The Prairie Permie

Who or what is the Prairie Permie you ask? Excellent question! I am an amature permaculture enthusiast who enjoys observing the natural world here in my home of Cottage Grove, WI and replicating the patterns I find in my own yard and home.

Cottage Grove sometimes feels like an unlikely place to explore the natural world. It is a typical American suburb, a patchwork of privately owned yards made up primarily of grass lawns. Lawn services do great business here, and most yards have similar garden layouts – a limited number of foundation plantings that include local favorites like burning bush, pink viburnums, Stella d’Oro lillies and, in a nod to our local native plants, cone flowers and Black-eyed Susans. They are typically nice, neat yards with tidy garden beds and lawns with orderly diagonal lines crossing the lawns. The dominant color is green, but colors in the gardens are bright and cheerful – bold pinks, sunny yellows and deep purples. The lawns just beg for someone to come out and play a game of catch or kick the soccer ball around. But these landscapes require a lot of resources in terms of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, supplemental water, and time spent mowing to keep them looking nice. They contain a dozen or, in rare cases two dozen, different species; many contain far fewer.

Overall, these yards do not leave a lot of space for the diversity that nature requires to stay in balance. But still you can find evidence of the natural world anywhere, even in the suburbs. Little patches of restored prairies give us a taste of what the area looked like before settlement. Remnants of the hedgerows that came later and lined the farm fields before Cottage Grove transformed itself from a rural community to a suburban one represent corridors that native animals and insects have used for the past couple centuries to move between the spaces that we humans claimed. Remaining farms, like Door Creek Orchard, which strive for diversity and balance, also hold clues to creating natural spaces that behave more like natural spaces, with less need for intensive management. And some yards buck the trend with a larger percentage of their space dedicated to a wider array of plant materials.

That is where my yard comes in. What started 15 years ago as a 1/3 acre patch of grass on bare subsoil, so typical of a new suburban development, now holds over 100 varieties of plants, most either edible or native to the prairies, savannahs and woodlands of our region. They are a mix of plants useful to the humans who live here and plants useful to the critters who call our area home. It’s all about making space not just for us but also the wildlife, with as few inputs as possible. While I still bring in the occasional load of compost, perform supplemental watering on the vegetable gardens, and bring in wood chip mulch to keep the garden beds looking a little more like my neighbors’, I do try to set up gardens that support themselves wherever possible. As I strive for that elusive balance between the natural world and the tidy yards of my neighbors, I have to admit that sometimes chaos reigns supreme. But it is all a journey towards restoring balance, and the journey, it turns out, is a lot of fun.

Thanks for taking the journey with me!