Wild Ideas:  Newsletter for the Flint Chapter of Wild Ones Natural Landscapers, Limited.

Spring 2001


Since our hard-working president, Virginia Chatfield, is having an exceptionally hectic month, I offered to write a Vice President's letter in place of her quarterly President's Letter.

Things are definitely heating up for the Wild Ones this spring. This month, our group will be taking part in the Mott Community College Earth Day Celebration on Saturday April 21, in addition to the Flint Urban Garden Expo on Saturday, April 28. These events are a great opportunity to get the word out about native plants and to let the public see our beautiful display. Volunteers are urgently needed for these events (to volunteer, call me at 810-238-4863).

Our April meeting, (Thursday, April 12) will feature Chuck Barnes, a wildlife biologist from the Troy nature center. He will be speaking on "Designing Your Backyard for Wildlife." He will have ideas on good native plants for wildlife, plus other suggestions. Chuck likes to interact with the audience, so come with questions! In order to reimburse Chuck for his time, we will be charging $3 admission for this meeting.

In May, we will be selling native plants at one of Flint's major annual events, Flower Day at the Farmer's Market. Held Saturday, May 26, this is typically a busy, crowded, exciting event. In June, we have the opportunity for a second plant sale. Garden Day in Lapeer, held on June 23rd, is visited by thousands of people annually. Again, volunteers are needed to make these sales a success.

Other, more long-term, projects are also in the works. Virginia Chatfield and Ginny Knag have been talking with Ian Steenson of the University of Michigan—Flint grounds department regarding installing a native planting on their new building site, the former IMA building, along the Flint river. He would like to see the planting used as an educational vehicle for both adults and school children and also as an attraction to get Genesee County residents to visit the Flint downtown area. Meetings with other University officials concerning this project are planned for the future. Stay tuned.

A more immediate project is a native planting at the I-75 rest area near Clio. Ginny Knag and I met with representatives from MDOT and the Genesee County Road Commission (GCRC) to discuss installing native plants there this spring. The planting area is two raised beds, one on each side of the building. MDOT and GCRC would pay all costs and even install a sprinkler system. Our job would be to come up with a design and a plant list. Of course, should we decide to take on this project, it would be "our baby"—meaning that our chapter would do all ongoing maintenance.

We are looking forward to a period of increased activity and involvement for Wild Ones, with more and more opportunities for each of us to work with native plants, increase our knowledge and experience, and share our interest in native plants with others. All of us are needed, and all of us are important in this venture.

Naturally yours,

Pat Lewis, Vice-President


By Pat Lewis

Scientific discipline and relaxed design techniques characterized Darrel Morrison's "Designing with Native Plants" seminar in which I participated in late July 1999. The intense five-day workshop, which was held at the Conway School of Landscape Design in Northern Massachusetts, featured daily afternoon field trips to a variety of nearby sites. Mornings were spent creating landscape designs from the previous day's field study.

In the course of the five days, we visited a bog, a wet meadow, several different forest environments and also some dry meadows. Sketch pad and wildflower identification guides were standard equipment on the field trips. The group, led by Morrison, stopped frequently on its walks to identify a plant pointed out by Morrison, write notes, make sketches or take photographs. The sites we visited were all within an hour drive of the school, which is located in a steeply hilly rural area of Northern Massachusetts.

All the sites were exquisite examples of natural ecosystems, which enabled us to not only learn about individual plants, but to observe and document original native plant communities.

At one forested mountaintop setting, we identified and counted the plants in several 10-foot square areas. Although tedious, this exercise gave precise examples of the diversity of plant life growing on a forest floor—essential knowledge for anyone who wants to recreate an authentic plant community. The next day we repeated this exercise in an open, sandy meadow, where we discovered an entirely different group of native plants.

On still another day, we visited and compared two different forest locations, a maple forest and an oak forest. We discovered that each tree species creates a different light situation and therefore had a slightly different plant community growing beneath it. On other sites, after a session of plant ID, we settled down to do a pencil or water color sketch of the landscape. The prevailing theme on all the field trips was detailed observation.

In our morning design sessions, we put our observations into practice. Each morning we were given a specific assignment, such as designing a tree-shaded entryway to the educational building of a nature center. We were asked to design the main entrance and walkway and any smaller paths or access routes we considered appropriate. Around these, we were to create native plant groupings of our choice, provided they would be consistent with the given environment. Aesthetics, scientific accuracy and practical considerations all had to be combined and balanced. Other design assignments included a partially wooded large residential property, and a park with both forested areas and open fields.

You might think the design assignments would leave a lot of us clueless. Not at all! Morrison showed us how to bring out the artist in us with a nearly effortless technique. With the bare outline of our project's dimensions in front of us, we got out colored chalk and tracing paper and, with soothing classical music in the background, drew multi-colored flowing shapes within our project's boundaries. We played at this exercise until we came up with forms that appealed to us. These forms then became the outlines of our plant communities. At the end of the morning, class participants had the option of presenting their projects in a relaxed and supportive atmosphere. Each person's work was totally unique.

Workshop participants came from all over the northeastern quarter of the U.S., from Minnesota to Maine to Maryland, and were from a variety of age groups and occupations. Some had topic-related occupations, including several landscape architects, a landscaper, and a garden designer. Others were from unrelated occupations, such as law and social work. However, despite the differences, the commonalties of our interest in nature and design made interaction easy and stimulating.

All in all, I found the experience to be not only enjoyable, but of lasting value, since it gave me tools to create my own native plant landscape designs. Darrel Morrison gives similar seminars around the country. If other Wild Ones members would like this kind of experience, please contact me at 810-238-4863—we may be able to host a landscape design seminar in Michigan in 2002.


Don't miss "Last Stand of the Tallgrass Prairie," a spectacular TV documentary that will be aired in July on our local PBS channel, Channel 28. The Flint Public Library is hosting a unique and informative in-depth Smithsonian exhibition entitled "Listening to the Prairie" at the Main Library, October 25–December 6, 2001. While the TV documentary and the exhibition were separately produced, PBS has agreed to rerun the "Last Stand" piece to coincide with the Smithsonian exhibit's visit to Flint. The library plans to involve local groups in the planning of programs around this fine exhibit.


We are always looking for material for future issues of Wild Ideas. If you have had a native plant landscaping experience that you would be willing to share, know of an event that should appear in the local events calendar, or just want to revel in a native plant success, revile a particularly obstinate invasive plant, or marvel at the beauty of your landscape or the unexpected success of your planting, contact Jane Huggins (janeh@umich.edu). While we can't promise that we will use every idea, we welcome contributions.


by Cynthia Stilley


by William Least Heat-Moon

Most of us know a few things about the state of Kansas: that it is flat (not true), it has lots of fields of tall grass (not so much anymore), and that Dorothy and Toto called it "home."

William Least Heat-Moon, author of Blue Highways, wants us to know more than that. He wonders at the start of his book, PrairyErth, just how to tell the story of Chase County, Kansas, parts of it still a billowing, robust prairie, set in the heartland of America. The very title, PrairyErth, an old geologic term for the soils of our central grasslands, sets the stage for a magnificent narrative account of America's last remaining expanse of tall-grass prairie. Discussions of prairie soil, native plants, distant geologic events and human connections builds up a matrix of detail, one layer enhancing the other, until the 744 square miles and the 3,000 souls spring to life.

A fascinating section which deals with the Osage Orange offers an example of the artistry of the author's style. Around this one plant, a whole chronicle of life can be told. He turns the Osage Orange around and around, telling about the plant's uses, how men exploited the plant, and their dreams that the plant would bring them fortune. The Osage Orange/Mock Orange/Horse Apple/hedge/hedgeball/Maclura pomifera (call it what you will) is not native to the area but came with settlers during the Civil War time. Heat-Moon tells how the Osage Orange, because of its wiry, tight growing habit, was used to build living hedges, and its wood, the heaviest on the continent, was prized for making bows or walking sticks. Some hoped to make a fortune marketing the sticky sap as an insect repellant, while others went into business fashioning wagon axles, tool handles, police billy clubs, and street pavers from the few straight trunks that could be found.

After reading PrairyErth, you will come away with the essence of life in the tall-grass prairies written into your very bones. Heat-Moon has created a masterpiece. Another reviewer has called this book, "the deepest map anyone ever made of an American place—a majestic survey of land and time and people in a single county of the Kansas plains." For me, I'm adding this to my list of "Favorite Books of all Time."


Wouldn't it be great if we could see and learn from other people's mistakes and successes as well as our own? Well here is a way to do just that! We would like members to take pictures of their gardening efforts throughout the spring, summer, and fall months to share with us at the November meeting. You can take pictures of things you see in other wild places as well, but mainly we'd like to see what's going on at your place. Slides would be best as then we can put them up on the screen for everyone to see. And don't worry about things being picture perfect —we want to learn, share and enjoy! We'll be giving you gentle reminders now and then. Good gardening!


by Pat Lewis

Skunk Cabbage

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