Saturday, August 9, 2008

Finding Peace with the Natives

The last few mornings I have been on early morning chauffeuring duty for two of my grandchildren. I am not a morning person--I might get up early, but I'm not really functioning for a couple hours. But my daughter-in-law had to go on a business trip, and my son has to leave very early for his commute to work, so it was up to Grandma to be at their house by 6:30 AM to drive the children, one to preschool and one to daycare 15 miles away.

Friday morning after dropping both of them off, I made an impulsive decision to stop for a walk at a park I've passed many times, but have never taken the time to visit.

Meadowbrook Park is a relatively new park and is a popular spot for many in the community. My grandchildren consider it a treat to play on the elaborate play structure, which is usually filled with children on weekends. But another attraction of the park is its many trails for walking and jogging. My son, who began running marathons a few years ago, occasionally trains here. I wanted to walk, but I also wanted to see all the wildflowers along the trails.

I chose the path around the sculpture garden because it was the shortest--just short of a mile, which was about as far as I thought I could go at 7:30 in the morning without any caffeine yet. A longer trail winds around a prairie grass planting, and a short path encircles a wildflower garden, which unfortunately I didn't discover in time. I will definitely make plans to go back again to see both of these areas.

Walking across a small bridge to the beginning of the path, I was greeted by a field of tall grasses and wildflowers.

It was a perfect morning for a walk, comfortable temperatures and low humidity for the first time in many days. Rays of sunlight peeked through the trees and illuminated the tall flowers. The sounds of traffic faded into the distance, and I began to feel the stresses of the week melt away as I began my walk. My solitude was unbroken except for the occasional like-minded walker I met along the path. We exchanged pleasant "good mornings" without breaking stride.

The beginning of the paved walkway is sheltered on one side by trees and shrubs and on the other by masses of native plants. I stopped to admire many of the plants along the way. Although I could identify some, I wasn't able to identify others, even after checking out a few websites on prairie plants. These rudbeckia weren't difficult to identify, of course. A Midwest native plant, they are found in the wild as well as in cultivated gardens.

I wasn't sure about this plant, but its blooms looked like those of a bee balm. Sure enough, I did find this one in my source--Monarda fistulosa, or wild bergamot. These were at least four feet tall.

A prairie garden sounds appealing, doesn't it? No need to worry about weeds, color combinations, or artful arrangements of plants--just let nature do its work. Here the Monarda and Rudbeckia mingle together happily.

And what would a prairie be without my favorite, the purple coneflower! It popped up in many places along the path, seemingly happy to mingle with the other natives.

I don't know the botanical name of this plant, but I wouldn't use it if I knew--I much prefer its common name of Queen Anne's Lace. A native that is very common in any uncultivated area, it doesn't deserve being called a "weed."

As a child, I would often gather bouquets of this airy white flower.

Most people would definitely call this a weed, but I've always been rather partial to it. Try as I might, I could not find the botanical name of this plant. We always called this "chicory," but I think it is in the aster family. The true blue of its flowers was hard to capture in the bright early morning sun.

Blue is my favorite color, and it's not often you'll find a true blue and white combination like this one: Queen Anne's Lace and chicory.

This striking flower is one I've seen along roadsides for the first time this year. I'm pretty sure it is a variety of Helianthus, or sunflower, several varieties of which are native to this area. It rises above all the other prairie plants, reaching a height of 8 or 9 feet.
This plant has been correctly identified as a compass plant, Silphium Laciniatum. Thanks, Joyce!

A few bent plants enabled me to get a photo of their flowers. According to a website on Illinois wildflowers, the common name "compass flower" came from the belief by pioneers that the leaves pointed north-south. Apparently they're very common, but I've never noticed them until this year!

This plant is a mystery to me. Perhaps someone can identify it?

This plant, however, is no mystery! Growing up on a farm, I never learned how to drive a tractor, but one of my few farm-related chores every summer was to walk beans. For those of you lucky enough to not understand the term "walking beans," it means to literally walk up and down every row of beans, cutting down every weed in sight. This milkweed would have been chopped down immediately; to allow it to flower and go to seed would have meant a thicket of them the next year, choking out the crop of soybeans. Strange, but I never noticed its lovely lavender blossoms before. Milkweeds are a popular attraction for butterflies, but I didn't notice many butterflies on this walk, perhaps because it was too early in the morning. I did notice many bees, though, and at least one rabbit or other furry creature scurried into the undergrowth before I could catch more than a glimpse of it.

The far side of the park is bordered by a retirement "village." A large expanse of lawn and carefully tended shrubs face this area left for the wildlife. The grounds of the complex itself has many gardens; in fact, it was one of the gardens featured on the Garden Walk Beckie and I took in June, although we didn't have time to visit it then. I am told that residents who are able and wish to, help to maintain the gardens. I think when I am really, really old this might be the perfect place for me.

One final mystery plant. I noticed only a few specimens of this plant, and most were not near the edge of the walkway where I could photograph them. Unfortunately, the sun was so bright by this time that I couldn't see my viewfinder and didn't realize I'd cut off the top of the plant. The flowers are a bright magenta, and the foliage reminded me of some type of phlox, but I really don't know what it is.

I admit to total ignorance when it comes to modern art, especially sculpture, so I paid little attention to the works of art in the garden. I did like the curved, airy design of this piece, however. By this time I was on the last leg of the trail, a sidewalk bordering a busy four-lane street. The peaceful reverie I had fallen into during my walk was interrupted by the sounds of cars rushing past on their morning commute to work. I was thankful I wasn't part of that frenzy; perhaps some of them noticed me and wished they, too, had time to leisurely stroll among the wildflowers.
By the time I reached the small bridge leading back into the parking lot, I realized what a different mood I was in. I had just finished thirty minutes of exercise, but I had forgotten I was "working out." Instead, I had become so captivated by the sights, sounds, and smells around me that any worries or problems had completely left my mind. I felt refreshed and totally at peace.

I paused to look at the small stream below and thought of Wordsworth's reflections on the power of nature to change a person for the better.
I'll leave you today with a few lines from one of my all-time favorite poems, which Wordsworth wrote after a walking tour around the River Wye.

These beauteous forms...
....have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye;
But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration...

...While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

---from "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey"


  1. Rose, I think the tall yellow one is compass plant, and the one with the purple flowers is aster.

  2. That was a beautiful post, Rose. I wish I could have been there to walk with you. We don't have many parks around her and none that are that pretty. I guess they think we can go to the beach for recreation. I love Queen Anne's lace. I tend to care more for wildlfowers in a field than flowers in pots.

  3. I am so proud of you! So often we think we don't have time to stop and 'smell the roses', but the truth is -we don't make the time. And see how much better you felt. If we all did that maybe there wouldn't be so much wrong in the world. Well, I may be reaching just a little with that but you know what I mean. We will have to go there one day when the weather is nice. It looks like such a perfect place to enjoy walking, and of course talking and taking pictures.

  4. It looks like a perfect morning walk. Thanks for sharing the beautiful park with us all. Felt like I was there.

  5. Thanks, Joyce! I checked out the compass flower, and you are absolutely right. I corrected my post. It's funny that I never noticed these plants before this year; have I just been too absorbed to pay attention?
    Do you visit Meadowbrook Park?

    Eve, Thanks! I don't take advantage of the lovely parks we do have. It's seems a little incongruous to drive 10 miles to walk, but I'm going to try to go here at least once a week, maybe on days I have errands to run anyway. It's such a beautiful place to walk.

    Beckie, I did think of you as I was walking and thought--we have to do this together some time! It really did put me in the best mood all day.

    Tina, Thanks. If I didn't have to drive 10 miles to get there, I would walk there everyday.

  6. Dear Rose......You were not alone on your walk, I have just walked with you and drifted into your world. Oh how lovely, the wildflowers, for me a garden cannot compare to the beauty of a wildlife meadow.......

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful moment in time, it has made my Sunday.

    Modern art leaves me cold....I have friends who deal in modern sculptures and paintings....they are lost on me....but each to their own....

    And well done for getting up so early for the little ones......I am sure they all appreciated it....

  7. Cheryl, If you were ever to visit the States, this is one place I would love to take you. It's so peaceful. And we could ignore the sculptures, as I did:)

  8. What a wonderful walk, Rose. I can barely function without coffee--my great challenge everyday is turning the coffee maker on before I've had enough coffee to let me turn the coffee maker on--so your decaffeinated photos are all the more remarkable. Salix and I have decided to transform the weeds into meadow--I think I'm going to work in 10-foot square increments--so these pictures and descriptions are really helpful. Thanks, and I wish your Cubs luck (I don't follow baseball, but I always love an underdog).

  9. Come to think of it, I haven't been over there for a couple of years. Time to go again!

  10. Cosmo, One of my goals this past spring was to start walking early in the morning. Unfortunately, my body doesn't like to move too much at that time of day:) Turning part of your space into a meadow sounds like a great idea; I'm thinking along the same lines--a lot less work!

    Joyce, I want to go back soon to check out the wildflowers and the tall grass part of the park. If I lived closer, I'd try to go there more often.

  11. Like the sculpture. All your photos are lovely. There has been so much rain & the garden here needs so much attention.

  12. Maggie May, Although we've had a dry week this last week, the weeds are still getting out of control. I don't even want to look at my vegetable garden! Hope things are looking up for you.

  13. What a lovely park and a great place to see all that beauty. I love meadow gardens with all the pretty wildflowers jumbled together blooming like crazy. I think that first mystery plant might be some type of thistle. Queen Anne's Lace is one my all time favorite wildflowers. Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos.

  14. Looks like a great park. I was thinking "ooh! Ooh! I know that plant" but I see you've already ID'd it as compass plant. :)
    ~ Monica

  15. That is quite an ambitious planting. It is wonderful that more local and state parks are recreating little prairies instead of expanses of grass.

    Great post.

  16. What a nice park, Rose - and a good size for walking.

    I won't even try to guess the species, but does your final magenta mystery flower look like this Vernonia, also called Ironweed?

    The blue and white of chicory and Queen Anne's Lace is a lovely combination, Rose... as European imports they're not natives in a strict sense, but they sure have naturalized well and I also loved those tiny white flowers in their basket shaped head for childhood bouquets.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  17. PG, the plant you mentioned does look like some kind of thistle. I'll have to check further. It really was a beautiful place.

    Monica,I'd never even heard of the compass plant till now. Joyce, who i.d.'ed it, lives closer to the park than I do. It's pretty small scale compared to Chicago's Botanic Garden, but much easier to get to for me!

    Marnie, I am noticing more and more places that are establishing prairie restoration areas rather than formal gardens or lawns. Seems like it would be much easier and cheaper to maintain, too.

    Annie, I checked out a website on Illinois Wildflowers, and I do think you're right--it is an ironweed, possibly the "Great Ironweed." Thanks for it! The website is good, but you have to know something about what you're looking for first:)

  18. Oh Rose, how lovely of you to invite us on your walk! I am glad you were able to enjoy nature's flowers, plants, and stream after such a hectic morning (I presume - having to be at your grandkids home for 6:30 am!).

    Good way to exercise your body while nurturing your mind and spirit. Thank you - I feel calm now and will sleep well tonight.

  19. I enjoyed this walk with you seeing all the wildflowers!A quiet walk with nature is good for the soul.It's interesting when we get up close at the variety that Mother Nature grows.

  20. That was a great walk....many of those flowers are here as well and I also LOVE the purple cone flower....your header is stunning....and most of those weeds grow naturally in my border as I can not keep up with them and have grown to love them!!!!

  21. Dear Rose,
    I so enjoyed this walk in the park with you. I love wild flowers. Slowly I am replacing the fancy nursery flowers in my gardens with natives. The butterflies love the them. Some of the butterflies are specific on host plants too.
    Thank you for this post. I think I will put my walking shoes on and go for a walk in the woods!

  22. Queen Anne's Lace. is that what it is? We have loads of that on the tip where we walk and it's been looking beautiful recently in great swathes along with some yellow 'weeds'.

    That must have been a lovely walk.

  23. Lovely post Rose and it was exactly what I needed after my frenetic trip to Chicago! I can feel my breathing slowing down and my body relaxing...thank you.


  24. I wish you and your park were living nearby. It would be lovely to take a walk in the fresh air with a fellow blogger and gardener. The sculptures add another dimension and so do the wildflowers. Wordsworth is one of my favorite poets too.

  25. Such lovely photos of wild flowers! I like the one on your blog header very much.
    What would we do without our mothers waking early for us to look after us or our children?!

  26. Wendy, I wish I could do this every day! It certainly was a way to refresh my spirit as well as body.

    Nature Girl, I'm beginning to appreciate the wildflowers more and more.

    Neva, Thanks for the compliment on my header--the purple coneflower is my favorite. I like your attitude about the "weeds"--if you can't beat them, enjoy them!

    Sherry, Glad you enjoyed the walk. The butterflies do seem to love the native plants. They must love whatever you have in your garden, though--you have so many beautiful ones.

    Liz, Annie mentioned that Queen Anne's Lace is not a native here, though it acts like one. Perhaps it came from the UK with a name like that?

    Gail, Sounds like you had a wonderful time in Chicago, though. Taking a walk, especially in surroundings like this, is the best stress-reliever I know.

    W2W, I would love to have a walking partner! By the way, I have a lot of admiration for Albert Pujols even if I'm a Cub fan. Seeing him hit a grand slam must have been a thrill!

    Suburbia, Surprised to see you back home already...but I just read your post, so I understand. Thanks for the compliment on my header; as I said to someone else, this flower fits me better than a rose--nothing flashy, just dependable and sturdy:)
    When I retired I told my sons I would be their "emergency" babysitter. I remember the days when my children were small when my mother was a lifesaver for me, so I'm sort of returning the favor.

  27. What a gorgeous spot for a walk! I love the native flowers and have a few of the ones you pictured in my own garden. There's nothing like a wildflower meadow...

  28. Noticed your comment on mildew on phlox. Never fear, a simple organic remedy is here.In hot humid weather, spray with one part milk, whey or sour milk to 10 parts of water.
    I as well as a lot of commercial vinyards use it on powdery mildew as well as black spot on roses. On roses it is best used every 10 days as a preventative spray.

    Thoroughly loved coming on your walk. nb. the blue flowers are Chicoria, the dried, roasted roots often used as a coffee substitute.
    Happy gardening.

  29. Beautiful post Rose! Thanks for sharing your morning walk. I felt like I was there.

  30. Amy, Some day I might be able to talk my husband into creating a wildflower meadow--it would certainly cut down on his mowing:) Glad you had time to visit!

    Arija, Thanks for stopping by! Thanks for the tips on the phlox and roses. I did check out the chicory after I read your comment--you're right, although I don't think this particular plant is used for a coffee subsitute, is it?

    Garden Girl, Glad you could share the walk with me:)

  31. I think your mystery flower is the non-native Bull Thistle. Sorry I can't remember the Latin name, but the plant I remember from a class I took at the Morton Arboretum many years ago. I agree with Annie that the purple thing looks like Ironweed. Whenever I see it, I always ask myself why I don't have it in my garden? It's such a great plant.

  32. During and after the second world war in Europe wild chicory was used as coffee substitute, also if you have ever bought Witlof for your salad , that too is simply dear old chicory with it's growth buds grown in the dark to keep it from developing the bitterness which is a trakemark of both leaves and roots.


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