Thinking Out Loud: Creating Native Landscapes

Jun 18, 2014

Establishing a landscape rich in native plant species is a different process from putting in an annual planting of tomatoes and beans. On this week's Thinking Out Loud, Trevor Harris talked with Elizabeth Hamilton-Steele about the work that goes in to building a native landscape for yard or pasture.


Trevor's guest Elizabeth Hamilton-Steele owns and manages a native seed growing operation in Texas County, Missouri.

One group of folks are those interested in a landscaping project, say you want a wildflower meadow out behind the house and it is big enough that it is not practical to do it from potted plants, then you may want to consider doing it from seeds.

Another group are those interested in wildlife and creating habitat for the wildlife that would have been here whether that's native polinators, which are in decline now, or birds such as quail and prairie chickens. There are also ranchers are out there who want to plant a forage for summer production grass.

If you are considering recreating a native landscape or large-scale planting there are a handful of locations where you can research the look of the land before many Europeans settled in modern-day Missouri. Hamilton-Steele mentioned reading the journals of early explorers like Henry Rowe Schoolcraft who described the Ozarks in the early 1800s. She also suggested reviewing U.S. General Land Office survey notes:

When the country was originally surveyed, those surveyors when they went to set a corner would have to describe what was around them. They might set a rock in this certain place and then they would describe that you had to go so far to get to the next tree. Then, they made that tree a witness tree. If they were in a prairie they didn't have the ability to use witness trees there. That would be reflected in those notes.

Hamilton-Steele also discussed in this show the timing of planting native species. For example, before doing a native seed planting landowners should remove all unwanted and existing vegetation. Landscape restorationists wanting to be most successful will study their site to learn what the site will tolerate based on the property's moisture content.

Thanks to Columbia thespian Chris Bowling for his readings from Henry Rowe Schoolscraft's journals.

More information about Elizabeth Hamilton-Steele and Hamilton Native Outposts is online.

Past episodes of Thinking Out Loud are available to stream online. The program is on hiatus until August.