Urban Savanna

A stand of wildflowers in my front yard; I don't think I actually planted this one -- it came up on its own a couple of years back and I've never gotten around to identifying them. This is what it looked like last August, at any rate.

On a tack related to my last post, I'm in the process of trying to rehabilitate my back yard as a native savanna. "Yard" really is a bit generous; it's a 16-by-22-foot patch of weedy dirt that is bordered on three sides by parking (and is separated from parking on the fourth only by our shed). Pretty well shaded most of the year by trees and buildings, too. In short, your typical urban lot, of the sort that in general is either a neglected weed-choked mosquito breeding ground or else heavily trampled with a broken swingset and an occasional firepit. This one was a bit of both when I moved in.

The trash has been under control for several years now, and we've put up a wooden trellis that separates it from our parking space -- preexisting chain link and a retaining wall form the boundary with the neighboring parking lot and alley, so that's okay. Last year I finally cleared out the remaining dead brush and established our compost pile. Running the lawnmower over said brush made pretty decent mulch to start it with, too. But last year was mostly about the vegetable garden in front.

This year I'm starting to properly tackle the vegetation in back, because I want to show that even a little urban dirt lot can be made into a proper greenspace. The soil is decent, if a bit low in organic content, and there's not as much sunlight as one might want, but it has the makings of a reasonable urban savanna ecosystem. I'm putting in edible plants around the periphery: raspberry vines on the trellis to complement the wild grapes (not that I've ever seen an actual grape on them), and a cultivated patch parallel to one of the retaining walls with winter squash being trained to grow up onto the chain-link and some wild garlic or similar in the gaps. For the rest, these folks sell a number of native seed mixes tailored to small plantings, including a couple of savanna/woodland edge mixtures. Now that strategic mowing has knocked the weeds on their heels for a bit I hope to start seeding in the next couple of weeks. I'm still working out how to deal with the foot traffic back there, however. Once established it shouldn't care too much if you walk on it, of course, but I'll get complaints from the roommates if I declare it off limits for the first year and deprive them of the firepit. Prairie seedlings are relatively sturdy, though, so perhaps a few pavers to catch the bulk of the foot traffic is all that's needed.

For more immediate results, Prarie Moon also sells bare-root plants, and they're having an end of season sale -- I point this out because this would be a good way for any of you reading in the upper Midwest to add some native splash to your own landscaping. Just a thought.


Good call. Leave it to me to make a hobby of prairie ecology but not know the name of one of North America's more common forbs.

Damn it, I've been beaten to naming my own home state's flower. And the week after the Preakness, no less.

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This page contains a single entry by Milligan published on May 26, 2007 10:34 PM.

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