Tag Archives: Native Prairie Plants

Field Trip

For many years I regularly used my 15 passenger van to take the children on field trips.  It had plenty of room for all the car/booster seats, supplies, and even my teens when they came along to help out. Eventually the costs of upkeep for the old van began to outweigh the benefits of using it. When all my original car seats expired I priced out buying five new ones I decided that the expense wasn’t justified for just a few outings a year.

I discovered that I don’t miss taking the children to museums and we can walk to the library and many other neighbourhood attractions.  So, for the past four years we haven’t gone on an outing that required transportation.  In fact, we go on far more walking adventures than we ever did before and they are much more spontaneous (emergent). I do however miss the farm trips and many of the distant hiking trails we used to frequent. So this summer I decided to take my little group on a city bus adventure to the closest one of  the trails – Bunn’s Creek Trail.

For some of the children this was their first ever experience on a city bus.  They were all very excited.  Throughout the 20 minute ride they giggled and cheered and sang songs amusing all the regular bus riders.  We disembarked and began our hike down the 3 km trail.  I loved that my little group of preschool hikers immediately began assessing risks.  ‘Those trees look like bridges – it would be fun to walk on them but if they broke we would fall in the water’;

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I told the children I would take a picture of anything they found interesting along the way.  The first one they requested was this lonely ‘rainbow leaf’;

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They were amazed by the ‘broken beaver dam’;

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Of course they noticed all the thistles growing along the trail.

These boys find thistles everywhere – in parks, back lanes, trails and even gardens.  They like to touch them – they know they are prickly but to them this seems to be an acceptable risk.  I find it interesting how gently they touch the thistles.   Most of the time ‘gentle’ seems to be difficult for this group yet when it comes to thistles they demonstrate that they have the ability to be gentle so yes, keep practicing that!

Then they spotted ‘dandelions’ but they were very tall so a quick check of our field guide and we found out that they were actually sow thistles.

The children don’t think sow-thistle is as prickly as Canada Thistle and quickly lost interest until they found this;

‘Sticky!’

We’ve seen these big leaves of the Common Burdock on many of our hikes but the children have never paid much attention to them or the burrs.  Now these have become the ‘must touch’ favourites on all our hikes.

We reached the park at the end of the trail and took a washroom break.  Everyone wanted to stay on the bridge for a while and look at the creek.

This was the mid point of our hike – we headed back along the trail to where we started.  It was interesting how many of the landmarks the children remembered on our return trip.  They got really excited as we approached the spot where the lonely rainbow leaf was.  Pretty amazing that they can find the same leaf twice in a 6 km nature hike.

We had our lunch in the field near where the creek meets the Red River.  It was so peaceful.  

There was a bald eagle that flew from one side of the clearing and back several times but I was never able to get a picture of him.

The bus ride home was still exciting but much quieter and everyone was ready for a nap when we returned.

We continue to go on long hikes in our neighbourhood but now the children point out all the prickly/sticky plants AND the buses too. Maybe we’ll have to try another bus adventure soon.

Rock On

There were several yard projects that I had planned to do during my too short vacation.  They didn’t get done then but because they were all fairly small projects I have been able to work on them  on evenings and weekends.  I’ll discuss two of them today and leave the others for another post so this one doesn’t get too long.  First, some background info…

It was seven years ago that I removed all the plastic play structures from the yard and began creating a more natural play space.  In 2010 I added the ‘hill’ but it never really became the what I had envisioned.  I had used logs to create ‘steps’ on three sides of the hill and intended that the children would actually climb on the hill;

15-09-hill00I chose hardy native prairie plants that I hoped would stand up to the traffic I expected there would be.  Over the years I have planted 10 varieties of native plants here but only the Pasture Sage and the Giant Hyssop have adapted well.  I do love the Pasture Sage but the Giant Hyssop has been a bit of an annoyance.   It has spread all over the hill and surrounding areas – I believe it has driven out most of the other plants I liked better.

It has also made climbing the hill impossible.  The Hyssop grows so tall and thick that it hinders playing on the hill.  It also attracts a lot of bees which we do like to watch as they work but we don’t want to bother them.  So the hill is mostly just a tunnel and a bridge but even those are difficult to use if I don’t continually hack off and tie back hyssop overgrowth to the point where it doesn’t even look pretty anymore.

15-09-hill01 In the past I have used various trellises to control the Hyssop but ultimately these just create more barriers around the hill.  In fact, I don’t think any of the children even think the hill could/should be climbed on.   Last year another issue developed too with the stumps that I had arranged randomly throughout the gravel area around the hill.  Here you can see the trellis barriers and the stumps;

15-09-hill02Yes, I do like the way that looks but it did not function well.  There was not a lot of space between the stumps for the digging/building projects the children enjoy.  The school-age children would race leaping from stump to stump as quickly as possible and they were not very observant about where the little ones were walking/playing.  The little ones were not able to anticipate and avoid the route the older children were planning to take because there were several options.  Attempting to copy the older children some of the younger ones were beginning to take risks that were far greater than their abilities.   I was spending far too much time redirecting play – something I don’t like to do.

So, I arranged all the stumps in a half-circle with each end reaching a different side of the hill;

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The stump path is now defined and they are close enough together that most of the preschoolers can manage them all.  The older children have other options to challenge themselves – all of them require some self control and precision instead of speed and distance.  One option that they enjoy is using the smaller tree cookies to create shortcuts across the circle.

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There is now also a large gravel area for group digging/building projects if that is what the children want to do.  The area in the center of the circle also makes a good corral/cage for their dramatic play activities.   The half circle stump path becomes a full circle when you notice what I did to the hill.  Side one;

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and side two;

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My inspiration to add rocks to the hill came from this playground in Oslo.  I was originally planning to cement the rocks in place like they did but our little hill is not very steep and the rocks seem secure in the soil.  For now I will leave it like this – besides, I’m curious what the native plants will do next spring.    I may add some other small, rock garden type plants too.

Full circle – rock on;

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Fluffy Rain

One of my fellow family childcare committee members coined the term ‘fluffy rain’ in reference to the white stuff falling from the sky during our meeting last Thursday.  Maybe it was positive thinking or maybe it was just denial – none of us wanted to believe that it was snowing again at the end of April.

There was no school on Friday and although not all the children were here we still had a larger than normal group.  The ‘fluffy rain’ did not dampen anyone’s mood – outdoor play in any type of weather is still preferred over being stuck in a classroom all day.

Most of the morning there was an elaborate dramatic play activity involving an eccentric designer, an art exhibit, and various other characters.  I was assigned the role of ‘photographer’ to document the event – perfect because I was taking pictures already.

There was artwork everywhere;

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Then someone discovered the steady stream of water running out of the rain barrel overflow spout;

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Eventually we had to go back inside because it was too cold for soaking wet toddlers (my decision, not theirs).  Before that though we still had some more time to play with wet fluffy rain – on the plexiglass;

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One toddler was super excited to discover ‘flowers’;

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Hmmm, those ones might be remnants from last summer.  However, the pasture sage has been eager to get growing this year.  It has been active for a couple weeks already.

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Hopefully it won’t be deterred by a little fluffy rain – after all, it is a hardy native prairie plant.  It, like the rest of us Manitoba prairie dwellers, should be used to this by now.

The New Garden Grows

Yesterday I spent several hours working in the front yard garden.  I don’t really consider it ‘working’ – even picking weeds is enjoyable and relaxing.  The plants and I had long, somewhat one-sided conversations.  This spring has been a very exciting time for me because I have been eagerly awaiting the return of all the native prairie plants.

The entire front yard garden was revamped last year – you can read more about the planning process here or go here  to read more about the progress of the baby plants during their first summer.

As soon as the snow melted I began searching for signs that the young plants had survived the very long, harsh winter.  I had put plant tags in the garden to remind me what was planted there – I had also drawn a detailed plan which was very helpful since some of the plant tags disappeared.

However, as the plants began growing I had some doubts as to the accuracy of my plan.  These plants are new to me and I was having some difficulty identifying them.  It seemed to me that the planning I had done for plant heights may have been off since there seem to be tall plants in front of short plants but it may just be that some have grown faster than others.

Currently the garden looks like this;

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The Wild Red Columbine were one of the first to arrive and they have grown very quickly.  They already have many beautiful flowers;

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These Alum Root are also beginning to flower

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The Culver’s Root was planted at the back of the garden because it is supposed to grow to a height of 3-4 feet.  So far they are a just few inches tall and barely noticeable behind the False Sunflower which are also much smaller than many of the other plants.

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Part of the problem I’m having with identifying  the plants is that most of the info I have about them only includes pictures of the flowers so until they bloom I’m not really sure what they are. For example, according to my plan I have three Philadelphia Fleabane and four Gaillardia planted next to each other but they all look very similar to me and could even be the same plant;

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Then there are some that should be the same but to me look different. According to my plan there are three Smooth Aster here with Fringed Brome behind;

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All three of the supposed Smooth Aster are the same height but one of them has leaves that look much different than the other two so I’m not certain it is the same type plant and there is nothing else in the garden that looks like this;

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Then there are the bare spots.  Spaces where I planted for or five plant and only two have shown up – or in one space none.  There was absolutely no sign of the five Joe Pye in the large empty spot where they should have been.  So, three weeks ago when I was in Selkirk, I stopped in at Prairie Originals and bought a Blue Vervain to put there instead.

Suddenly the Joe Pye all began to grow and they now dwarf the new plant in their midst;

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Yes, I am an impatient, somewhat impulsive, but definitely eager gardener.

Giant Invasion

It was about four years ago when I first introduced native prairie plants to our yard.  Visits to the Living Prairie Museum were always popular so growing our own prairie plants seemed like a natural extension.  It has been a learning experience for all of us – growing native praire plants was new to me too.

The plants on the little hill were added first – Yarrow and Giant Hyssop on one side of the tunnel;

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The Yarrow has always been the first to show up each spring – I love it’s fern like leaves. This year, although the Yarrow grew first, the Giant Hyssop has taken over!  It is even coming up  between the logs and through any other crack it can find;

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On the other side of the tunnel we originally planted the Obedient Plant and the Cone Flower.  The Cone Flower didn’t do well and hasn’t shown up at all for the past two years.  We added some Pussy Toes and some Pasture Sage – another one of my favorites with a wonderful texture and aroma too;

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But wait, that plant on the bottom left looks suspiciously like a Giant Hyssop – it was not planted over here;

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We haven’t planted anything in the planters yet – usually we just put in a few annuals or maybe some beans.  Right now they contain nothing but weeds, and a Giant Hyssop?

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Over in the garden I planted some Sweetgrass by the water barrel – no other plants seemed to like that spot.  The Sweetgrass does and has now taken over the whole North side of the garden;

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The rest of the garden is reserved for our veggies and herbs and has no native prairie plants.  Wait, what is that?  Can it be another Giant Hyssop?

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What do you think?