This past week Amanda Lavallee, my gardening co-conspirator, and I gave a talk on Magnificent Meadows. What we both came away with is that it is a really complex subject. The simple bit is why do it at all:
Create an ecosystem that is friendly to humans, pets, and wildlife
Over time, requires less inputs of time, water, fertilizers, herbicides
Beautiful to look at and be in
I have designed a few meadows and Amanda has had a big hand in managing them. She will tell you that the first two years are a challenge (weeding, weeding, weeding), but if you can get to the third year things start to smooth out. By then, the management becomes occasional weed scouting and a big once-a-year cut-down and rake-out.
The first and probably the most important step is to clear the area of existing vegetation. I shorted this step in my own garden and paid for it by having to start over which cost me a full year! This meadow-to-be, inspired by a planting I saw at Nancy Goodwin’s garden Montrose, was cleared 2013, cleared AGAIN 2014, left fallow 2015, planted out 2016. Then the drought started … it’s a long-term undertaking.
Next on the really important list: select a plant community that will thrive in your conditions. Don’t fight the site! Plant ‘plugs’ or small plants closer together than you typically would for quicker coverage and more weed suppression.
Once planted, weed, water, weed, water, weed. The first year of the meadow below saw an awful crop of crab grass. We spent a lot of time that summer eradicating this nasty problem.
By year three, the meadow should be looking just as you imagined it. But don’t expect it to stay that way! A meadow is a garden of a different kind. It is not filled with individual plants, it is a whole thing unto itself. Plants will move around, some will die out, others may take over more than their share of real estate. But this is the fun of it!
Treat it like a science experiment and you will enjoy the process … well maybe not all that weeding. To take a deep dive into this complex subject, read any or all of these wonderful books:
Garden Revolution, Larry Weaner & Thomas Christopher
Meadows, Christopher Lloyd
Planting in a Post-Wild World, Thomas Rainer & Claudia West
The American Meadow Garden, John Greenlee