- [Narrator 1] Tennessee Environmental Council, helping people care for the environment and offering instructions and seed kits for pollinator gardens that bloom into year round habitats. More information at tectn.org. - [Narrator 2] If you want something unique for a home landscape, and you'd prefer low maintenance, and it would be great to support pollinators too, then a pocket prairie could be the answer. Troy Marden explores this concept in native landscaping. Plus Jeff Poppen demonstrates how to increase soil fertility with compost and the use of cover crops, and Sheri Gramer tours a mature hillside landscape featuring rich color and year round interest. Join us. First using the components of a naturally occurring prairie, but scaling it down for a suburban lot. - Before I moved to Tennessee, I grew up on the prairie. Now, prairies have become popular gardening subjects. In particular, this concept of a pocket prairie, which may be a term that's unfamiliar to some people, so I decided that I would come to the source and ask Mike Berkley out here at GroWild about pocket prairies seen what they are. - Yeah, Troy, welcome to GroWild. Yeah, we look at these prairies, and acres, and acres in some cases, square miles that we've, historically, have known these prairies in these grasslands, but we can't do that in suburbia, we can't put that in someone's small little backyard, and they wanna do the right thing, and we know now that the grasses are an important part to our pollinator gardens as well. So we are looking at downsizing and taking the components off a naturally occurring prairie and putting it into a small bed. All the plants are the same, the concept is the same, and the fact that we don't want it too rich, there's no irrigation, in fact, it's pretty low maintenance. - So we're actually talking about condensing the prairie concept down into a suburban lot size garden, if you will, a designed prairie. - It's designed, and that's the difference is, if you see a naturally occurring prairie then the design that's there, it's a very mosaic, and it's whatever nature has done, but it's maybe even a borderline little chaotic. What we're talking about in our own yards though, is to actually put some form, some flow to it. You have grasses flowing in a certain area then you may have some certain forbs or flowering plants flowering in a certain area. Now, those will eventually evolve into a little more relaxed look by receding and spreading out. But yeah, it's a little bit, you gotta think about this is that we are talking about in our own yards. And sometimes just throwing out the seed, and letting things go, and nature taking its course that way doesn't always work, especially if you've got an HOA- - You're right, we're talking about neighborhoods here, some of which are governed and some are not, but if you live in a situation where you do have a homeowner's association, the wilder the better is not always the right solution, so you have to kind of live within the constraints of those rules. - Right, if you make it pretty most of the time the HOAs, and just the people across the street that's maybe not into it, they'll say, "Oh, wow, I like that, how can I do that, and I wanna do that." So, what we're trying to do is just, we've watched over the years, 25 years at GroWild, we've watched how the gardening public embracing the natives and the whole concept of pollinator gardens and everything. This is going into that next level saying, "Okay, I want that pollinator garden. I want it to perform, not just survive, I want it to perform." Which means that the grasses and all the flowering plants have to really be pretty and stand up strong, but it's still a prairie. - Right, you've got the prairie components, like you said, the grasses, the forbs, the flowering plants, those kinds of things. - Everything that you would have in a perennial bed but one of the things we have to do is put more grasses in. And I've always said you know- - So tell me about that, part of it, how do you come up with the formula, if you will, to get this concept in this look? - Right, if you can put at least 50% of the total plant material as grasses, and I really prefer to 60% to 70%, okay. And don't just go with one grass. And of course, this is all about scale too, if you've got a very large area, you can have more diversity and diversity is a big word for this. But you could put maybe three to four other grasses, maybe a low bunch of grass like sideoats grama, prairie dropseed, and then you can have some of the taller grasses, medium-sized grasses, in there with like the little bluestems and maybe even have some big bluestem that's towering up over your head. - [Troy] So we've changed locations now at the nursery, and we're standing in front of the big prairie. This is about 14 acres, you all restored this? - Yes, the quick story was that, this was a hayfield, and the locals around here in knew it as a great hayfield. And so we thought, "Well, let's do the research, let's build a prairie." And we got some federal assistance to do this in the WHIP program, and so we installed this prairie. And we actually went to Wisconsin and researched up there of how to do a prairie, 'cause we didn't have a clue, and I'm really excited about how it turned out. So this would be considered a tall grass prairie. - [Troy] Right, and people can see behind us, this is big bluestem - Big bluestem is predominant. - back here. So eight, nine feet tall when it's in full seed. - [Mike] And it stay this, what's cool about these grasses is that up in the middle of the winter in January, they're still standing up strong like this, and the movement on a winter wind, it's just amazing. And you can almost hear the sound, there's music that's going through these dried grasses. What you're probably gonna understand also by standing here in this full sun is that one of the reasons that these grasses are standing up, the way they are, is that it's in full sun. - It's in full sun. And I was just gonna say, we can see trees out at the perimeter of the acreage, but one of the things that you'll notice, and if you drive through my home area, out in Kansas, you'll see the same things, the trees are gathered down in the lower valleys where there's water and up on the high hills it's nothing but grasses and it's fully exposed. - Right, and that's where we try to tell the homeowner, the backyard gardener says, "Okay, if you want that pocket prairie and you want these grasses to perform, you don't want them flopping, make sure that you do put it in as much exposure as you possibly can." - Full sun, - Full sun, lean soil, - lean soil. - Oh please, do the lean soil. - And no overwatering and extra irrigation. - No, no, no, and then that's a beauty, you're talking about a garden entity that is as low maintenance that you don't water it, you don't feed it, please don't put fertilizer on it, you don't amend the soil, you keep it as lean as it possibly can be. And you know, for Middle Tennessee, that's woo-hoo, that's great, because we don't always, in our backyards, have the best soil and we wanna put pine bark or some kind of soil amendment, don't do that with a prairie. So we wanna keep it- - Those prairie plants are used to growing in tough, - That's exactly correct. - Tough climate, tough locations. - Right, now, the other thing too, I wanna point out is that you've got a lot of grasses in here, you also have a lot of forbs, what we call the flowering plants You've got about three, four different asters in here, the purple coneflowers in here, that blooms back in the summer, you've got some flocks, a prairie flocks, that blooms only about a foot tall and that's gonna be in April or May. The bees are all over it, we watch the butterflies through the summer coming in and all over it. So, it's a double whammy, it's not just having the pocket prairie to have those grasses in there, but also to have the flowering plants in there. - For most homeowners, we're probably looking at small to medium size grasses. Most people probably aren't going to grow big bluestem that gets eight or nine feet tall, some might. We're probably also talking about a matrix of perennial plants, the forbs, the wild flowers, if you will, that are, again, small to kind of medium in height for most homeowners situations. Are there any plants that you feel like people should avoid in pocket prairie kind of... - Absolutely. - a home landscape. - Right, over the years, we've trialed a lot of these plants, and they probably did perform, there was no doubt about it, they performed but they- - Exactly the way they were supposed to. - They over performed. To keep the diversity. I've always said that aggressiveness with any particular species doesn't always meet the diversity part that we want, okay? - Sure. - Because what you'll, and you probably have seen many times on roadside, is that maybe the Canada goldenrod, the giant goldenrod, is thick in there. What was in there before it came in and took that over, so there's a lot of those more aggressive plants. And oddly, a lot of the grasses that I would not use; the red switch grass, which is probably even one of the most ubiquitous, ornamental, native grasses around, it's pretty aggressive in a pocket prairie. The sugarcane plume grass, which is beautiful, and it towers up over our heads, I probably would be careful with that. - When it's in the right location its great, but- - And the one that got me the most was the willowleaf aster, and that's Symphyotrichum praealtum, and we love it because up in November maybe even to the 1st of December it's still blooming. - It's still flowering. - So it's still catching the last remnants of the monarch butterfly coming in and feeding on its way south, and we loved it. And then we started noticing, "oh look, there's some over there, oh look it spread." And so, that's not one as much as we want it, and a pocket prairie, it's not one to put in a pocket prairie because we want to continue the diversity. - So for a homeowner who wants to install a pocket prairie what is your recommendation on the number of plants that need to go in the ground? - Right, that's a very good question because we don't want it chock-full with so many different plants that you lose, that flow, okay. So what I recommend is doing about 10 species, and these can be some selections, varieties of native plants, 10 species for 100 square feet. So if you have a 10-foot linear bed, yeah, you're gonna have 10 species, and that keeps that, of course, keeping in mind that 50% or more gonna be the grasses, so that keeps you from getting two crazy with one, one, one, one, one, of all the other flowery plants. - Wow, look at this soil. This is beautiful, you could grow anything you wanted to in this. My goodness gracious. I mean, I just love to see good soil and the earth worms and everything and all the microorganisms here, just wonderful. Let's go talk to Chris and find out how he makes such good soil. I love compost and this looks like some beautiful compost. My goodness gracious, look at that stuff, oh my gosh. Chris, good to see you again. - Hey, how are you Jeff? - You caught me in your compost pile. - Eh, I figured you'd end up here. - Yes, well I was admiring your beautiful soils and I know that you studied soil building, so tell me a little bit about how you make such good garden beds here. - A lot of what we do is based on these decomposers, these guys, we just get 'em some food. There are all kinds of critters in here, on the microscopic level, there's billions, and we take our weeds and any waste from the garden, we stack it in layers that enable the decomposers to get to it, and we just let it do its thing. - Chris, you use a little chicken manure in your compost here to help heat it up and get it to break down, that's always a good idea to use some animal manures in a garden. We've found that cow manure is the easiest for us, but cow manure has lots of weed seeds in it and it tends to make the gardens pretty weedy. In my situation, I can take care of that with tractors, but in a small garden, you have to be a little careful with bringing in weed with your manures. - [Chris] We try to layer it and we get nitrogen and carbon out of it. - [Jeff] Oh absolutely, yes. - But when you got down to that soil layer, that was what was so interesting when you got below all the... - Oh, that's the older stuff. - There's the older stuff, smell that. - Yeah, that smell is actually of the actinomycete, is it? They give it that nice earthy aroma. - Yeah, so that's what we wanna put back on our crops as food and... - Yeah. - There's a... - There's a herbert. - There you go buddy, sorry. - Yeah, so a lot of people think that it's only legumes that make the nitrogen, but there's so much nitrogen in the air it's just getting that. - [Chris] So it's not just the rhizobium. - That's right, yeah, many of them. Well Chris, besides compost, I see you have cover crops. - We do. - That's part of your soil building program too. So this crimson clover patch here is going to be a bed for some vegetable and flowers and herbs later on. And the reason that the crimson clover is such a good soil builder is because among other things, it's the nitrogen that it brings in. So you see these little white balls on the roots? Those are formed from a bacteria called rhizobium that lives on the root. But then when the plant is mowed or dug up, these all die and that's pure nitrogen that becomes available for the next crop. - [Chris] When it's wavy fields of red, we just love it, it's aesthetic too. But the bees like it, it's good forage for the bees and it's really building soil here. This is hugely rocky, but if you dig down, we've been at this for a few years, and I think we're starting to get going. - Your whole garden here at Pegram was just a weedy spot, right? I mean, it'll look just like that, and then you've solely been building this garden out of this weedy spot here, abandoned land, really. - Right, open field, and we don't wanna destroy the interface with the natural world here, and so we're slowly working that way in a cooperative manner, but yeah, just keeping the diversity up. - Another important aspect of building soil fertility is balancing out our carbonation materials with our cover crops and compost with minerals, so are you adding lime here? - We broadcast lime on a yearly basis, yes. - Great. - Yes. - Yes, that's a very important to keep that pH level up. - I think Jeff Poppen recommended we do that. - Calcium's really an important nutrient, - it is. - Particularly in Tennessee where we get a lot of rain, it leaches out, so we always have to put more back on. And another thing about building soil fertility that I like to stress is rotating crops. Certain crops make the soil better for certain other crops the next year. So, do you do a lot of crop rotation up here, Chris? - [Chris] We do, we really try to minimize pathogens, nematode, stuff that crops don't like. So if you leave a crop in the same spot consistently it's just gonna set up disease. So nothing occupies a bed for more than a season, unless it's the perennials, the asparagus, the blueberries. - [Jeff] Oh yeah, they have to. - [Chris] Yeah, so we follow, everything you see here is in a different location than it was last year. - [Jeff] Wow, and there must be 20 different beds. - [Chris] We got 20 different beds at least, and then yeah, we try to put a few more in each year. - [Jeff] And do you actually make out a little garden plan or just kinda wing it? - [Chris] We've been winging it. I'm mapping it and then we're gonna name the beds, put in some street signs and that way people can orient better, 'cause folks wanna, if I could say, weed bed number three on a worksheet it would really help the community aspect of it, give us more time to play. - Yeah, yeah, and this is a teaching garden too. - It is, it is. And a lot of folks walk in with their children and their dogs up here. So they like to stop by and just walk through and see the birds. - [Jeff] Your garden is a lovely place to be. - It is, it is. We're grateful for this sunny spot on the hill. - [Jeff] Yeah, Well, thanks again for having us out. - [Chris] All right, thanks for coming. - We're in Leon Lenox Garden in Brentwood, Tennessee, and we've just had a wonderful tour, but I saw this tree and I want him to tell us about it. This is one of my favorites. - Yeah, this is, the common name is Yellowwood. It's a native tree, it does really great in this area. Doesn't flower every year, but when it does, it's got foot long white flowers that hang down all over from it, it's absolutely spectacular. - [Marty] Kind of almost like wisteria flower. - [Leon] Almost like a wisteria flower, only bigger. - [Marty] Yes. - [Leon] And just a gorgeous tree. The leaves on it are compound, they're huge. Their leaflets are normal size, well they look like the real leaves, but this is just a very nice native tree. - It doesn't get too big, it's sort of a large mid-sized tree, I would say. And one of the things I really love about it is, it's got this gorgeous bark, which is almost like a beach it's fairly smooth and it's got this beautiful, almost silvery pattern on it, which I really, really enjoy. - [Leon] It's year round interest on this tree. - And it does great around Middle Tennessee. This is an interesting tree, as Leon said, it is native, but it's got this weird spotty distribution where it's found in Middle Tennessee and it's found in the Ozarks and a few other places where conditions are just right, like limestone underneath, it likes that, which we've got. So this is a really great tree, bright yellow in the Fall. - [Leon] Great. - [Marty] Really pretty color, very clear yellow, very nice looking, it's just, I can't recommend it highly enough, look for this tree, I would say, really, a worthy yard tree. - Yes. It's a great yard tree. - Yes - We are in a grand location with a gardener's gardener. Go grab that pencil and that notepad and get ready to take some notes. Rhonda, this is beautiful here, the view is spectacular, how long have you lived here? - [Rhonda] 17 years. - [Sheri] And you've been gardening all 17 years? - [Rhonda] Oh yes. - Never ending? - Never ending, never will. It's a passion, and the plants have taught me everything. They'll say, "No, I don't wanna be here, I wanna be somewhere else." - And so, why do you have all your parsley here? What kinda garden is this, what's your theme? - Okay, my theme here is a butterfly garden. I have tropical milkweed, I have Florence fennel, the chip curled-leaf parsley, I have a little bit of dill, I have the menorah and yarrow, and all these are perfect for the butterflies. It gives them their own special habitat. - [Sheri] Why did you do the parsley? - [Rhonda] The black swallowtail butterflies love to lay their eggs on the parsley. - [Sheri] And I see a beautiful blue green herb, it's rue, and it's grown a lot for the flowers, but it's also a dangerous herb, isn't it? - That's right, I don't even get near it. It's beautiful, and I love its placement, but if you have rue you better put your gloves on and just stay away from it because it can give you an ugly rash. These are the oakleaf hydrangeas, and they start blooming early, and then it's about time. And I see now there's some shades of pink coming on and it'll all gradually become pink blooms, and then in the Fall, more of a burnt orange, so it's absolutely beautiful. Sheri, where are you? - I'm over here. - [Sheri] Oh, I'm coming. - I couldn't resist, I heard the water, I wanted to check it out and it's magnificent. Everything, everything, just absolutely everything, the babbling brook, the pond, the view, you did great. - [Rhonda] Thank you, it's hard to leave home. These are irises that bloom bright yellow, and they're so tall. And then I have apple mint all through, so after rain, it's so refreshing, which I have to have layers of flowers that bloom all throughout the year. - [Sheri] Japanese maple, and yews, and pines. - [Rhonda] So all through the year, at the winter we still have color when everything else is faded. - [Sheri] I just love how the maturity of your plantings have just kind of rolled and rambled together, and it's beautiful. The different chartreuses and the deep greens, I love it, I just love it, It's beautiful. All right Rhonda, I see some vegetables here and I love the paths that you put in, why did you do that? - Well, my husband, Mike, said, "Rhonda, we need to create some paths so that therefore we won't trample everything." And so he got a piece of paper and he drew it at out and he carried the stone and made the place Smithson. - [Sheri] So this is the first year for this section, correct? - [Rhonda] For this section, it used to be just daylilies, and I said, 'Mike, daylilies just bloom once a year, "I wanna place to plant some vegetables along with my herb garden." - [Sheri] Tell me about your companion planting here, explain that a little bit. - With the tomatoes, if you'll see dark rubin basil, and you'll see other types of basil, the sweet basil, and those are great companion plants for the tomatoes. - And when you say companion plant do you mean make it grow or for insect benefits? - Oh, they benefit each other, basil will keep the insects that will get into your tomato plants away. Maybe you'll see the tomato horn worm, which if you want to take some cheese cloth and just count on losing that one tomato plant and just watch what happens, because the sphinx moth, which is one of the best pollinators in the whole world, comes from tomato horn worm. And that would just be a great experiment to do with children, just watch what happens. - [Sheri] And what about the marigolds? - The marigolds are great too. Actually, when I did had the marigolds, because of their scent, it'll keep the squash bugs away and cucumber beetles and I just deadhead 'em and toss 'em over into those different areas - [Sheri] And explain your sunflowers. - [Rhonda] Oh, my sunflowers. Well, my birthday happens to be in May along with Mother's Day. - [Sheri] Lucky, lucky, lucky. - [Rhonda] Yeah, so my son, for Mother's Day, he started me, a little bucket of sunflowers, so what you see, it's my gift. and every day I look out, I think of my son. What a wonderful gift - He knew his mama, didn't he? - Yes, he knows his mama, and he's even into gardening now, which I didn't know that would ever happen but it has. Onion chives, you can plant those anywhere in the garden. - [Sheri] So are you self-taught in all this companion gardening? - [Rhonda] Yes, I am. - [Sheri] Your winning once you're reading, huh? - [Rhonda] Yes, I have a stack of books always by my bedside table, and it's always a course, a constant course for me, but I love it. - [Sheri] And I notice your lettuce hasn't bolted yet either. - [Rhonda] No, we had that for lunch today. It won't be long, and then that'll come up and I'll feed that to my chickens. - [Sheri] And I cannot believe that, that is squash there. What did you do to make it gets so big? - [Rhonda] Well, we keep wondering, it's such a pretty plant, we hope there's gonna be squash in there? I've peeked under and the nasturtiums are under there, which if you look, those leaves are so healthy, they're no insect holes, so the squash borers are staying away so I know that's working. - [Sheri] And that's why you put the nasturtium in there? - [Rhonda] Yes, there's squash blossoms under there, so I just keep looking. And another thing that's good is to plant radish and just let it go to seed because the radish is a great companion plant to squash as well. - [Sheri] Rhonda, I wanna tell you thank you very much for sharing your home, your gardens, the view, the wonderful knowledge that you've shared with us on companion gardening, your knowledge of insects, thank you so much. - [Rhonda] Oh, well, thank you for coming, I've enjoyed it so much, and I enjoyed the "Volunteer Gardener", I learned so much from your program. - [Sheri] Well, we love people like you that let us come into their yards and enjoy the beauty. - [Rhonda] Come back anytime. - [Sheri] Thank you. - You're welcome. - [Narrator 2] For inspiring garden tours, growing tips and garden projects, visit our website at volunteergardener.org or on YouTube at "The Volunteer Gardener" channel and like us on Facebook. - [Narrator 1] Tennessee Environmental Council, helping people care for the environment and offering instructions and seed kits for pollinator gardens that bloom into year round habitats. More information at tectn.org.
March 24, 2022
Season 30 | Episode 12
If you want something unique for a home landscape, and you'd prefer low-maintenance, then a pocket prairie could be the answer. Troy Marden explores this concept in native landscaping. Jeff Poppen demonstrates how to increase soil fertility with compost, and the use of cover crops. Sheri Gramer tours a mature hillside landscape featuring year round interest and rich color.