual survey examining the property which has potential for containing prairie. I don’t know if this means they are hoping to find all too rare prairie remnant on our land (it’s too late) or if this refers to the land’s potential for prairie restoration. Either way, it’s a good thing and it means that we’ll get another opinion about what we have and possibly what we should do and possibly make some good contacts. I absolutely consent to their visiting our land. I know a lot of things about prairie restoration, but I don’t have the formal credentials of their biologists, engineers and landscape architects.
Their letter says, “Prairies are home to plants and animals that a beneficial to the land, crops, and people. They are a part of our landscape that is disappearing quickly, with less than 1% of our native prairies still in existence.” They also say that their survey will focus on plants. That makes perfect sense to me. Just two weeks ago when we were talking about restoring the prairie, I wondered aloud how changing the plants might affect the entire ecosystem. Plants are what I know best and they are absolutely the starting point for a healthy ecosystem. If a diverse community of native plants is available, maybe a diverse community of insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals will follow.