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The Prairie Flower Garden at the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio and a short grass prairie "lawn" at a Denver, Colorado water facility illustrate the versatility of native species. Though water agencies' demonstration gardens necessarily focus on instruction or data collection, zoos and amusement parks (some are certified botanical gardens) delight millions with the interrelation of diverse flora and fauna. But, whether the gardens result in species or resource conservation, the demonstration philosophy results in a beautiful education.

The prairie flower garden along the walkway leading to the huge insect exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo bursts with the attractant quality of a wildflower meadow. Butterflies (not to be confused with crawlies that populate the insectararium where you can even weigh yourself in insects) abound both at this garden and in a nearby enclosed aviary, where winged creatures waft among draping wisps of rosy chenille.

The carefree appeal of seed mixes that come in a can may be behind the recent popularity of wildflower meadows, but their carefree appeal belies the fact that establishing a meadow with native plants of any kind takes a bit of work. Even after clearing and sterilizing the soil to prevent weeds before seeding, some wildflower meadows like the short grass prairie at Denver Water Department's Moffat Treatment Plant, must be periodically mowed to prevent invasive weeds from going to seed and outcompeting the grasses.

On fifteen of the 32 acres that the water utility re-landscaped at its treatment plant, "highly irrigated" Kentucky Bluegrass was converted to sodded '609' Buffalograss or seeded in Blue Gamma Grass. "[It's] the first step in re-creating the effect of a native short grass prairie," said Conservation Specialist Ken Ball, RLA, ASLA, who estimates the project will save 11 million gallons of water for every season in the sun.

Moffat Treatment Plant/close-up: Once established, the native short grass prairie being established as the "lawn" at Denver's Moffat Water Treatment Plant will be allowed to grow tall (inset); currently, it has been mowed as a weed abatement measure. Photos courtesy of Denver Water Department

Xeriscape Garden Party Post Card: The prairie grassland and a new 3/4-acre xeriscape garden that encompasses the administration building are just two new projects the Denver Water Department and "Xeriscape Colorado" education committee are celebrating on the occasion of the fifteenth year anniversary of the Xeriscape movement (an outgrowth of the Denver utility's original lawn watering conservation efforts of the early 1980's). Graphic courtesy of Denver Water Department

Perri/Garden: The profusion of prairie flower blooms at the Cincinnati Zoo is billed as a "Butterfly Garden," placing the emphasis on the creatures this habitat supports. Cincinnati Zoo photo by R.E. Baier

Butterfly: Butterflies in the aviary with chenille at Cincinnati Zoo.

Cincinnati Zoo photo by R.E. Baier

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October 17, 2019, 9:14 am PDT

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