This year’s location for the WLNA summer field days gave participants the opportunity to learn more about native plants and the field of environmental remediation and restoration. Agricola Nursery in Evansville, WI produces native plants and seeds and and specialize in erosion control vegetative mat systems. The seed grown by Agricola is collected from ‘remnant’ foundation collections of plants growing primarily in southwestern Wisconsin and certified for purity, origination and germination. In addition to providing native seed and plants to ecological restoration projects, Agricol services include design, installation, maintenance and consulting primarily for erosion control and stormwater management projects.
While many of Agricol’s projects involve large sites such as roadways, river banks and large construction sites, the interest in ecological landscapes and the use of native plants in smaller urban settings is growing. Landscape and nursery professionals increasingly get requests from residential and commercial customers to create sustainable landscapes featuring native plants. These requests may be from the property owners themselves but more often are a result of increasing legislation requiring builders to include plans for storm water retention. This means many sites need detention ponds and/or rain gardens which require professional design, installation and maintenance. The intersection of ecology and horticulture provides the landscape and nursery industry a market in the urban environment requiring additional skills and training. Native plant identification, sustainable design and ecological maintenance concepts are all needed to succeed in this market. The Pike Creek Horticulture Program at Gateway Technical College is adding to their collection of native plants to be used in teaching, and all courses emphasize sustainable practices.
Field Day participants had the opportunity to tour the growing areas at Agricol. Fields of perennial Black eyed Susan, Liatris, Indiangrass,Prairie Dropseed and many other native plants were in full bloom. Our tour guide, Matt Weber, also took us through the seed processing area and spoke about Agricola’s efforts to maintain seed genotype purity. It was also interesting to learn how Agricola uses plant waste as fuel source to heat their buildings. Matt showed us a ‘pellet machine’ that compresses and dries all their plant waste into pellets used to heat their entire facility. I later spoke to Matt who said they had hoped to create a secondary income from selling the pellets but were not able to develop a market for them at this time.
Several educational speakers were on hand for the day. I enjoyed hearing about the National Resource Conservation’s pollinator preservation work. They are working primarily with cattle and rotational grazing which allows acres of flowers to bloom at different times for bees and buterfly. Some of the best flowers for bees are white Dutch clover (some people think this is a weed!), buckwheat and partridge pea.
After a nice lunch and visit to the trade show I noticed some racks near the shipping door filled with flats of plants. Looking closely Monarch butterfly larvae were seen munching away on the milkweed plants getting ready to be shipped. I guess plants from Agricol really do arrive with a little something extra!