FIREFLIES RETURN TO DELIGHT FAMILY

“It was amazing! Gorgeous!  Fireflies danced over our prairie most of the summer, and they weren’t here when it was a mowed lawn,” said Katie Hill with much enthusiasm

She and her husband Tim are restoring an island of ecological health just three miles from downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa. First Avenue is one of the busiest urban streets in Iowa, constantly filled with cars, motorcycles, and trucks. A bald eagle flying over the road would look down at an urbanized landscape – except for five acres of verdant beauty just a few feet east of the Avenue. The oasis is nestled between suburban developments, a high-rise condominium, and a senior residence complex.

Katie and Tim bought three and a half acres and a home about 15 years ago. It was convenient to his work at a law office a stone’s throw from their land. “We did the standard expected landscaping of mowing and spraying for about a decade,” she said.

Creating Habitat

Although the yard was large it lacked plant diversity and wildlife. Then came the change.

“We stopped spraying and I took delight when creeping Charlie and dandelions took hold. Many people don’t like them, but creeping Charlie has a gorgeous flower that bumblebees love, and it smells nice. Dandelions are beautiful, and bees love them,” she said. Then she broadcast prairie seed on a low area that had been lawn. After a couple of years big bluestem, Indian grass, and many native flowers appeared. Encouraged by their first prairie the Hill’s planted new ones in formerly mowed and sprayed lawns.   They’ve been helped by David Novak, owner of a small company that helps people restore natural areas.

“We were delighted when lightning bugs appeared over the prairie. They don’t like mowed lawn but love taller plants.  We watch them dance on summer evenings. These beautiful insects completely avoid the mowed lawns of our neighbors,” Tim and Katie remarked.

Early in 2018, the Hills bought about an acre and a half of land adjoining their property   Years before several houses stood on the property but it had been purchased by a developer who planned to build two condominium towers. He razed the houses and built one condo tower but abandoned plans to build the second.

Restoring the Land

As we walked through the area Katie showed us her new prairie plantings in what had once been a lawn while Tim pointed out where the houses had stood. As the years go by the residents of the existing condominium tower will gaze downward during the day on wildflowers dancing in the breeze and butterflies sipping nectar from prairie blooms. As twilight approaches, they’ll enjoy fireflies blinking their tiny lights.

In addition to creating beauty and feeling the joy of making the earth healthier, the Hills are benefiting the community beyond their property. Prairie grasses absorb stormwater that once sheeted off their land and into storm sewers and eventually Cedar Lake. Their land nurtures wildlife as its beauty increases and diversifies.

“We feel good about what we are doing. We are helping nature restore itself in the heart of the city, but it also does one other thing. When we were mowing and spraying it was costing us about $600 a month to maintain the property. Now that’s dropped to about 90 bucks, so we’re saving money,” the Hills explained.

In the process of restoring their land, Tim and Katie Hill are also getting a fulfilling ecological education.

Win!  Win! Win!

“It’s a win, win, win,” smiled Katie. “It’s a win for us saving money. It’s a win for us to have the time to be entertained by the wildlife diversity. And, most importantly, it’s a win for Mother Nature.”

Plants Add Lasting Beauty and Soothe Grief

Black Eyed Susan

A brilliant harbinger of summer with a long lasting biannual bloom.

Many years ago word came that a dear friend had tragically died in Utah, over a thousand miles from our Iowa home.  With deep feelings of grief of the loss of a vibrant young woman I (Rich) felt the need to “do something for her.”

We were in the process of restoring prairie to a bare patch of ground on recently purchased piece of land at the Indian Creek Nature Center.  A bag of prairie wildflowers perched against my office wall caught my eye.  I grabbed the bag, walked to the meadow and scattered the seeds in the woman’s honor.

The seeds thrived.  Now, a dozen years later they grace the prairie with color and restore memories of my friend. We shared this story with our friend’s husband who was moved. So, we decided to share our way of honoring and memorializing ones dear to us.

Planting flowers, shrubs, and trees in a yard or park is an outstanding way to reduce grief, maintain memories, honor someone, and make our world healthier and more vibrant.

Royal Catch Fly

What a stunner!

Swallow Tail On Purple Cone

Sipping nectar

Purple Coneflowers

Purple Coneflowers add color to a prairie.

Prairie Ballerina

Periodically readers send lovely essays and observations of their Wondrous Yards.  Below is a poetic piece by Katrina Garner.

“One of the benefits of creating and maintaining burn barriers around prairie areas is that the resulting “pathways” provide the perfect opportunity to observe the prairies from all sides.  Every morning I head out with our Lab Schatzie for our long daily walk around the property, letting Schatzie choose our route.  Sometimes she startles a deer, and sometimes a turkey blasts out of the grasses right in front of us.  Schatzie holds on to the hope that one day she’ll actually catch one of the hundreds of rabbits who manage to stay just out of her reach.  Always there’s a chorus of bird songs, blending together like a pastoral symphony, to remind me to focus on nature’s sounds.

Prairie Ballerina

Capturing the essence of prairie blooms.

“I have my phone handy in case I see the perfect view for a future landscape painting.  One day this past week we were ending the walk along the path between our first prairie planting and the pollinator strip next to it.  The house was above us beyond the prairie.  Our farm is named “Himmelhof,” a phrase coined by a friend of ours as an approximate Austrian translation for “House in the Heavens.”  Seen from many points on the property, the house does seem to “float” above the prairie, and I’m particularly fond of those views of the house.  At this point in our walk, the coneflowers and Black-eyed Susans were plentiful and at their peak, so I took out my phone and framed my photo to capture the “floating house” with colorful flowers in the foreground.

“A few days later, going through the recent photos on a larger computer screen, I was startled to see what looked like a ballerina with her arms raised to the heavens and her face turned towards the sun.  If I wished to be pragmatic, I would acknowledge the fact that “she” was a cup-plant (Silphium perfoliatum) just masquerading as a fairy ballerina.  However, the romantic in me chooses to see my prairie ballerina fairy as a joyful, whimsical reminder that I should always keep my mind and heart open to the beauty of the nature around me.

Katrina Garner, July, 2016″

Keep sharing about your lovely spaces, folks!  Thanks, Katrina.