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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).

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

Susan Harris
on December 5, 2014 at 9:44 am, in the category Designs, Tricks, and Schemes, Lawn Reform, Unusually Clever People.

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  1. Chris - PEC

    1st January 1970 at 4:00 am

    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?

  2. Anne Wareham

    30th July 2005 at 12:55 am

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

  3. Sarah

    13th August 2011 at 1:09 pm

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

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