Former Shows & Episodes

The Manic Gardener

Kate Gardner

The Manic Gardener – 99.9% Gone: Prairie and Savanna Restoration

We’ve all heard of habitat restoration. But how do you do it? What is actually involved—and why would anyone bother, if it takes years of strenuous work and pays little or nothing?

Most of the savanna and prairie native to the Midwest are gone. But native plantings are being re-established by many private landowners, my father-in-law Rick Durbin among them. Three generations of Durbins are currently working on the project, so for years I’ve been hearing about prescribed burns and battling buckthorn from Rick, his son Jeff, and my son Jesse. But this New Year’s was the first time I could see a real change in the land, and the first time I helped scatter seed on the prairie. Clearly, it was time to find out just what these guys have been up to.

Since Jesse was off for El Salvador by the time I whipped out my microphone, you’ll only hear two guests on this show. Rick, a plant pathologist and author, is the project’s main mover. My brother-in-law Jeff, a writer and naturalist, participates in every facet of the work, from cataloguing plant species to cutting down trees. In talking with them, I learn about such things as why they’ve planted their wildlife refuge as a circle, and why it’s important to leave dead trees standing in a wood, and why most North Americans have never seen the open woodlands of a savanna.

The details are fascinating. But Rick and Jeff also explain why this work compels them: why it is not merely sentimental to mourn the loss of the prairie.

Check out Jeff’s website at, and see the blog The Manic Gardener for more links and information about prairie and savanna restoration.