24 March 2009

Prairies at the Mueller

Pop quiz. The above image is from:

a) a Central Texas prairie
b) an urban park
c) all of the above

Well, the answer of course, is (c). This is a photo of the new prairie growing at the Mueller neighborhood, which for the uninitiated used to be our local airport. It was dismantled and is being converted into a residential neighborhood with a hospital, retail and oodles of parks. It also happens to be just around the corner from my house, and I am super excited about the one of the parks called the Southwest Greenway.

In my opinion, this is the big star of their park system. There, they are re-establishing the native Blackland Prairie ecosystems in collaboration with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It's less than a year old, but some of the plants are already blooming (aided, no doubt, by a hefty watering regime this winter). So I decided to head up there with a camera and have a look.

A wide path cruises alternating between crushed granite and cement meanders through the greenbelt and will eventually loop around the entire development. There were a ton of people out walking and running when I was there.

The path takes you through large swaths of future short-grass prairie, tallgrass prairie and mixed grass prairie. A number of trees - like Texas persimmon, oaks, Eastern red cedars, huisaches, and pecans - were both moved here (as mature trees), planted here and left here from the old airport. These line the path and dot the prairies.

Along the path they have even signs for Learning, which is pretty cool in my opinion.

This sign better says what I was jabbering about in my previous post, regarding all of our yards being knit together into one big ecosystem.

There are some pretty nice formal gardens planted with natives as well, much like the Wildflower Center.

Signs in the more formal gardens show what plants are growing there, which is a great way to learn about natives that will work in the area and see what they look like (and free! and not way down Mopac!).

A crazy bank of native wildflowers, such as Indian blanket and evening primrose, growing along the path:

Check out these cool sculptures:

An allee of desert willows will be really sweet to sit under some day, full of blooms and hummingbirds.

I think this is three-awn grass mixed with bluebonnets:

This prairie scene will one day be extraordinary, with the skyline in the background (squint and you can see Austin past the prairie and over the pond).

Standing here, I was reminded of a large green sign posted on a prairie outside of Chicago we used to drive by that said "Imagine the Possibilities." They were referring to future strip malls and office parks, of course, but here, the possibilities I imagine are this young prairie in 10, 20 and 30 years. Tall prairie grasses growing deep, wildflowers swaying in the breeze, and the birds and the bees, oh yes, oh my.

Actually, another cool side note: I read somewhere that the Wildflower Center found some original little bluestem grass growing on this property. They harvested its seeds and have been propagating it for reintroduction there at Mueller. Truly native.

Now, they certainly aren't doing everything right at Mueller. On the other side of the development, near the strip malls and Interstate (where you'd expect) someone has planted vast plots of land with "wildflower mix." Inevitably, this crazy mix looks to be of California and European origin; I see this kind of mix sold all over town and people scatter it everywhere.

Here it is:

It's really fine and pretty, I suppose, but when you have such beauty native to the area, and it's planted a mere few blocks away, why not be consistent? Why NOT plant the natives?

At any rate, I'm very happy that the prairie ecosystem is growing not too far away. It's another place that animals and plants in my yard can connect with, weaving their way across our urban fabric to survive. Another bonus is that it smells really good up there right now.


If you're interested in visiting the Southwest Greenway, you can find it off Airport Blvd and Anchor Ln. The best way to access it is probably to park at the Mueller visitor center on Airport and follow the trail around south.


Tamara said...

WOW! I had no idea they were working on this in the old airport area. I'm impressed - thank you for the photos!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for letting us know about this, Lee. I had no idea.

Rock rose said...

Wow. Thanks for posting about this beautiful park. The wildflowers are outstanding considering we have had no rain. I can't be positive from the photo but think those are Texas wildflowers. The red looks like drummond's phlox and the others are evening primrose and what looks like Coreopsis tinctoria. It is hard to tell.

Unknown said...

I love our eastside hide-way. It's our mini-town lake trail! Mel and I are there at least once a week, and man, right now it is unbelievably springy delicious out there.

phempton said...

This is fantastic. I live a mere few blocks away and was just mentioning that I really wanted to see a native central Texas prarie in it's natural state. I remember reading about Pflugerville being the place to go, but it's in my own neighborhood. Thanks a bunch for sharing this.

Beth H said...

That is sooooo cool! This is right in my neighborhood & I had no idea! Thanks for informing everyone of this amazing park.

Anonymous said...

Wow! That's beautiful. I haven't been out to Mueller since the redevelopment. I'm going to have to investigate it. I glad that they included educational and sculptural elements. This is a great way for public parks to be.

Diana said...

Cool - I knew about the redevelopment and have been to the medical center there and had lunch -- on the concrete side of the new Mueller. I had no idea about all the park land and planting -- we'll have to venture up there for an outing one day soon. Thanks.

Lori said...

This is awesome! I had no idea that there was a project like this in the works. I'm going to have to check it out. Thanks for the heads-up!

Katharine said...

Thanks for writing about this. I live in the neighborhood, too, and have been very happy with all the wonderful landscaping & trees they've been insalling. I heard about the wildflower center's involvement in the SW Greenway but hadn't made it over there until your post prompted me to check it out yesterday. It is very impressive!! Your pictures do it justice.

weeder1 said...

Wow! You, and Pam/digging, and Philip/East-Side-Patch have all got me wanting to visit Austin! Me, who never had any desire to visit any part of Texas before, is totally enthralled by your gardens and humor and clever artsy-fartsy things in those gardens. I would love to view it all in person some day.

Lee said...

Come on down! Texas ain't so bad...

Unknown said...

isn't this the most beautiful park?!? crike. i love taking peops, running, and just strolling here...