All this talk of American Gardens, pioneering spirit, and rewilding got me thinking about what, exactly, spurred my love of prairies. I suspect it had much to do with our years spent living amongst them.
We lived in South Dakota, near Sturgis and in Rapid City, at the base of the Black Hills for about 4 years. This is where I learned to garden, where fell in love with it (despite the local hardships), where I became a Master Gardener, where we both learned to love vast swathes of grasses and undulating hills, and wide open skies.
The seas of mixed grasses and flowers seemed to change by the week, fading from brilliant green in the spring to a muted, rustling tan in late summer. The conditions were never what I’d consider mild- from punishing hail to nearly constant 30-50mph winds. Bright, dry sunshine and fleeting, tempestuous storms that never yielded as much rain as you had hoped for.
These are the prairies and spaces I had in mind when I envisioned our own rewilding project.
The soil was hardscrabble. I used to call it dirty gravel, that calling it soil was an affront to actual dirt, and that wasn’t as much slander as truth. Pick axes were as useful in the garden as shovels, perhaps more so. I recall not even being able to bang in a steel T-post more than an inch with the aid of a sledge hammer. The steel gave way before the ground did.
The plants that thrive here do so on full days of blazing sunshine, poor and well draining soil, and a scarcity of water. These are the toughest of the tough and I admired them for it. Their countenance doesn’t not hint at their hardship- they bloom riotously in spite of it.
These plants need no coddling, no helping hand through abrasive winters and dehydrating, windswept summers. These were the plants that I wanted for my garden- wherever it may be. I’m endlessly grateful that we ended up here, 650 miles east, but with the same harsh winters, blazing sunshine (but with bonus humidity?), and thin, well drained soils (albeit exponentially easier to dig) that allows these plants to thrive.
I’m still able to walk amongst the tall grasses and prairie stalwarts whenever I want. Both the dogs and I traipse through them, losing track of time, no matter the season. The diversity of plant and animal life never ceases to fill me with wonder, nor its ever-changing nature. It is a wonder.
The mountains? I’ve not yet found a way to bring them into the garden, but thankfully they aren’t too far away to visit.