I finished up my keynote talk before the Kansas State Advanced Master Gardener Training this morning in Manhattan, KS. As always, Master Gardeners are a great group of very interested, committed gardeners. And here I am in the middle of the Great Plains, with some time on my hands. As it so happens, I love prairies, am passionate about their conservation and visit them whenever I get a chance. Here in the Flint Hills of east central Kansas, is a fabulous 8,600 acre tract of undisturbed prairie, The Kanzo, owned and managed by a partnership of the Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University.
So I headed out in the late afternoon to enjoy the area at dusk. The Kanzo is a beautiful mix of hills and creek bottoms. The tall grasses like Big Bluestem (Andropogon), Little Blue Stem (Schizachyrium), Switchgrass (Panicum)and Indian Grass (Sorghastrum) are the dominate cover in the open fields while the numerous small creeks are lined with Oaks (Quercus), Hackberry (Celtis), Honeylocust (Gleditsia) and Black Walnut (Juglans). Scattered colonies of redbud (Cercis) and Viburnam occupy the edges between grass and trees.
Normally receiving a little more than 30" of precipitation annual, it’s been a dry summer in this part of Kansas. The tall grasses are short and wildflowers like Compass Plant (Sylphium) have beautiful fall color in their foliage but are without their towering late summer flower spikes. However the Gayfeather (Liatris) are in full bloom and covered with clouds of painted lady butterflies and buzzing honeybees and bumblebees.
The narrowleaf purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) are in seed and the prairie sage (Salvia azurea) manages to be in bloom along with small pink ornamental onions (Allium). I climb the trail to the top of a large hill to a gorgeous view of the surrounding hills and creek bottoms.
It is getting late, so I turn around and head back down the trail to the parking lot, descending through a big meadow ablaze with tall Goldenrod (Solidago) as a light breeze waves their brilliant yellow flowers. I stop to smell the sweet, pure scents of the creek, the flowers and the trees. Flocks of birds fly overhead looking to roost for the night. I give silent thanks that such a magnificent piece of the earth has been put aside for preservation and research.
I’m so privileged to be standing in such a rare gem, a tiny piece of what was once an endless sea of virgin grass that covered this country.
Coming to the end of the trail as the sun is setting, I look out over a field of glowing Big Bluestem and meet the stare of a curious deer who is just tall enough to see me over the grass; a wonderful “good bye” as I head back to civilization.
Blanca Peak™ White Penstemon (Penstemon strictus) is an award-winning white-flowered selection of our native Rocky Mountain Penstemon. Large, tubular flowers are a favorite nectar source for bumblebees. Plant this easy-to-grow beardtongue for a sturdy, long-lived late-spring bloomer in your xeriscape. This beauty thrives in most well-drained soil with full sun exposure. A 2021 Plant Select® Winner. A High Country Gardens Introduction.
A soft orange-flowered selection of pineleaf beardtongue, SteppeSuns® Sunset Glow Penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius) is a native cultivar that starts flowering in late spring and attracts numerous pollinators and hummingbirds. Reminiscent of Colorado summer sunsets, its long-lasting blooms add a warm glow to dry area gardens. Finely textured evergreen foliage forms a compact mound for year-round interest.
An easy-to-grow groundcover, 'Purple Beauty' Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata) carpets the mid-to-late spring garden with starry lavender-purple flowers. Whether you are looking for a water-thrifty addition to flow through a rock garden, or a beautiful way to highlight a spring-blooming bulb collection, 'Purple Beauty' will add pollinator-friendly, drought-tolerant spring beauty to your garden.
Arrowleaf Buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) is a lovely Sulphur Buckwheat with large, showy clusters of creamy white or light yellow flowers and low-growing rosette of large heart-shaped leaves. Beautiful late spring blooms add playful texture to the garden. Native to the dry areas of the Pacific Northwest, this buckwheat is an essential habitat plant for butterflies, beneficial insects, and wildlife.