It was only natural when living in Iowa and studying landscape design to discover prairie. The idea that the land around me was almost totally tall grass prairie led me to learn as much as I could about that native ecosystem. In many parts of North America and Europe garden designers are creating prairies and meadows with native species with the inspiration of the Midwest prairie plants.
It turns out that nearly every site can have a piece of reconstructed prairie. The first small prairie garden I planted now is alive with a diverse population of insects, butterflies and birds and the occasional mammal. In the winter the cardinals and junkos fly back and forth between the prairie and the bird feeders on our deck. Even just including some native plants in a garden design will add beauty and diversity to the landscape.
The rich Iowan soils are the result of centuries of the growth patterns of native plants. Their roots reach deeply into the soil and over time with the yearly growth and decay of top growth created a wonderful top soil. This efficient use of the entire plant, together with periodic fire, maintained the prairies until settlers arrived and began to plant the rich soils with seeds to grow food for themselves and their livestock.
Plantings of native plants serve to keep rain water on site and replenish the ground water and to slow or stop erosion. They attract native insects, butterfiles, birds and mammals to create a self sustaining diversity. And they are beautiful. They can be used to complement and soften the built landscape of patios, decks, homes, garages, barns and sheds. They connect structures to the land.
"But about six hundred miles inland, something began happening to the thick fabric of deciduous forest. It began to show rents and gaps, with occasional openings. . . Here and there the trees ceased entirely, and the land opened up into meadows of tall grasses."