GARDEN SPOTLIGHT: Farm Life Suits Community Board Member James Pickel

GARDEN SPOTLIGHT: Farm Life Suits Community Board Member James Pickel

Farm Life Suits Community Board Member James Pickel, Owner of Prairie Earth Gardens

By Susan Grossman

Published in The Bridge, Summer 2020

A red enamel coffee pot sits atop a wood-burning stove inside what serves as the office of James Pickel. The gravel floor, stone walls, and tin ceiling create cozy warmth on a late winter day as sunlight pours through the multi-paned windows across the front.

Clad today in a flannel shirt, overalls, and a fleece vest, Pickel presides over Prairie Earth Gardens where every Saturday he greets customers buying fresh eggs, honey, greens, herbs, and other seasonal produce. His office is inside what is called the Baby Barn, a 100-year-old stone structure situated at the front of his property.

Look for this sign off 8500 Eastern. Photo by Sean Ball.

Located northeast of downtown Oklahoma City at 8500 N. Eastern Avenue, Pickel often jokes that his farm is “the worst retirement plan in the world but a great way of life.”

Six years after selling the company that still bears his name – Smith & Pickel Construction – Pickel has slowly expanded his capacity. In addition to the weekly market, he provides naturally grown produce year-round to more than 30 Oklahoma City chefs and restaurants. Flats of microgreens and pea shoots sit on long tables in a greenhouse, ready to be prepared for delivery. Plants growing edible flowers are also on hand.
Pickel moved out to the property, situated less than 10 miles from downtown Oklahoma City, 41 years ago. After graduating from Oklahoma State University, and a stint living near Classen Boulevard, he chose to live close to the city but still in the country.

“I grew up in a small town, Duncan, and was raised by my grandparents who were gardeners,” he explained. “I have been gardening my entire life.”

Prairie Earth Gardens vegetable row. Photo by Sean Ball.

The close proximity to Oklahoma City served him well during his construction career when he oversaw multiple projects. Pickel has been actively involved in nonprofit and civic organizations for years, up to a high of 22 at the same time. He is a longtime member of the Community Board for Myriad Gardens Foundation, for which he also has served as chair.

“When I first joined the Community Board, the beautification and improvement of downtown Oklahoma City were important to me,” he said. “At that time, there was not much to attract people. Things are much different now, of course, with the development of downtown, but I still serve to ensure that we continue this commitment to enhancing our city.”

The Saturday Market at Prairie Earth Gardens is open 8 to 11 a.m. throughout the year. Purchases may also be preordered via email during the week for pick-up on the barn side. For more information follow them on Facebook and Instagram, or sign up for weekly email updates at

Instagram @prairieearthgardens

James enjoys his biggest helpers. Photo by Sean Ball.

Horticulture Happenings: Prairie Garden, The Secret Garden, Bird-Friendly Garden

Horticulture Happenings: Prairie Garden, The Secret Garden, Bird-Friendly Garden

Written by Jimi Underwood

Last year Canadian goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) overtook large portions of the Oklahoma Prairie Garden, located on Reno Avenue just east of the entrance to the Visitor Center of the Crystal Bridge. As one of the many gardens within Myriad Botanical Gardens, the Oklahoma Prairie Gardens fosters prairie plants native to Oklahoma and supports native insects and wildlife. This goldenrod is not a native of the state and can be extremely aggressive, tending to form monocultures that exclude other plants. In an attempt to help other prairie plants, the Garden’s horticulture team attempted to remove it. If anyone seeing the prairie garden during winter thought it looked thinner than normal, this is one of the reasons why.

To help the garden thrive, this year we will focus on re-establishing the prairie grasses, so here are a few new things to keep an eye on in the prairie garden this year. First, we will reintroduce and add seed from a variety of different prairie grass including:

  • sideoats grama (Bouteloua curipendula)
  • blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis)
  • buffalograss (Bouteloua dactyloides)
  • little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
  • big bluestem (Andropogon geradii)
  • Indiangrass (Sorgastrum nutans)
  • switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
  • eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides)
  • Virginia wildrye (Elymus virginicus), and
  • prairie wildrye (E. canadensis)

Throughout the spring and summer, the prairie garden will be mowed and trimmed to help many of these grasses establish. This does not mean the prairie forbs, or flowering plants other than grasses, won’t be present this year. Plugs of favorites and common prairie forbs will be planted as well, adding to the existing diversity and color throughout the year. 

Ever wonder why plants have both common names – goldenrod – and scientific Latin names – Solidago canadensis?

A Swedish naturalist named Carl Linnaeus developed the two-name system in the mid-1700s. As a universal language, Latin ensures uniform plant identification that can be recognized by gardeners and scientists around the world. The system groups plants by similarity, combining the genus and species of the plant.

If you have questions about the prairie garden, please feel free to contact Nate Tschaenn, director of horticulture,


Artist’s rendering of the Secret Garden

A Garden Within the Gardens

For the past year, we have been quietly planning a new garden space within Myriad Botanical Gardens, and we are excited to spread the word. We have transformed a 7,000 square foot area from an underutilized space into a destination for picnics and quiet relaxing. The secluded and natural aspect of the space reminded us of the garden in the book The Secret Garden.

Tucked away on the northeastern corner of the grounds, the new garden will serve as an oasis between the bustle of a downtown intersection and the year-round activity of the Seasonal Plaza.

Several nooks where people can gather and relax are part of the new garden. Flagstone is set into the grass at the entrance where it slowly dwindles into the lawn. The center of the garden space is opened up and the sloping grade of the lawn is friendly and welcoming. Flowering shrubs and trees have been added to the perimeter to help enclose the space.

Bird-Friendly Garden Takes Flight at Park House

As a middle schooler, I took an interest in birds and often checked out the same book about bird gardening from the library. I liked it so much that I convinced my parents to let me install a bird garden in the front yard.

Although I didn’t grow up to be an ornithologist, I have maintained an interest in birds and bird gardening which is why I’m excited about starting our next “garden-within-the Gardens” project; an ornamental bird garden around the Park House Event Center.

Rather than birdfeeders, this garden will use ornamental plants with berries, seeds, and/or nectar that attract birds, as well as plants that attract insects which are an important but often forgotten, part of a bird’s diet.  

This new garden is funded by a grant from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust. It will replace the horsetail rush that has surrounded the Park House and includes two interpretive panel signs discussing bird gardening.

Removal of the horsetail rush can take some time, so look for the garden to be completed later this fall. In the meantime, check out our great new interpretive exhibit in the Children’s Garden highlighting nest boxes, aka birdhouse, of many different native bird species.