To begin with, Shirley wasn’t there.
For the first time in all 16 years of workshops, Shirley Meneice was absent, stuck at home in California following a bad fall. Shirley is one of the GCA’s stalwarts, a champion of horticulture practice and programs, and the greatest supplier of seeds to GCA Seed Share. [note: check under “Seed Share Database” in the Horticulture Committee pages on the GCA website if you want some excellent free seeds] She is also one of the nicest, most selfless ladies you would ever want to meet. Years ago, when a number of GCA horticulturists came together to fund an annual workshop, one thing they agreed upon immediately was that it should be named for their friend Shirley, everyone’s friend Shirley. Those of us who have been lucky to attend these workshops in the past have all been privileged to know her, and we all missed her very much. Best of health, always, to Shirley, everyone’s friend!
That didn’t stop our own Julie Given, two hundred other GCA ladies, and me all from having a rip-roaring good time, and from learning a great deal about the prairies that stretch a million square miles or more through the core of our country. We enjoyed sessions at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium (dinner is special when the sharks are hungrily watching you eat it), at the Durham Museum, at Lauritzen Botanical Gardens, at Glacier Creek Preserve, and in conference spaces in our hotel in the heart of Omaha’s Old Market District. The weather ranged from a sweltering, sunny 95 degrees to the rainy 60’s – emblematic of the wild variations that prairie-dwelling humans, animals, and plants deal with in every season. We watched, on film, tens of thousands of sand hill cranes migrate to Omaha for their winter season, and we watched, live overhead as we stood on the prairie, clouds of monarch butterflies catching a tailwind on their migration south to their winter season in Mexico.
It was fascinating to see the beginnings of an herbarium at Glacier Creek. Our excellent herbarium at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History has spoiled us here at home, but to see the start of what will be as exciting a collection, and to hear the stories of its first records from the scientists responsible, was an awe-inspiring experience. The prairie flowers workshop was tremendous fun; a dozen of us made art with natural materials from the Lauritzen, laughing along with GCA President Dede Petri. Dede lunched with our Zone X contingent on opening day, in recognition that all of our clubs were represented by one or more members – kudos to Zone X Hort Chair Lindsay Clark for that.
Resilient Landscape Responses to Heartland Stormwater Management was a practical, useful program best enjoyed by those of us in waterproof shoes and with umbrellas. I wish I could have been in three places at once during that session; it was hard to choose between that program, Growing Food that Grows Communities, and Planting for the Future. Luckily, I had studied Botanical Nomenclature, Tool Maintenance, and Attracting Beneficial Insects to Your Garden at prior Meneice workshops; all of these met at the same time. I do not know how Julie, a first time attendee could have chosen just from that half an afternoon’s selections – and then there were more!
I recommend to all of you a visit to Michael Forsberg's website. He spoke at our opening night dinner (the one with the hungry sharks). Imagine two hundred women held spellbound and silent during a dinner party. You would think it couldn’t be done, but he succeeded. Michael’s evocative conservation photography of nature in the great plains had everyone enraptured. And of course his signed books sold out before most of us even got close. Hint to holiday shoppers: there’s a gift almost anyone with half a heart would love!
The Prairie History and Restoration talk was brilliant, and any attendee with an eye to either conservation or American history would have been enthralled. Memories of impressions gleaned while reading Laura Ingalls Wilder and Willa Cather echoed through the facts that were presented. And the soils? Eye-opening! The same prairies that, when over-farmed and over-tilled, yielded up their wealth to produce the Dust Bowl, abut untouched islands of remaining prairies harboring a hundred foot deep, rich topsoil deposits. If we knew then what we know now about soil preservation….
Just before I went to Omaha I had read a New York Times story about a yellow Labrador named Lily and her adventures with black-footed ferrets in Wyoming. We met Lily in Omaha! I’ll let Julie tell you about her, and refer you to Julie’s videos and photographs.
Click here to go to Julie's post