Gardeners revive local native tallgrass prairie

ZIONSVILLE — The Village Walk Home Owners’ Association Garden Club has spent many volunteer hours creating a native tallgrass prairie around the retention pond in Zionsville’s Village Walk subdivision, near Boone Village.

The native tallgrass prairie, an array of shrubs, trees, grasses and wildflowers, is a pond edge enhancement that reduces soil erosion. It also improves water quality and attracts an array of desirable wildlife. Its long roots help to stabilize the soil, and the varying heights of vegetation help stagger rainfall, preventing sediment, leaves and trash from making their way into the pond.

The garden club hopes to provide Village Walk residents and travelers along Ford Road with a beautiful native landscape and also serve as an example to other homeowners’ associations and businesses with retention ponds.

Throughout the past year, the group met to plant and transfer wildflowers and perform maintenance such as weeding, watering, cleaning up trash and trimming paths.

Ingrid Wiebke, a garden club member, said the group came together to help the prairie which had been neglected for three years.

“It’s weeding; it’s a lot of upkeep in general,” Wiebke said. “And we always look for ways to enhance it. … I think people join because they want to learn and get to know their neighbors. It’s social — that’s a big part of it. And we have lots of fun when we do it.”

Recently, the garden club replaced the pond’s fountain with more economical and energy-efficient bubblers along the pond bottom that improve water quality by adding oxygen for fish and aerating bacteria to reduce algae, remove odor and repel mosquitoes. These bubblers also circulate sediment and may help reduce or prolong the need for pond dredging.

The garden club consists of a small group of people, from master gardeners to novices, but members’ children and grandchildren are also encouraged to learn and participate.

In the spring of 2017, the group traveled to a plant nursery in Bloomington to purchase native plants. The native plants are easier to grow and less expensive to maintain because they are already adapted to the soil and climate. Moreover, butterflies, bees, birds and other wildlife prefer the nectar, pollen and seeds of native plants.

With the rapid decline in native plants due to residential and commercial development, honey bees that pollinate fruit and crops have been dying at rapid rates, the group warns, adding that many insects can only feed on native plants.

Covering millions of acres, tallgrass prairies were once the largest ecosystem in the United States, but the majority have been lost to development. In recent years, however, interest in prairie restoration has increased as the knowledge of the prairies ecological benefits has spread.

Garden club members have donated trees, plants and seeds from their own yards and those that were gifted from participating in activities like Gardenfest, an annual Boone County gardening event.

And thanks to monetary donations from Village Walk residents, the group was able to purchase seeds and plants to add more colorful wildflowers. They trimmed walking paths and added pads for fishing. Members also added signs identifying some of the popular wildflowers and the benefits of the prairie.

But the prairie is a work in progress. Club members have been focusing on the northwest end of the pond and plan to continue improvements, such as expanding plantings around the entire pond, improving paths and adding picnic tables in years to come.

Anyone interested in learning more about prairie restoration or who would like to volunteer or make a donation to enhance the prairie common area may contact Marty Schipper by calling 317-344-2620 or emailing to marty.schipper@sbcglobal.net or Ingrid Wiebke by calling 317-847-2024 or emailing to iwiebke@indy.rr.com.

Jarred Meeks writes for the Zionsville Times Sentinel and can be reached at jarred.meeks@timessentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @jarredsmeeks.

Source: http://www.reporter.net/news/local_news/gardeners-revive-local-native-tallgrass-prairie/article_244f7755-cf47-5ed0-91b9-77be99a2acbd.html