When I started to plan my prairie in 1986, I didn’t know what I was doing. In fact, I’m not even certain I understood what was a native plant. I learned about the benefit/necessity of surveying my property from Don Vorpahl. Don was one of the first native-landscape designers in Wisconsin and an early member of Wild Ones. His generosity in sharing what he had learned about the fledgling native-landscaping movement was immensely helpful, and I shall always be grateful for his ready counseling. He was a good friend of Wild Ones.
See his article titled “Planting a Woodland” in the Wild Ones book Landscaping With Native Plants.
I started developing my yard by surveying my property, and then as I planned to add to my natural landscaping, I updated my design. This gave me better control over what I was trying to achieve, instead of a “willy-nilly plunking in” of plants in our yard. We now have a very large prairie in our backyard (south) and an adjacent woodland in our sideyard (east).
Benefits of Native Landscaping
Where once we had 1-1/3 acres of lawn that took my husband all week to mow because of its soggy nature and Northland Creek’s tendency to overflow, he now has about an hour’s mowing. The rest of our week’s time is spent enjoying the birds, the insects, and the rest of the wildlife that frequents our beautiful yard. We are fortunate to have mature bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) and shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) on our site, so we built our prairie and woodland around them.
The summer storm that came through in July 2019 uprooted our green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) throughout our prairie. It’s always sad to lose a mature tree, but in this case losing the green ash was not so bad. When we planted our prairie, the trees were small and cast little shade on our back yard. But over the past 30 years, they have grown to an immense stature with a very dense canopy and have changed the dynamics of our prairie. Now the dynamics of the prairie will rebound. Never have I seen so many native plants spring up. The yellows, purples, and whites just crept up and filled in the spaces.
Where Did We Get the Native Plants?
Many of the prairie and shade plants in our yard came from plant rescues arranged through my Wild Ones chapter, Fox Valley Area. Other plants came from my chapter’s spring plant sales. Seed for the original planting came from Prairie Nursery. Subsequent overseedings have come from Wild Ones Fox Valley Area Chapter seed exchanges, Prairie Nursery, Wild Ones Fox Valley Area Chapter plant sales, and through the nursery catalogs that have become increasingly more available.
As we grow older, our landscaping grows older with us. Soon, we may not be able to care for it as well as we do now, but our hope is that it will care for itself when we get to that point. I am also hoping that by then the invasive noxious weeds I’ve written about previously will have ceased to be a problem.
For more information about planting your own naturally landscaped yard, you can also read the book Wild Ones Landscaping with Native Plants on the EPA website.
The e-mail photo is by Donna VanBuecken.
Hi, Don helped us develop our prairie and natural landscape in 1999. He listened to what we wanted, and we are thrilled with the results. Thanks for the article.
Donna VanBuecken says
Bonnie — Yes, he listened! — Donna
Kit Woessner says
So sorry to learn Don Vorphal has passed away. He was a font of knowledge and wonderful to work with. In 1989 he drew plans our small urban yard, suggested plants and sources, visited several times during the lengthy transition from grass to natives, and attended one or two of our early Green Bay organization meetings as we became Wild Ones.
Had no idea his background was in music…he was a multi-talented man.
Donna VanBuecken says
Kit — mine, too — Donna