Villagers build meadow nursery • The Yellow Springs News
As the weather turns colder and Yellow Springs moves through the fall and toward winter, one hope for the spring and summer ahead has already been planted and awaits at the Thistle Creek development, on the edge of the Glass Farm Wetlands and Preserve area.
Over the past few months, villagers and Thistle Creek neighbors Pat Brown and Philippe Boutilier have been working to establish a small prairie plant nursery that will raise native plants. The duo aims to distribute the plants to local residents and donate some to help fill the prairie at Glass Farm.
A longtime farmer and then gardener — as well as a nun and teacher at various points in its 83-year history — Brown said she originally decided not to plant a garden when she moved to the village with her husband, Joe. In 2008.
“Then my husband got sick, and after he died (in 2010) I started a garden because I needed something to do,” she said. “But I could never do anything small.”
And Thistle Creek’s garden isn’t small — it blooms in the spring and summer with hundreds of native wildflowers. She began growing many of those plants at her former home on Stuart Drive. When she moved into a rental house while building her home on Thistle Creek, she kept her native plants alive by moving them to the Greenleaf Gardens nursery and to the woods.
“They all survived — and I had hundreds and hundreds of plants,” she said, adding that there were so many that she couldn’t grow them all at her Thistle Creek home once they were done and had to give away many of them.
Her stock continued to grow in size after villager Corinne Pelzel taught her how to save wildflower seeds – she had previously bought new ones to plant every year.
“I needed to put them somewhere,” she said. “So I came to (Boutilier) a while ago and said, ‘Can you cut a piece of that space over there?’
She pointed to a patch of mostly goldenrod at the back of Bottelier’s yard adjacent to the Glass Farm land. Boutilier said he quickly obliged.
“She charged into it with both guns blazing — that’s the way she lived her life,” Boutilier said. “This is a woman who is unlike anyone I know, except for me. That’s when I knew we were going to be a couple.
Brown and Boutilier got to work, covering the freshly cut ground with black garden tarp, building garden beds and filling them with soil. Or rather, as Boutilier said, the final task was up to Brown.
“She moved all the dirt and filled the beds herself,” he said. “I didn’t do a damn thing.”
There was a slight glitch in the process after Boutilier and Brown discovered that part of the land they had cut and used for the family was actually on the village-owned Glass Farm property. However, after speaking with village officials who came out to look at the work they had done and hear about the project, they were given the green light to continue.
In a separate interview, The News spoke with Michelle Burns of Tecumseh Land Trust, which owns the easement at Glass Farm and helps maintain it during volunteer days. (Kim Iconis, Brown and Boutilier’s neighbor on Thistle Creek, was instrumental in weeding and maintaining the conservatory as well.)
The land trust and Village have now “established a process for what we need to do moving forward” with the Brown and Boutilier Arboretum, Burns said.
“The idea is that native plants support the purpose of the easement, which is native habitat,” she said.
“They want to plant native plants and then incorporate them into the conservation area and maybe other village-owned property, like the Cemetery Street parking lot — we’ve talked about trying to revegetate a little bit,” she added.
Part of the reason Brown and Boutilier said they are focusing on native prairie wildflowers is that the prairie portion of Glass Farm is currently dominated by tall wild grasses. It’s a natural part of prairie succession, they said, that wildflowers are removed by grasses, and then the grasses give way to shrubs and trees.
“If you leave it alone, it turns into a forest,” Boutilier said.
“But if you want to keep the prairie, you have to burn,” Brown added.
Periodic prescribed burns are common in preserved meadows – they rid the ground of dead plants, tall grasses and shrubs that would block the sunlight necessary for more types of plant life. The village has not burned Glass Farm’s prairie lands in about a decade, but plans to do so next year, Brown said.
“That’s part of what motivated me to build the prairie nursery — they’re going to need seeds,” Brown said.
She added that until the burn occurs, she has been planting native prairie plants such as cup plants, compass plants, prairie plants and tall plants. She said that these flowers are strong and can resist wild weeds.
“A lot of them are aggressive enough that you would never want to put them in a small space — but for a conservatory, they would be great,” Brown said.
Boutilier, a science teacher for 14 years at Dayton Regional STEM School, when the idea for the prairie nursery began to take shape, he also envisioned incorporating the nursery into his students’ studies of nature and sustainability.
He said delving deeper into sustainability was his students’ idea. He said studying climate change and biodiversity loss decades ago had instilled a certain amount of despair in him, but his students inspired him.
“This was the first time in the history of my teaching career that I heard children truly concerned about the future of nature and humanity,” he said. “I have never been so optimistic about the future, because of these students.”
Thistle Creek — with its many energy-efficient homes and proximity to the Glass Farm — is an ideal classroom for learning about environmental sustainability, Boutilier said. He added that Thistle Creek residents are in agreement with their homeowners association not to cover more than 40% of their yards with grass.
“The turfgrass serves no other purpose than to look pretty,” he said, but the native plants he and Brown are spreading now will undoubtedly attract pollinators like bees, wasps and hummingbirds. Although pollinators are essential to the continued existence of flowering plants – including a large portion of the human diet – they are now endangered by dwindling native plant populations, which have been replaced by roads, meadows and monocrops.
Although Dayton STEM students visiting Prairie Nursery is no longer part of the plan, Brown and Boutilier said there will still be educational opportunities available there. Starting in the spring, the two aim to begin holding monthly Saturday educational workshops on native plants and prairie propagation at the nursery. They said anyone interested would be welcome to attend.
“We’ll put the lesson plan together — but mostly it’ll be (Brown’s) teaching,” Boutilier said. “I’m a teacher too, but this is a passion I didn’t know I had until I met Pat Brown.”
The Prairie Nursery will also be open in the spring and summer for those who want to propagate native plants in their own yards to take home the young plants. To that end, Brown and Boutilier built a raised berm around the nursery beds where Brown planted mature native perennials from her own garden. As they leaf out and flower in the warmer months, visitors to the Prairie Nursery will be able to see what the young plants they take home will eventually grow into.
“I documented everything — the type of soil each plant needs, whether it’s wet or dry — so people know where and how to plant them and where they’ll do best,” Brown said.
Because of the name of the neighborhood it shares with Boutilier, Brown said she has dedicated a large portion of the Prairie Nursery space to a specific type of plant.
“We’re in Thistle Creek, so we need the thistles,” she said.
Because she knows that many of the thistles that grow wild in the village are not native — such as the invasive Canada thistle — she said she chose to plant the native tall thistle and biennial prairie thistle. While the latter plants can grow to about five feet tall, the former can grow as large as 12 feet tall in the right conditions.
Brown said she and Boutilier will keep themselves busy this fall and winter tending to the nursery.
“Hopefully, if all goes well, the young plants will grow in late spring,” she said.
Until then, the two set up a bench at the edge of the prairie nursery, near where the thistles would grow. They look forward to the time when people will come to rest on the benches and enjoy watching the prairie flowers grow, and listening to the buzz of bees and hummingbirds that follow the bloom.