A Visual Guide to Native Nebraska Landscaping

September 7, 2009 at 3:01 AM | Posted in Environmentally Friendly Living | 4 Comments

This is the promised collection of photos that chronicles the landscaping done at UNO. I chose the campus at UNO because it is very much native-centered. There are three prairie plantings on campus that cover an appreciable area as well. The campus is a unique mix of prairie plantings and neatly kept flowerbeds full of native plants. Rather than talk about it, I’m going to show a picture and the commentary will be in the caption.

Let’s kick it off with the grasses. UNO has a ton of native grass on campus, and the ways in which they use it really make it a win.

I hope that you can begin to see how UNO’s campus stands out as a sort of “island” in Nebraska. The effect of native landscaping is to place development neatly into the natural environment.  Some of the more common themes of the landscaping we saw were:

  • Non-uniform distribution of plants.  With the exception of the library planting, the flowerbeds all exuded a sense of craziness.  The plants were not really set up in any specific pattern save for clumps here and there.  Each of the square planters had the same plants in it, but they were distributed differently.
  • A mix of grass.  The grasses form in clumps and look better when they are planted together.  Of course, it’s worth mentioning that enough of the same grass together looks very impressive, too.
  • A mix of sizes.  The different heights of plants mixed together creates a stunning visual effect.  The native prairies of Nebraska contained mostly short grass, tall grass and shrubbery, with an occasional island of bur oak here and there.  For reference, see the photo of the hill across from PKI.  There I showed you how the staghorn sumac trees/shrubs blended so nicely with the tall grass on the hill.  The entrance to Scott Hall also shows a mix of low shrubs/trees and tall grass.
  • Wildflowers.  The coneflowers and blue flowers are wildflowers.  Not all flowers are “wildflowers” in the sense of the word that I mean to use.  Wildflowers tend to produce blooms which require pollination.  These species create pollen that supports endangered honey bees, bumblebees and butterfly species.  They typically require full sun and look best when planted en masse in a rather “sloppy” way.
  • Large shade trees.  Right now, sadly, the trend that homeowners in Omaha are exhibiting is the planting of small, flowering dwarf trees (think crabapple, dwarf flowering dogwood, etc.).  While these trees do look nice for a few weeks of the year, they generally hold no environmental value whatsoever as they provide little to no shelter for wildlife, little to no food and no shade.  Furthermore, they don’t really increase the value of the property on which they grow because they don’t get very big and they don’t shade the home or block wind.  By contrast, large shade trees (cottonwood, silver/sugar maple, ash, and a variety of oaks – bur, northern red, white, black, post, etc.) provide a huge amount of food and shelter for wildlife.  They also look much nicer at maturity, and give a stately sense to the area they live in.  Property values of homes with large, healthy shade trees are much higher than those without them.

This kind of planning and landscaping tends to create a visual sense of “contained wilderness.”  Native landscaping, especially in Nebraska, supports an incredible variety of insects and wildlife.  What we think of as a well-maintained, traditional Kentucky bluegrass lawn with Victorian-style landscaping is actually a pretty hostile, barren environment for the animals and insects that call Nebraska home.

By using native Nebraska plants in your landscaping, you not only do an environmentally friendly, sustainable thing, but you can also create a unique, stately (word of the day here) look doing so.  Grass does not have to be dull and difficult to look at.

I hope you enjoyed this bit of photography, and I hope you’ve taken away something from it as well.  Maybe next time you are looking for a new plant, consider something native to Nebraska.

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4 Comments »

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  1. I don’t know If I said it already but …Hey good stuff…keep up the good work! 🙂 I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,)

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

    • Thanks a lot Jim. It’s good to have positive feedback.

  2. I found this post doing a search on native plants in the Nebraska landscape. I enjoyed it. I’ll have to see if you are still blogging.

  3. These are some great pictures. Really enjoyed walking through UNO through your eyes. Good catch on the bunny as well.


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