Designs, Tricks, and Schemes, Lawn Reform, Unusually Clever People

Meadow Day in Maryland

Meadows are HOT these days, thanks to anti-lawn sentiments, concern for pollinators, and some smart designers and plant researchers.  I encountered all of the above one day last month.

University of Maryland at College Park

First I attended a talk+tour at the University of Maryland about the meadows on their campus (which is a certified arboretum now, just like the Swarthmore campus, we hope).

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The meadow shown below is just two acres, but that’s room enough for 60 different native species, according to the signage.  I’m told the soil here was something called “gravel-infused clay,” which sounds horrible and apparently can’t even sustain a meadow.  So there was much amending with compost.  Without amendment only scrub trees, like black locust, would grow there.

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The meadow’s now four years old, and looks good even in November.

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Notice how the meadow is made nonthreatening to passersby?  By creating a nice wide mowed path for people to use without fear of ticks or snakes.

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Larry Weaner in Annapolis

Later that day I attended a talk by the amazing New Jersey meadow-maker Larry Weaner at the Annapolis Horticulture Society.  I’d heard Larry talk on the subject years ago but this talk was totally new to me because after creating 200+ meadows over 30 years, he’s evolved, along with his methods (especially) and plant choices.

So here are some take-aways about naturalistic design and meadow-making from the East Coast expert.

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Larry Weaner at the Annapolis Horticulture Society.

  • Cheaper and easier than buying and maintaining every plant is using volunteers – whatever is in the local seed bank.
  • He prefers “management” over the term “maintenance” and the key is managing for plants you want and against the others.  Exploit their differences.  E.g., pasture grasses sprout up early, so they’re mowed aggressively in the spring. Stop mowing in early summer when native grasses like Little Bluestem are actively growing.  
  • Tackle invasives in the least-invaded area first, while it’s easy.
  • Adopt a different level of wildness.
  • Observe how plants spread to achieve the colonization effect you want. E.g. if a desired plant is spread by birds, give birds reason to stay in your yard and make their deposits there, so to speak.
  • Meadows start to look good in their third year.
  • In the Q&A he was asked how to get rid of weeds growing among plants.  The answer – cut, don’t pull, which just creates  disturbance, which means more weeds.  Larry says you can cut four weeds at the base in the time it takes to pull one.
  • Asked about mulch, Larry says his goal is to wean the garden off mulch entirely, by using plants that fill in.
  • Meadows are mowed in late winter, with the cuttings left to die.

A Few Plants

  • Meadow plants do well from seeds, which are viable for a long time, and the best seed source of seeds is the plants themselves, not seeds you can buy.  Some plants can’t be seeded, though, like Pennsylvania Sedge, for which live plants are used.
  • Larry loves Husker’s Red Penstemon, which seeds around.  Plants that reproduce are a good thing.
  • He also looks for plants that quickly and densely cover, thereby inhibiting weeds. Like Golden Groundsel, which spreads vegetatively.
  • Not a native-plant purist, he finds political boundaries particularly unhelpful. (Even in small state like New Jersey there’s a variety of habitats.)  He’s cautious about using cultivars of native plants, though, since they may not provide as much for pollinators as the species.

 In Print

weaner lam

More evidence that meadows and Larry Weaner are hot is the huge feature about them in the new issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine, which happens to be free online this month.  Go to page 76 for a terrific article by Anne Raver, with full plant lists, designs, and more from Larry.  The article also details the enormous cost savings enjoyed by the city of Stamford, CT after converting parkland from lawn to meadow.

And I was happy to learn that Larry is working on a book about all this, with Thomas Christopher and Timber Press.  Tom told me that it’s fascinating to him “because Larry’s successes contradict so much of the traditional horticulture that I learned as a student at the New York Botanical Garden.”  Goody.

Posted by on December 5, 2014 at 9:44 am, in the category Designs, Tricks, and Schemes, Lawn Reform, Unusually Clever People.
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7 responses to “Meadow Day in Maryland”

  1. Chris - PEC says:

    Cool – did Larry talk at all about size? ie the Maryland meadow was 2 acres – in his experience, is there a minimum size that will ensure a ‘successful’ meadow?

    • Susan Harris Susan Harris says:

      Larry’s answer via email: Regarding the first question, there is no minimum size. Smaller meadows actually give you the opportunity to have a quicker effect with live plants.

  2. Anne Wareham says:

    Beware the UK – what works in USA won’t be the same here…

  3. Tibs says:

    I just can’t get into the meadow thing. If I wanted to go all native plants and have my landscaping as an example of pre-Europeans l would have a forest. Which suits me fine. Shade plants have always been my love. ( I preserve violets in my garden, a weed to many, but yank goldenrod as a weed,). Maybe the fact that this part of the country was all forest is why what I see as meadows are abandoned farm fields that are in step one of reverting back to trees. Mainly wild mustard. Looks like munchkin land when in bloom.

    We hiked a lot as kids and I found the wooded areas so much more interesting. Uneven terrain and rocks to climb on. Cooler temps. The meadow trails hot and stuffy. Flat. Boring. I’m not anti-meadow, just not interested. Call it a flaw in my garden character.

    • David mcMullin says:

      I think the point is that it is a garden. Sure it is planted in a meadow style, but its a garden nonetheless. The style of planting is manageable whether natives are used or not, and is compelling and beautiful in all seasons and seems perfectly site suitable. I like it.

  4. Sarah says:

    I heard Larry speak about meadow-making at Lahr symposium (US Nat’l Arboretum native plant conference) maybe 10 or 15 years ago.

    Apparently, he just worked on a meadow project for Dumbarton Oaks Conservancy in the park adjacent to the estate garden here in D.C. Unfortunately, I missed the program related to that — there was a lecture and tour. (Maybe you attended?) I’ve just attempted a small meadow-like planting in my own garden (and emailed Larry Weaner’s firm who declined to offer advice long distance — not surprising.) I got a stormwater grant from Arlington county to do it (they deem it a “conservation planting”, one of the actions they support to help improve water quality of Chesapeake Bay watershed) and they require planting be all “natives.” We shall see. If left to my own devices I would have used Sesleria autumnalis instead of Sporobolus and may end up substituting at some point because I fear conditions may not be sunny enough for Sporobolus. Sort of silly. Sporobolus is barely extant in VA and then only to a tiny area, but the county approved it. So I appreciate that LWeaner is not a purist. Glad to know he is writing a book!

  5. Pam J. says:

    In the 98-acre park next to my house there are two small meadows that were started a number of years ago. In their questionable wisdom the park employees mow them down in September, just when they are at their peak. Drives me insane. And they don’t even leave behind what they cut down. I’ve always thought this was a make-work project for park employees with big mowers and nothing else to do in late summer. Every time I see them while I’m walking in the park I mentally compose an email of complaint. But by the time I’m back in my house I’ve forgotten about it. Your post inspires me to write to them, maybe tonight, and include some of the good advice you offer.

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