The Natural Resource Foundation of Wisconsin Tours Prairie Nursery

Each year the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (NRF) puts together an impressive schedule of field trips. The very low cost tours for members include birding, canoeing and hiking excursions that explore of the natural beauty of Wisconsin.

This May, NRF members interested in prairie restoration visited Prairie Nursery.

Neil Diboll led an exclusive tour through the Nursery that included the display gardens and growing facilities. He then teamed up with John Shillinglaw on an educational trip through the Shillinglaw property, one of the largest private restorations in Wisconsin – a 150 acre prairie & savanna restoration near Coloma.

NRF members gather before the tour:

The tour explores Prairie Nursery propagation and greenhouses:

After lunch, the group caravanned to the Shillinglaw restoration. Restoring habitat for the Karner Blue butterfly was one of John Shillinglaw’s early motivations. Over the years he has expanded his effort to include 150 acres of varied terrain and eco-systems.

Restoration area plan map:

It would have been a fine sight to see, but due to the lateness of spring this year, the Lupine wasn’t blooming. Standing in the Karner Blue Prairie:

John Shillinglaw (center) at the Birdsfoot Violet Savanna area:Birdsfoot violet in bloom:


Woodland Spring, 2013

Local parks and nature preserves are great places to familiarize yourself with native plants. The following photos, taken in and near Milwaukee this spring, show May-blooming woodland plants native to the region.

On the woodland floor: Wild Ginger, False Rue Anemone, Solomons Seal  - Riveredge Nature Center, Newburg, WI:


Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) - Havenwoods State Forest, Milwaukee, WI:

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)  - Ice Age Trail, Hartland, WI:


Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflorum) - Wehr Nature Center, Milwaukee:


Large Flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) - Wehr Nature Center, Milwaukee:


Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica) - Wehr Nature Center, Milwaukee


False Rue Anemone (Isopyrum-biternatum) - Riveredge Nature Center, Newburg, WI:


Dutchmen’s Breetches (Dicentra cucullaria) - Riveredge Nature Center, Newburg, WI:


Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) - Ozaukee Interurban Trail:


White Trout Lily (Erythronium alba) - Estabrook Park, Milwaukee, WI:


Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) - Wehr Nature Center, Milwaukee:


Early Meadowrue (Thalictrum dioicum) – Ice Age Trail, Hartland, WI:


Trial and Error on an Erosion Prone Site

Before returning to the United States after five years in Istanbul, Sharon bought her new house in McFarland, Wisconsin sight-unseen. The sellers neglected to share any photos of the back yard, and upon her arrival she understood why. The yard was jammed with 45-year-old overgrown arborvitae and piles of junk. An army of buckthorn and honeysuckle from the neighboring forest marched into the yard. Much of the grass was dead.

Action was needed. Luckily for this piece of land the new occupant saw it’s value. Sharon Yildiz is a middle-aged woman who works full-time and volunteers as a dog trainer for Occupaws Guide Dog Association. A bad back and bad knees were not going to stop her from doing what needed to be done – let the work begin!

With the exception of a few trees tagged by the DNR and downed by a friend with a chainsaw, all of the labor for the clean-up was done by Sharon, alone. Her tools: a 10” Felco pruning saw, an 8” chain saw on a pole, and a truck.

What follows is a photo documentary of Sharon’s trials, tribulations and accomplishments in realizing and solving a landscape dilemma.

JUNE 2012
Seriously overgrown arborvitae dominate the property.

JULY 2012
The trimmed arbovitae and cleared ground set the stage for a beautiful woodland planting.

JULY 2012
After hauling away a few truckloads of trash the Buckthorn is revealed, creeping out of the woods along the hillside that runs to the back of the property.

Another view of the buckthorn that completely blocks any view of the forest.

The removal of nearly 200 buckthorns, plus a few honeysuckles, reveals a hillside transition from forest to yard.

The clean-up was extensive. Sharon spent two weeks of dragging brush to the road for the semi-annual village chipping-day, hauling 25 truckloads of brush to the brush recycling station.

Finally in 2012. A fence was installed for her two dogs. A view of the forest now reveals the beautiful old oaks with plenty of breathing room.

In the fall Sharon decided to plant Prairie Nursery’s No Mow Lawn Seed Mix inside the fence in hopes of controlling erosion in the now-bare soil. She ordered the Seed Mix online without calling us with her questions – she did wonder if the area would be too shady. Upon receiving her No Mow she scattered the seed mix on the slope, by hand. Because of the drought, she set about watering it 30-60 minutes a day (with a sprinkler) for several weeks.

The fescue blend grew well, even though it is not recommended for heavy shade. However, when it started to sprout most of it was no longer on the slope! The seeds had rolled downhill.

MARCH 2013
By the time the snow melted this spring, most of the slope was bare soil again. In the steep corner of the yard, large gaps were already visible under the fence due to the erosion. It was apparent that her expensive new fence was going to slide down the slope before the loan was paid off.

With very little money left to deal with erosion mitigation and needing an immediate solution Sharon wrote to Neil Diboll at Prairie Nursery. Neil wrote back with a simple, inexpensive plan involving a combination of Virginia Wild Rye seed and erosion blankets.

Sharon ordered 2 lbs of Virginia Wild Rye, plus some native flower seeds to add in the fall. Erosion blankets! (A completely new idea to Sharon.) They were on sale at Menards and came with biodegradable stakes. The blanket and stakes never have to be removed, and will degrade naturally over about 8 months.

APRIL 2013
As soon as the snow melted, in a single 16-hour day, Sharon went to work:

  1. Picked up two trash cans full of compost from the city ($2).
  2. Spread the compost under the fence to fill in the erosion-caused gaps.
  3. Loaded 2 lb. of Virginia wild rye seed from Prairie Nursery into a hand-crank seed spreader. Forgot to close chute on spreader. All seed fell out between the garage and the slope.
  4. Picked-up spilled wild rye by hand and with a shop-vac.
  5. Spread the now 1 lb. of seed on the bare slope.
  6. Laid out erosion blankets, starting at the bottom, and overlapping up the slope. (Fell down the slope several times. Sprained foot and jammed a finger.)
  7. At top of slope, bridged the blankets inside and outside the fence by tucking squares of the erosion blanket under the fence. This served to hold the fresh compost in place. Total coverage: 1200 square feet covered with 1500 square ft. of overlapping erosion blankets.

After watering anywhere from daily to once every 3 days, depending upon rainfall, here is the result, 18 days after planting. Sharon’s dogs pose in the photos for the sake of perspective, but the photos still don’t convey just how steep the slope is.  (Also, note the buckthorn still in the forest – Sharon plans on girdling them this summer.)

Virginia wild rye peeking through the erosion blankets:

Inside the fence, hostas and periwinkle (vinca) appear, planted by some former home owner in a non-native attempt at erosion control.

Outside the fence, in the conservation forest, a Jack-in-the-pulpit grows through the erosion blanket with no problem.

The erosion blanket was key to success. The Virginia Wild Rye now grows very thick on the slope and erosion is controlled. Sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know. If ever in doubt, give us a call – we’re glad to help solve problems or point you in the right direction.

For Sharon, this project was no small undertaking and we congratulate her on her decision, hard work and perseverance! Many thanks for the photo documentation, too!