The Meadow shows off natural landscaping on K-State campus

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The Beach Meadow on the Kansas State campus in Manhattan, Kan. on Aug. 29, 2017 (Photo by Justin Wright | Collegian Media Group)

Tucked in between the jagged architecture of the Beach Museum of Art, McCain Auditorium and All Faiths Chapel, the Meadow is a wild patch of floral growth in the midst of a meticulously trimmed campus.

Sprouting from an idea to showcase a more natural landscape outside of the Beach Museum in 2012, the Meadow is now concluding its fourth growing season.

Linda Duke, director of the Beach Museum of Art, said the idea for the Meadow began in a number of conversations with Katie Kingery-Page, an associate professor of landscape architecture and now the Meadow projects director. In order to get permission from Kansas State University to tear up the sod, they began discussions of a collaborative effort to create a curated project, not a prairie restoration project.

“A lot of research went into choosing the plants,” Duke said. “For example, the campus didn’t want us to put the tallest of the grasses, so we don’t have big bluestem, we have little bluestem out there. We also prioritize some things like dye plants, native medicinal plants and things like that because we were thinking from the start about teaching and student research.”

It was in these initial discussions that the plan for the Meadow was mapped out, such as paths through the landscape, a large place to meet for teaching and places to sit in the shade.

“We started with a charrette on the existing site, so the planning team went out one day onto the site — the way it looked before the Meadow was there — and we really just tried to envision how it would appear from different views and what would be needed,” Kingery-Page said.

Duke said enlisting the help of K-State Facilities for grounds maintenance was crucial to the planning process.

“If they hadn’t really been in favor of this, I don’t think we could have ever done it,” Duke said. “It required them to agree not to mow this, to be patient with us, because there was a long period where it just looked pretty ratty out there.”

In terms of plant communities, Kingery-Page said they started with a list from the Konza Prairie, which included more than 600 species of plants.

“It wasn’t hard to narrow because we knew that we wanted a certain aesthetic there, and also a certain ease of maintenance,” Kingery-Page said. “We were able to narrow that list to only about 50 plants that were seeded, and now we’ve documented almost 40 that have actually grown on this site. There may be more that we will begin to notice; it’s always amazing how things we thought weren’t going to come to life from the seed, maybe they’ve just been growing very, very slowly.”

Today, the Meadow is abundant in native grasses and wildflowers, and a chorus of singing insects dominates the grounds.

Kingery-Page updates a blog solely dedicated to keeping up with the project and documents the Meadow’s progress and events.

“We write about the Meadow as a contemplative space, and what we mean by that is it was designed to be a place where someone can take a break in nature,” Kingery-Page said. “In the heart of campus, we don’t have that many places where you can sit comfortably in the shade and just be surrounded by green natural materials, natural environment. That’s why we talk about it as contemplative; it has a lot of other uses, but I think that is one of the more significant services that it provides to everybody on campus.”

Following an initial donation by the family of Professor William C. Hummel that made the project possible, Kingery-Page said memorialization within the Meadow has given onlookers a chance to experience a living memorial.

“When people want to memorialize someone or think of ways to move through grief and toward a deeper sort of sense of memory, they think about landscapes,” Kingery-Page said. “I think landscaping is really powerful in that way, in terms of memory. It’s living and changing, and it’s healing.”

Riccardo Prudenti, special projects coordinator at the Beach Museum of Art and graduate student in landscape architecture, said besides the fact that people are planting life in memory of someone else, the plants should be inherently inspiring for anybody.

“It’s a small effort, but not only for someone who’s planting — there’s a joy in planting something that comes alive and stays alive — but also, you know that other people are going to enjoy that plant, singularly or among many, for a long period of time,” Prudenti said.

Although other donations, such as the Henley Meadow Maintenance Fund established by K-State alumni Fred and Judy Henley, have helped the project prosper, Kingery-Page said one of the biggest challenges the Meadow faces is maintaining the site.

“We maintain the site predominantly through volunteer service, and so gathering and having that constant core of volunteers is a challenge,” Kingery-Page said. “This was a grassroots effort; it was funded not at all by state money. This was funded by private donations, so this is something that a group of people who care has done for campus, but we need to keep it going. That takes volunteer time and it quite honestly could use input from people who are willing to donate resources needed.”

The Meadow’s next volunteer day is Oct. 15, when volunteers will have the chance to scatter seeds and weed the pathways in the space.

Prudenti said as the plants grow and produce seeds, they are given a “free” source of seeds from nature for those species.

“What we’ll do is have people take them off of the plants and toss them into areas where they are most needed on site and then next year, hopefully, they’ll get into the ground, stay there and grow,” Prudenti said.

Volunteer days always include free discussion of plants or identification of plants, Kingery-Page said, but they are always looking to make it about more than volunteering.

“If students or faculty see a way that their class can benefit from doing something with the Meadow, then they should contact us because it is a resource for everyone at K-State,” Kingery-Page said. “That is the purpose of the Meadow. It is for everyone at K-State. Everyone.”

Whether people are studying the environment, water, weather, crop science or even cowboy history, the Meadow acts as an umbrella to bring people together who have a deep knowledge about the region, yet do not always get to talk to each other, Duke said.

“I feel really strongly that art and science are kindred spirits,” Duke said. “They are not opposites. The kinds of thinking that we do in art and science are really similar in some ways; both domains value careful looking, really keen observation and being able to wonder about details and question, ‘What does this mean? And why does this look that way?’ That’s the process that we know scientists go through when they’re looking at evidence and testing theories, but it’s what artists welcome us to do when we look at works of art, too. I felt like it was really natural for science and art to help us together understand the prairie.”

With future plans to incorporate signs on the site providing information and dedicating donors, the Meadow’s constant environmental adaptability promises more seasons of growth and education.

“When you think about the offerings that the Meadow provides, it’s quite extraordinary,” Prudenti said. “It provides not just aesthetics, or just science or just a contemplative, therapeutic environment; it is all of that at the same time.”

To volunteer at the Meadow, contact Kingery-Page at [email protected] To donate resources to the Henley Meadow Maintenance Fund, contact Natalie Gordon at [email protected]

The Beach Museum of Art will hold a festival to honor conservation on Oct. 7 from noon to 4 p.m.

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