Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Milkweeds flourish at River Bend July 23, 2021

Bees feed on a milkweed flower at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

IN MY MESS OF FLOWERBEDS, which are anything but orderly, random milkweeds grow. Some sprouted in the lawn. Others simply popped up among the phlox and ferns and iris and greenery, seeds blown by the wind, dropping to the ground, rising now toward the sun.

Milkweeds thrive on the prairie at River Bend. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Back in the days of my youth, I would have yanked these milkweeds from the soil under the direction of my farmer father. Remove those weeds from the corn and soybean fields. I know better now. Milkweed plants are essential to the monarch butterfly.

I love the dusty hue of the common milkweed. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

The milkweed is the host plant for the monarch. They lay eggs on the leaves, the larvae then feeding on those leaves.

The milkweed attracts more than just monarchs. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Without milkweeds, the monarch would become extinct.

Butterfly milkweed, although much less abundant, also grows at River Bend. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

More and more, if you take note, you will see milkweeds growing. At River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, fields of common milkweed, dusty pink in color, grow, as do some of the more flashy orange butterfly milkweed.

The exceedingly brilliant butterfly milkweed, up close. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I appreciate the value of this plant in the natural cycle, in sustaining the monarch butterfly population. This is but one example of how we are all intertwined. Every creature. One dependent on the other.

Milkweed and flowers flourish on the River Bend prairie. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I marvel at this intricate world God created. I love to watch a monarch butterfly flit through the air, settle on a blossom, drink its fill of nectar, then rise and fly. Delicate, yet sturdy. Dependent on milkweed and other flowers, yet free.

What a lovely and beautiful sight in a world where beauty is too often missed in the busyness of life, among all the weeds.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Among the wildflowers in Kaplan’s Woods May 5, 2021

Spring wildflowers at Kaplan’s Woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

FLOWERS OF SPRING EMERGE in the woods. Among layers of dried leaves. Among fallen limbs. Sometimes blanketing hillsides.

White trout lilies. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
A mass of white trout lilies in the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
An unidentified, by me, wildflower cluster. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Saturday morning, as Randy and I hiked through Kaplan’s Woods Park in Owatonna, I found myself searching the edges of the wood chip covered trails for wildflowers.

A sign inside the woods details the Parkway. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
I love this foot bridge which crosses the creek and leads into the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Near the creek, this solo boulder seems out of place in the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

This time of year, especially, I crave flowers. They represent the shifting of seasons, of plant life erupting as the landscape transforms.

Dainty violets are among the spring wildflowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
The largest of the wildflowers I saw. Can anyone identify these? Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
The brightest of the flowers I spotted, this one also unknown to me. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Green begins to fill the woods, accented by bursts of violet and yellow and white hugging the earth. Low to the ground, easily missed if you focus only on the trail ahead.

Low water. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

We have walked Kaplan’s only a few times and this visit I noticed the low water level of the creek that winds through the woods.

Hillside wildflowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

I noticed also the noise of traffic from nearby Interstate 35. Motorists en route somewhere on an incredibly warm and sunny morning in southern Minnesota. I hope that at some point they paused to appreciate the day. The sun. The trees. Maybe even the wildflowers. And the brush strokes of green tinting the landscape.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

April observations from my Minnesota backyard April 23, 2021

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Oh, to see the trees leafing out…a sure sign of spring in Minnesota.

SPRING IN MINNESOTA brings depth to the landscape. A richness of color. Months of grey and brown fade, replaced by pops of vibrant hues in spring flowers, by vivid blue skies, by bursts of green in leafing trees.

My backyard shows all those signs of spring. As I hang laundry on the line on an April morning with a lingering nip of cold, the sun shines bright. The shrill voice of cardinals pierces through the steady noise of traffic.

Tulips color my yard.

Around the corner, next to the house foundation, 18 red and yellow tulips await the shifting of the sun. Soon they will “open their mouths,” as my now 30-something daughter assessed as a toddler.

Soon ferns will unfold in fullness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

In the same flowerbeds, ferns rise from the earth. Soon to fill the space, to wave in the wind with a rhythm that seems poetically beautiful.

Oh, the light on these hosta leaves…

Hostas erupt in clusters of green leaves that will eventually spread wide.

Soon the bleeding hearts will bloom. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And in three spots along the fence, bleeding hearts emerge, buds already forming on one plant.

This week has proven hard on plants with morning temps in the 20s. Tulip heads and bleeding heart buds drooped, bowing to the cold. They’ve since rebounded.

The reality of spring in Minnesota is fickle. One day sunshine and warmth, the next snow flurries and cold. I never quite trust, even in April and into early May, that winter has exited. We’ve experienced May snowstorms and certainly plenty in April. Snow shovels remain at the ready.

The greens of trees and of grass and plants seems particularly vivid in spring.

But for today, I believe in spring. I see it. Overhead in the greening of trees against the blue sky. Below in the push of plants through the cold soil. And in my spirit, I feel a renewed sense of optimism, a joyfulness that comes in this season of hanging laundry on the line with the sun beaming bright.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In praise of the art, gardens & messages in an Atwood Neighborhood September 24, 2020

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BE KIND.

Two simple words painted, along with three red hearts, onto a block of wood. And then set on the front steps of a home in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin.

 

A section of the Atwood Neighborhood I walked.

 

On a recent trip to Wisconsin’s state capital, I retraced a route I previously walked through this east side neighborhood near my son’s apartment. I found in that residential area many uplifting and positive messages that show those who live here care. Deeply. About others. About issues.

 

One of the many inspiring signs posted in the residential neighborhood where I walked a square block. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And, in times like this with such chaos and turmoil and hatred in our country, I need to immerse myself in positive and hopeful words that uplift, rather than anger or sadden me.

 

An example of a front yard mixing plants and art.

 

Up close in a front yard I spotted this sprawling cactus which adds interest to the landscape.

 

Besides the messages, I appreciate the art placed in front yards overflowing with plants, including flowers. Not manicured lawns. I welcome that alternative to grass. It’s lovelier and better for the environment.

 

 

And in one yard, by a boulevard tree, I once again found a mini garden, a magical world of fairies and rabbits and gnomes. Making music. Dancing, Reading. Waiting.

 

 

I paused to photograph the scenes, inwardly praising the efforts of the homeowner who created this fantasy world for passersby to enjoy.

 

 

This offers, too, a momentary escape from reality. Something I need now, more than ever.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Beetles Invasion July 8, 2020

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THE BRITISH INVASION of 1964 brought The Beatles to the U.S., fueling a new rock-and-roll musical movement.

So many songs. “Here Comes the Sun.” “Hey Jude.” “Yellow Submarine.” Those of us who are of a certain age know the lyrics, even if we don’t always understand them. The tunes are catchy, the words memorable.

 

One of countless Japanese beetles on my ferns.

 

Now a new type of beetle has invaded. Right in my southern Minnesota yard. That would be beetle spelled with a double e. The Japanese beetle.

 

The damage the Japanese beetles have caused to my ferns.

 

Last week I noticed the leaves on my ferns turning brown, dying. I wondered why. But then Randy and I headed out of town for a few days and I forgot about those unhealthy ferns.

 

Beautiful hydrangea bushes frame the corner of my house. Thus far the Japanese beetles have not eaten these.

 

Upon our return, Randy mowed lawn and called me outside to photograph our massive hydrangea. It was then I noticed more ferns turning brown and some stripped to skeletal.

 

A Japanese beetle up close feasting on my ferns.

 

I took a closer look and discovered Japanese beetles feasting on the ferns. Their distinct iridescent copper-colored bodies and green thorax and heads make them easily identifiable. I needed to get rid of these bugs asap or nothing would remain of my ferns and whatever plant they decide to feast on next. A quick Google search shows they’re not picky eaters and will dine on 300 types of plants.

Last summer they chose my potted cannas. My brother-in-law from Missouri noticed the bug-bitten leaves of my red canna lilies and quickly identified the Japanese beetle as the hungry invader.

 

The trap we finally found to catch Japanese beetles.

 

Tuesday morning Randy and I were on a mission to find something to eradicate these beetles. Two local stores were sold out of the coveted traps. I left my name at one business and was told to check back at the second. By then I determined that Japanese beetles are a problem in my community if traps are flying off the shelves.

Fortunately, we found what we needed at an out-of-town Big Box store. I didn’t want to wait and hope that a local store might get the traps in stock.

 

This Japanese beetle, drawn to the trap by the scent of the attached tablet, eventually fell into the bag. This angle is photographed looking down at the Bag-A-Bug trap.

 

So now a lovely plastic bag hangs on a stake in our backyard. A solid round tablet of something is attached to attract Japanese beetles. Randy says it smells like citronella. I can’t smell the scent. But apparently the beetles can. Within an hour, Japanese beetles were already drawn to the sweet smell, eventually fell into the bag and cannot get out. Gotcha. This could be a long and ongoing process to end this invasion by the beetles.

If you have a Japanese beetle problem, I’d like to hear how you’ve solved it and how bad the situation has gotten for you. Do you have dying ferns? Chewed up flowers? Decimated fruit trees like my brother-in-law in Missouri?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Monarchs & milkweed October 8, 2018

Monarch attracting milkweed grows next to a southwestern Minnesota soybean field. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A TIME EXISTED WHEN I CONSIDERED milkweed a weed as noted in the second syllable of the word. My dad assured me that the plant needed eradication from farm fields. So out it went.

 

Milkweed, along the prairie path at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Decades later and more informed, I consider the milkweed valuable, a plant to be appreciated and not yanked from the earth. Through the years, we learn a thing or two or twenty.

 

It all begins with the milkweed, where adult female Monarchs lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves. These plants grow in Stockholm, Wisconsin, outside a bookstore.

 

Eventually caterpillars emerge from the eggs and grow, here in Stockholm, Wisconsin.

 

Then the caterpillars spin into a chrysalis for the final transformation. This chrysalis is on the side of my house. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Finally, a Monarch butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, this one photographed about a month ago in New Prague.

 

I’ve learned that the milkweed is necessary to the survival of the Monarch butterfly. Adult female Monarchs lay their eggs on one plant—milkweed. And the resulting caterpillars feed on milkweed leaves.

I remember a time when Monarchs were many. Through the years, as milkweed plants dwindled, so did the numbers of these beautiful orange and black butterflies.

 

Milkweed and other flowers rim the shoreline by the King Mill Dam in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But now people are beginning to care, to understand the importance of growing milkweed, me among them.

 

I photographed this sign in Russ’ shop when I first met him seven years ago. He had free swamp milkweed seed in a jar on the store counter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

When I revisited Russ in September, I found him tending these milkweed plants outside his shop. His commitment to Monarchs remains as strong as ever.

 

In Stockholm, Wisconsin, Russ the bookseller continues as a strong advocate of milkweeds and Monarchs. I first met him during a 2011 visit and recently returned to find this shopkeeper still advocating for Monarchs. And growing milkweeds.

 

 

At Seed Savers Exchange just north of Decorah, Iowa, I spotted packets of milkweed seeds among the many seeds sold in the farm’s retail shop.

 

Packets of milkweed seed ready for the taking at the Valley Grove event. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2018.

 

At the recent Valley Grove Country Social near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, a representative of the Northfield Prairie Partners Chapter of Wild Ones handed out envelopes of milkweed seeds and information on Monarchs and milkweeds.

 

An unripened milkweed pod. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Photographed at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Photographed 10 days ago at my brother’s rural Redwood County acreage.

 

Beyond all of that, I find milkweed pods beautiful in shape and, when fully-ripened, like art erupting. I am repeatedly drawn to photograph the wisps of fluff embedded with seeds. Seeds that will naturally fly on the wind, fall to the earth and grow new plants. Or, when harvested, shared by those who care about an orange and black butterfly. Like Russ in Stockholm.

TELL ME: Do you grow milkweed for Monarchs?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring Madison: First stop, Olbrich Botanical Gardens June 6, 2018

My first view of the downtown Madison skyline with Lake Monona in the foreground.

 

GREEN SPACE. Those words define my first impression of Madison, Wisconsin. This is an outdoor-friendly city with prolific public pathways, with an obvious bend for recreational activities that take folks outside.

 

Closing in on downtown Madison with the state capitol on the left.

 

In woods, parks, gardens, open spaces and tree-lined streets, green colors the lush landscape. Lakes and waterways add to the city’s natural beauty. This capital city of 252,000-plus pulses with bikers, boaters, joggers, walkers and others simply enjoying the outdoors. There’s a certain undeniable vibe in Madison, as if those who live and visit here need to spend every minute outside before winter sweeps cold and snow into the land in a matter of months. But I expect even then plenty of outdoor activity happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On my first visit to Madison, where my second daughter and her husband recently relocated, I walked through the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, a 16-acre space of outdoor gardens and a tropical conservatory. On the afternoon of our visit, exceptionally high heat and humidity left me drained and occasionally seeking a shaded bench. Time and temps kept us from the Bolz Conservatory, a spot I’ll check out during a cooler season.

 

 

 

 

While the gardens are beautiful, they were not at their peak during our transitioning from spring into summer tour. Yet, it was a delight just to be there with my daughter and husband, walking the pathways, smelling fragrant flowers, enjoying the art and water features, observing young people celebrating quinceanera

 

The Thai Pavillion from across a creek.

 

Of special visual interest is the Thai Pavilion and Garden, the only one in the continental U.S. It was a gift from the Thai government and the Thai Chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association. UW-Madison, located in the heart of the downtown, has one of the largest Thai student populations of any U.S. post-secondary institution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some 1,000 volunteers work these gardens, greet visitors and more. What a labor of love in a place that seems so suited for Madison, a metro area with a small town feel and lots of green space.

 

 

FYI: Check back for a second post from the Olbrich Botanical Gardens as I take you up close into the Thai Pavilion and garden.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In search of spring inside a Faribault greenhouse April 20, 2018

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

BLOCKS FROM MY FARIBAULT HOME, spring bursts in vibrant hues, a visual delight for winter weary eyes.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

I need to stop at Donahue’s Greenhouse, which opened for the season just a day prior to our recent three-day historic blizzard. I missed the “Mimosa Morning & More” event there during the winter storm. Shucks. I wasn’t thinking of flowers or anything tropical on April 14.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

But now I am. And it’s time to take a break from all the cold and snow and step into spring, or at least the illusion of spring.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

At Donahue’s I can meander through rows and rows and rows of potted blooms.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

Tables packed with colorful flowers fill the Faribault Garden Center during a 2012 visit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

Hot pink geraniums initially caught my eye during a 2012 visit to Faribault Garden Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Or I can stop by Faribault Garden Center and delight in the geraniums, petunias and other plants thriving in the balmy warmth of a greenhouse.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

I can mentally immerse myself in a warmer season, a warmer place. Yes, that’s exactly what I need to pull myself from this winter funk.

TELL ME: If you live in a cold weather state like Minnesota, how do you cope with a winter that’s been way too long, cold and snowy?

 

Twiehoff Gardens along St. Paul Road in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

NOTE: Garden lovers can also shop at several other Faribault garden centers for plants. Those include Farmer Seed & Nursery, Northstar Seed & Nursery and Twiehoff Gardens & Nursery

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Finding spring in Minnesota at the conservatory April 6, 2018

 

TO ALL MY WINTER WEARY readers in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and any other place where cold and snow are lingering too long into spring, I offer you a visual respite.

 

 

This is for you, as much as for me.

 

 

 

 

A spot exists in Minnesota where flowers now bloom, the air hangs humid and palm trees rise. The proof lies in the photos I took in February 2017 at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul. I should have gone there this winter, just to take in the greenery, to pretend for an hour or so that I wasn’t in Minnesota.

 

 

Since I can’t physically flee to a warm climate of sunshine and seashore, I must mentally and visually escape. I can imagine I’m in Hawaii or Florida or California or some such spot through these photos I took just a little over a year ago inside the Conservatory.

 

 

 

 

Currently, the Spring Flower Show is in bloom inside the Sunken Garden, differing from the flowers in the photos showcased here. Imagine daffodils, tulips, hyacinths…the perfumed scent and bright hues of spring.

 

 

Mostly, imagine that you are in a setting devoid of snow and cold, that winter has vanished and spring arrived.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Attention, Laura Ingalls Wilder fans: A new must-read book by Marta McDowell September 21, 2017

 

WHEN A PACKAGE LANDED on my front doorstep some 10 days ago, I wondered about its content. I hadn’t ordered anything. But inside I found a newly-released book, The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes That Inspired The Little House Books.

Ah, yes, I had been expecting this. Sort of. But I’d forgotten about the book by bestselling author Marta McDowell that includes three of my photos. More than a year had passed since Marta and I connected.

Now I was holding the results of this New Jersey writer’s intensive research, multi-state visits and hours of writing. It’s an impressive book for the information and the art published therein on the places and plants in the life of author Laura Ingalls Wilder.

 

Every summer, the folks of Walnut Grove produce an outdoor pageant based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. Many pageant attendees arrive at the show site dressed in period attire and then climb aboard the covered wagon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I have not yet read the entire book. But I am sharing this new Timber Press release now because Marta will be at Magers & Quinn Booksellers, 3038 Hennepin Avenue, in Minneapolis from 7 – 8 this evening (September 21) to present The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I expect the book to be enthusiastically received here in Minnesota and by Laura fans world-wide.

 

The southwestern Minnesota prairie, in the summer, is a place of remarkable beauty. I shot this image outside Walnut Grove. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

I am among those fans with the added bonus of having grown up only three townships north of the Charles and Caroline Ingalls’ North Hero Township home near Walnut Grove in Redwood County, Minnesota. Long before the Little House TV show, long before I realized the popularity of Laura’s book series, I loved her writing. A teacher at Vesta Elementary School read the books aloud to me and my classmates during a post-lunch reading time. That story-time instilled in me a deep love for the written word and a deep connection to The Little House books.

 

The prairie near Walnut Grove is especially beautiful in the summer. I took this photo at the Laura Ingalls Wilder dug-out site north of Walnut Grove in 2010.

 

With that background, you can understand my enthusiasm for Marta’s book which focuses on the landscapes and specific plants that surrounded Laura and her family. Laura writes with a strong sense of place, a skill I’ve often considered may trace to her blind sister, Mary. Laura became her sister’s “eyes.”

 

I cannot imagine so many grasshoppers that they obliterated everything. I took this photo at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna during a previous traveling exhibit on Minnesota disasters. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Marta writes of specific plants and places in her book, taking the reader from Wisconsin to Minnesota to Missouri and in between—wherever Laura lived. In the section on Walnut Grove, she notes the wild plums, the morning glories and the blue flags (iris) that Laura writes about in On the Banks of Plum Creek. I’ve walked that creek and creekbank, seen the Ingalls’ dug-out, wildflowers and plums. I am of this rich black soil, these plants, this land. There’s a comfortable familiarity in reading of this land the Ingalls family eventually left because of a grasshopper infestation and resulting crop failures.

 

My black-eyed susan photo is published in Marta’s book. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

To be part of Marta’s book on Laura Ingalls Wilder is an honor. The vintage botanical illustrations, original artwork by Garth Williams, historic photos, maps, ads, current day photos like my three and more make this volume a work of art.

There is much to learn therein, much to appreciate. So for all of you Laura fans out there, take note. You’ll want to add The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes That Inspired the Little House Books to your collection.

 

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this book and was paid for publication of my three photos.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling