Blooms In A Prairie Garden

A week ago today, I was standing in the midst of the Touch the Sky Prairie north of Luverne, in awe of the man standing beside me.

I can’t remember when I first heard of Jim Brandenburg. I was just a kid when his fantastic photography graced the pages of the Daily Globe. I attended my first Brandenburg book signing in Luverne probably 10 or 15 years ago. (I’ve now attended two of his signing events.)

I have four of his books in my collection, the latest being my thrilling find at the Nobles County Library book sale this spring — “Minnesota: Images of Home,” which is filled with Brandenburg’s amazing photos and text by another former Daily Globe staffer, Paul Gruchow.

As much as I wanted to ask Brandenburg to autograph that book (Gruchow’s signature already graces the flyleaf), I decided not to bring it with me for this special assignment. I’ll wait until he returns to the area for another book-signing and stand in line like everyone else.

Anyway, back to Saturday. Jim and I were talking about the prairie his foundation helped establish in 2002. He shared his dream of restoring native plant species on land that had long been overgrazed.

Jim’s excitement was contagious, and I couldn’t help but tell him about a project our 4-H club has been involved with over the past three months.

Earlier this year, the Ocheda Beavers received a $600 grant from the Minnesota 4-H Foundation to complete a prairie plot and birdhouse building project. With much help from Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl, native prairie species (grasses and flowers) were purchased and planted on a 16- by 18-foot plot on my family’s farm south of Worthington.

We have planted 11 flower species, including lead plant, Maximilian’s sunflower, prairie sage and meadow rose. We also planted grasses — big and little bluestem, Indian grass and Canada wild rye. A donation of switch grass was later added to the plot.

At this point, club members have been busy trying to keep the prairie plot weed-free. Ultimately — and this could be a few years down the road — we may be able to harvest seeds and establish prairie plants on private Conservation Reserve Program land or watershed district property in the area between Lake Ocheda and Lake Bella.

I would hope most people see the beauty in the wild prairie flowers that grace our landscape. As for me, after talking a little while with Jim, I keep wondering about the massive root systems below the plants. He told me some prairie plants can establish root systems 10 to 12 feet deep into the soil. Wow.

I think our 4-H club’s little prairie plot — if the plants continue to thrive — may be around for a long, long time.

(Photos, top to bottom: Rudbeckia blooming on June 30; Meadow Rose on June 30; Ocheda Beavers 4-H Club members, parents and volunteers plant the prairie garden on May 8.)