A sea of prairie
grass once dipped and waved on the spot where
Lands' End stands today. The prairies have
yielded to progress and the plow, but you can't
help but wonder how it once must have been.
Back in 1994, landscaper Jeannie Baker-Thornton had a notion to
turn back the clock. She set to work cultivating what would become
a 30-acre prairie right here on our Dodgeville, Wisconsin, campus.
The land wasn't given over entirely to the whims of nature.
What Jeannie created
was something more fanciful. A prairie worthy
of the one we imagine the earliest settlers
laid their awestruck eyes on.
Waist-high lupines. Big bluestem. Indiangrass. Purple coneflower.
"I put in some extravagant stuff," says Jeannie.
This time of year, the lupines stand in purple prominence. In a
week or two, a bloom of daisies and black-eyed susans will burst
across the prairie like fireworks on the 4th of July.
Rome wasn't built in a day and a prairie doesn't get to be a prairie
overnight. "Most of the first-year growth is down in the roots," Jeannie
tells us. "Above ground, the plants only grow about 4 inches high." The
prairie gets mowed in the fall of the first year. Second year,
there's a mowing in early spring, another in fall. "Third year,
we let it go," says Jeannie.
The following year, there's a controlled burn - early in spring,
before the ground-nesting birds take up residence. Like any garden,
the prairie suffers competition from weeds. "Burning keeps the
undesirables out," says Jeannie. Prairie plants have seeds well-adapted
to survive the stress of fire. Not so the "invaders."
the only tending required is a burn every other
year. From a maintenance standpoint, the prairie
is far less costly than a manicured lawn. "With
a prairie, the only real expense is the seed," says
Jeannie. The special mix of grasses and wildflowers
runs about $1000 per acre. "The big thing is
patience," we're told.
The prairie also does duty as a small-scale wildlife refuge. Pheasant
and deer, meadowlarks and redwing blackbirds are prominent citizens
of the tall grass. Jeannie is well-acquainted with some of the "regulars." A
redwing blackbird chatters noisily when our tour gets a little
close. "He's a busy man," says Jeannie, "He looks after six females."
In '96, Jeannie
introduced white oak seedlings. The trees now
stand tall as a person. Our blackbird flits
from treetop to treetop, keeping careful watch
over his grassland domain.
Jeannie says she hopes the prairie can be a place where weary Lands'
Enders take a break from their workday and recharge their spirits. "Sometimes
in life, you just look at something and you know things aren't
She's made benches
from slabs of the limestone bedrock found right
here on our property. And one corner of the
grounds have become a nursery for the seedlings
that will one day form a line of mighty oaks
along the prairie's edge. How long will all
that take, we wonder.
Jeannie just grins. "I've got a 10-year plan," she says.
TO THE STORE,