As gardeners and plant lovers, we all take cues from natural areas nearby to inspire our plant selections, combinations, and garden aesthetic. Living in Madison, Wisconsin, I cannot think of a more beautiful synergy between a natural archetype and a deft human hand than the world’s first ecologically restored prairie. The Curtis Prairie at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, initially planted on agricultural land in 1934, was a groundbreaking experiment in recreating the species diversity and natural systems of our decimated prairie landscapes. It continues to be an important site of study and exploration of prairie ecosystems and also happens to feature one of my favorite native plants: white false indigo (Baptisia alba var. macrophylla, Zones 3–9).
Although prairies are often thought to peak later in the summer, my favorite denizen of the Curtis Prairie makes her graceful entry in late spring. In late May and early June, succulent purple-gray stems…
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