Prairie Project: 2013-2015
The first project we have undertaken as part of our 25th Anniversary Renewal is landscaping the front of the House of Prayer. The centerpiece of this project, which was underwritten by a single donor couple, is a prairie.
Additionally, we have reshaped the driveway and entrance, with a parking loop and an extension of the patio.
The prairie is a project that takes several years to complete. This presentation shows the process as it unfolded. It was installed by Steve Heymans. Steve is a local landscaper and the only one in Central Minnesota who does prairie work. We have retained his services for the prairie project at the House of Prayer. He is also the husband of our administrator, Susan Sink, and they have dozens of acres of prairie on their property.
The land belonging to Saint John’s was historically known as “the sugar bush.” It was a forest, made up primarily of maples and oaks. The landscape in front of the House of Prayer has mostly been neglected– scrappy trees taken down and stumps and weeds left behind. Over time, undesirable trees like box elders grew, but because they weren’t pruned and shaped, they often grew too close together, sprouted multiple trunks or had other problems.
The first step of the House of Prayer prairie was to cut down these trees and pull out the stumps. Maples and oaks were preserved, and large cedars and pines were moved to the road, where they were transplanted in small groupings that will eventually provide a natural buffer to traffic.
The second step is critical in seeding native grasses and wildflowers. We sprayed non-selective herbicides to kill the existing vegetation. The use of herbicides is an unfortunate, but necessary, step in prairie restoration, because without them the soil would have to be tilled. Tilling the ground disturbs the soil, thereby animating the billions of weed seeds waiting for an opportunity to grow. In the end they invariably choke out the native plants.
At the same time spraying was done, a burn line was established. We encountered a lot of debris as the ground was prepared, but once the debris was consolidated into several piles, we could see the natural contours of the space and got excited about the possibilities of our particular prairie.
We continued to spray and remove debris throughout the summer. The debris piles were burned in late September.
Two plantings happened in fall 2013. First, Steve planted fescue, a low-maintenance grass that loves cool weather, to make paths throughout the prairie. The paths received good rain in September and October and are already bright green!
In late October, before the freeze, Steve planted the prairie flower seed. His partner Jeff Evander, a local prairie expert who loves this site, spent time this fall collecting seed particularly for our project! He sorted it by low-lying area and shady areas and then more seed was purchased for “all over.”
In 2014, we periodically mowed the vegetation. Again, the purpose is to give the natives a chance to compete with weeds. Most weeds are annuals, and by not letting them go to seed, we don’t give them a chance to spread. We also give the slower growing natives a chance to get full sun and become strong! As you can see, some of the black-eyed Susans (rudbeckia) made an early appearance!
We noticed that people started enjoying sitting beneath the maples near the house, something that never happened before, and people have enjoyed walking the paths. A centerpiece of this new landscape is the large cedar that shows off the contours and dominates every season.
In June 2015 the first lupine bloomed! It is unusual to have lupine the first year, and a sign that this prairie will be a stunner. We also see many wildflowers coming up that will bloom in July and August.
From here on, we will have occasional spring or fall burns to clear out the dead vegetation, animate native seeds and kill weeds.
A prairie is beautiful in all seasons, as you will see…
Burns continue to be beautiful, greening up within two weeks.