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Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Wild Gardens: Oh Say Can You Seed
Since last summer, zoo horticulturists and volunteers have been collecting and cleaning seed from plants at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo. While most of this seed is scattered back into Nature Boardwalk, some is reserved for areas within the main zoo grounds.
Seed mixes are a terrific tool for the zoo’s gardeners. They help us create natural-looking designs that avoid looking forced or contrived. We end up with combinations that are successful, surprising and delightful variations on a theme throughout the zoo. Gardeners can always edit should one species be too successful.
We scatter between fall and spring, depending on the weather. We scatter seed in almost all locations because this fits with a naturalistic look we are trying to achieve. The garden around the Hope B. McCormick Swan Pond and Waterfowl Lagoon is one example. We are trying to increase the diversity of plant materials there, add to the color show and create new textures.
Seed that is introduced on the main zoo grounds has to be only from plants that are not toxic to any zoo animals. We make sure that all collected seed is isolated and not in contact with other seed until we prepare our mixes.
We also are aware that our seeds will have a tough time germinating in the main zoo, because we are not preparing the soil and covering scattered seed with protective seed blankets as we do at Nature Boardwalk. Much of the seed will likely be eaten by birds, rabbits and squirrels. Some, however, will grow into handsome plants that may reproduce, beautify the grounds and benefit local wildlife.
One of the tricks we use to give our seed a better chance of surviving is to scatter before a snowstorm. When the snow melts it can guide the seeds into crevices in the soil as well as hide the seeds from hungry critters for a period of time. Of course this doesn’t always work. Last year, crows at Nature Boardwalk feasted on unprotected seed in areas around the Nature Boardwalk Peoples Gas Education Pavilion when all the snow cover melted within a day.
Brian Houck and Mike Davenport
Brian Houck is the zoo’s Director of Horticulture. Mike Davenport is Curator of Horticulture.