Sunday, April 25, 2010


Wild Plum
(Prunus americana)

There is a wonderful fragrance in the air here at the Prairie Hill Farm Studio - intoxicating! There are Wild Plum thickets all over the acreage that we planted in 2003. One clump is behind the studio, another on the west end of the south side and another just across the drive near the barn. I can see the barn clump as I type...the combination of these small thickets cause an olfactory delight!

Wild Plums put on the most beautiful show here in early spring - up and down the valley. But their show is too short lived, and if the weather turns wet and windy (as it has now), the show is soon finished for the year.

This past Thursday I managed to steal time in the early morning to run down along the Little Sioux valley again - this time for my "annual" Wild Plum celebration. I chase the plum bloom each year as a right of spring I guess...something fleeting like the spring wildflowers.

The plums are spread through the tallgrass prairie and the woodland edges...and the early light of day treats them well photographically.

I started a Wild Plum painting last year and got stuck. These things happen...all I can do is keep the fire going and maybe attempt another. The thickets I saw this past week have brought new inspiration...maybe there's hope yet?!

Now that they are mostly waning, I'll think more of the fruits late this coming summer! Gotta love those Wild Plums!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Celebrate Tomorrow!

Dutchman's Breeches with Virginia Waterleaf
(Dicentra cucullaria with
Hydrophyllum virginianum)

Here's a few spring ephemerals form my last Saturday morning jaunt to the woodlands along the Little Sioux River south of here. The shot above is mostly illustrative, taken to show the Dutchman's Breeches with the Virginia Waterleaf, since they grow together so often. I also like the Virginia Waterleaf because of the nice blotches on their leaves, giving them great interest as a ground cover early in the spring. As these plants get larger through the spring and bloom, they tend to lose their "water spots" for which they were named. The blooms of the waterleaf (will be 2-4 weeks yet) are magnets for wild native bees, particularly our Bumblebees.

We do have a "lot" of Virginia Waterleaf here in our own grove and do encourage it to substitute for ground cover around our warm weather stressed plantings...I feel it helps hold moisture a little longer wherever it shades roots of other plants. But even waterleaf needs good humus and moisture and our place is characteristically mid summer the waterleaf looks pretty rugged; but it's a tough plant and seems to spread more each year.

We also have a handful of Dutchman's Breeches here at Prairie Hill farm but the grove was reduced by about 75% several years before we arrived and is in rougher shape. We are trying to reintroduce more leaf mulch each fall to try and help the dry soil situation there now. The leaf structutre of these little plants makes an interesting shape through the later part of spring, long after the flowers are spent and gone.

Perfoliate Bellwort
(Uvularia perfoliata)

There were a few Perfoliate Bellworts in the timber Saturday also...these unique plants get their name by the way the stems appear to perforate the leaves (not really illustrated here).

White Trout Lily or Dog-tooth Violet
(Erythronium albidum)

Georgie introduced these small beauties to me as Dog-tooth Violets many years ago before we were even married. They grew profusely in the woods behind her home along the Des Moines River in Ft. Dodge, Iowa. I'll be honest...I was not real informed on the identities of wild flowers at the time...teenagers, what can I say! Georgie gets the credit for making me look at the woodland (and now - prairie) floor and I hope I had the same influence on her where birds were concerned!

Dog Tooth Violets take many years to mature and flower. The immature plants only have one leaf stalk, mature plants have two. It took me a long time to figure this out...but when you walk through undisturbed woodlands, you'll often see masses of these small mottled leaves and only a few blossoms.

Tomorrow is Earth Day...I believe it's the 40th Anniversary for this event as well. We all need to seriously take stock in our "p
art" of this fragile globe's existence and not continue business as usual. I sometimes have problems verbalizing issues I care about; perhaps this is one of those times. Georgie and I watched a program the other night on the American experience. It was frustrating to see how political our government always makes things - regardless of what "issues" they are. We seemingly make strides toward a desirable goal, then administrations change and the years of hard work is discarded for the next "flavor". I'll try not to get too political here because that is not what this blog is about...however I do distinctly remember a very positive surge 35 years ago...our first department of renewable energy, serious development in solar energy and wind energy began; even hydrogen fuel cell development began. A farmer that lived 55 miles from Prairie Hill Farm Studio had refused to go on the grid...was still powering his entire farm operation with wind and batteries. His vehicles all ran on methane - created on his farm. Where did all this "progress" go??? Well, the farmer died (of old age), the administration that started the dept of renewable energy was replaced and the next administration tore down that department - fired nearly all the employees and cut it's funding by 80%. Oh, and tore down all the solar panels that were providing all the hot water and supplementing heating for the White House. I won't delve any further because it'll just get muddied and sorted...the jist is "we need to take stock and stand accountable" for our actions and the future of our grand children and theirs!

Three cheers for this planet - planet Earth! Think about it, not just on Earth Day.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Slow Down?!

Spring Woodland

I don't know if spring is moving too fast or I'm moving too slow!? Maybe some of both.

I was able to spend half a day in the timber along the Little Sioux River south of here on Saturday morning...really enjoyed the time outside! The spring wildflowers were coming on strong, but I missed the Bloodroots...everything seems a bit ahead of schedule this spring.

I've been spending the past 2 days trying to get the photographs processed and filed, this is a lot of work unfortunately but something that has to be taken care of. I'll try and post some wildflowers this week if time allows.

Tomorrow evening I'm speaking at McGee's gallery in Peterson, Iowa...if you're in the neighborhood, stop by, it's a free event...starts at 6:30pm.

Hope you're having as much "spring" overload as we are!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Afternoon

Snow Trillium
(Trillium nivale)

Georgie and I had a nice Easter weekend with family; the weather was a bit windy but perfect otherwise. Sunday afternoon when we were winding down I decided we should go check on the first wildflowers of spring in the area.

There are two wildflowers in our area I always look forward to. The first one to bloom is the Snow Trillium. Its a beautiful small spring ephemeral found along the timbered edges of Waterman Creek and the Little Sioux River valley here. This is our smallest trillium here and is very indicative of the health of a woodland. You won't find it where grazing is allowed or herbicides are in use...hence it's increasing scarcity. I'm not sure if White-tailed Deer are a factor with trillium populations, however the soil compaction caused in woodlands by allowing livestock grazing is a huge factor for all woodland wildflowers. It's sad because woodlands are not prime grazing ground...when used for such they become trashed habitats, their inherent diversity being seriously damaged or altered.

Pasque Flower
(Pulsatilla patens)

The second wildflower to bloom in our area is the Pasque's the first to bloom on the tallgrass prairie. I have seen Pasques and Snow Trillium in close proximaty to one another...where the prairie and woodland meet and mingle at the edge, but this is not so common any more.

I went looking for Pasques a week ago today, getting anxious to see what I consider the beginning of the prairie season, but bombed...none to be found anywhere that I usually could count on them. Not to get too impatient, I decided that it was just too soon. I looked back to my image files from last year and found that it was the 14th of April last year when I photographed them, but bloom time can vary by a week or more from year to year; I figured I'd try again on Easter and there they were! Georgie and I did a little more driving around and found even more locations - it appears to be a good Pasque Flower year!

Now that I've had my bit of assurance that life on the tallgrass and the woodland edges is off to another great start - another season begins and hope rides high! Enjoy!