Today’s photos are from James Dillon.
I own a small landscaping/gardening company located near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. We specialize in residential landscape design/installation and small-scale ecologically valuable plantings like meadows, rain gardens, pollinator gardens, etc. Below are photos I took over a three-year period (part of four growing seasons) of a pocket meadow we planted from seed in 2019.
Here’s the site on June 25, 2019, before sowing the meadow seed. We delayed seeding until the end of June to give us more time to prepare the site. The first key to success was making sure that there wasn’t any existing vegetation or weeds (cool-season weeds OR warm-season weeds) and that the soil seed bank was depleted of invasive plants.
This is from October 29, 2019, just four months after seeding. The newly seeded meadow was watered a couple times per week during this first summer to speed up germination. The yellow flowers are Rudbeckia hirta (Zones 3–8). Weeds that were coming in were addressed before they could get established, clone themselves, or set seed.
One year after seeding: Rudbeckia hirta is blooming heavily, a butterfly weed flower (Asclepias tuberosa, Zones 3–9) is already visible, a few purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea, Zones 3–8) are mature enough to flower, and the Coreopsis lanceolata (Zones 4–9) came up extremely well from seed and will be next to flower.
One month after the previous photo, the Coreopsis lanceolata chimed in to make a solid cover of yellow flowers. A few more Echinacea purpurea started to flower as well.
Three weeks later, we cut back the Rudbeckia hirta and Coreopsis lanceolata to allow more direct sunlight down to the slower, longer-lived perennials like butterfly weed, smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve, Zones 4–8), and stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida, Zones 3–9). Lavender hyssop (Agastache foeniculum, Zones 2–6) is starting to make an appearance. Allium ‘Millenium’ (Zones 5–8) blossoms in the foreground, and a small area of “Low-Mow” grass is starting to grow in.
Two years after seeding, the meadow is filling in with various flowers, including wild quinine (Parthenium integriolium, Zones 4–8), lavender hyssop, purple coneflower, and butterfly weed. Annual fleabane (Erigeron annuus) is a welcome addition at this time, since the meadow is quite far along in its establishment and most holes are already filled. In earlier stages, the annual fleabane could become a weed. The larger, glaucous leaves and bold upright habit of stiff goldenrod are providing contrast even before its flowers open.
Monarch butterfly on lavender hyssop
During the fourth growing season, three years after sowing the meadow, we’re not seeing Coreopsis lanceolata anymore, and Rudbeckia hirta has also largely yielded to allow other native perennials to fill the area. We’re seeing lots more butterfly weed, purple coneflower, and wild quinine. We wanted to keep the meadow a bit shorter this year, so we cut everything back to 10 inches in midspring. This photo shows the regrowth seven weeks after that cut. Plants recovered totally fine and have grown back shorter and more full. We’re finally seeing some little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium, Zones 3–9) and more asters and goldenrod. Those late-blooming perennials will ensure that pollinators have forage for the rest of the season, until frost.
Since the meadow is largely established, we allow some of the annual fleabane (a native) to come in on its own, because it provides the frothy white blooms in the summer. In the fall, I rely on calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum, Zones 4–8) for a similar effect.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the history and photos of this little pocket meadow. I’m hoping this demonstrates that a “meadow” doesn’t need to be any particular size. A small site is best to start with anyway because it can be managed to become a stable plant community, requiring less weeding/monitoring over time, which may just free up some time to start the next area. Each year brings distinct changes in the seeded meadow, so the seed mix needs to be designed with the short and long term in mind. The reason this project had such a smooth, fast trajectory is because the site had virtually no competition from existing weeds, or those coming from the soil seed bank. Monitoring was frequent, and work was done early on to address weeds before they could multiply.
For more information on James and his design work, check out his website: nativehavens.com
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Awesome! Thanks for sharing.
Thank you! Sure thing!
Great to see what it takes to create a native plant area. Good Job.
So glad to hear that, thank you! I'm planning to keep up the monitoring (5 minutes every 2 weeks) to make sure Bindweed and Crown Vetch don't get established.
I love this - great job!! So pretty!!
I'm surprised that some of the more conventional lawn-loving neighbours haven't complained though....and I hope they don't.
I can't figure out what those bumpy things are on top of the garage.
Thank you! Luckily, so far so good with the neighbors, but it's a unique neighborhood with lots of like minded people (go pollinator people!). Those bumps on the roof are for breaking up snow/ice so it doesn't flatten what's below.
I agree: "Go pollinator people!" How interesting about the bumps on the roof being for breaking up snow/ice so it doesn't flatten what's below. Very interesting. Learn something new every day.
I'm so impressed! All from seeds...I never have any luck with most seeds. It was fun to read how your meadow garden changed over the months and how you cut it back at times (I've heard that called "The Chelsea chop" and I've tried it with some super tall asters and it works well!) So interesting how some plants faded away and others took over...and it all ended up looking beautiful through all the various stages!
Thank you so much! Yes, all seeds : ) We followed the things we learned at NDAL (New Directions in the American Landscape). For the seeds to sprout, we had absolutely perfect conditions: ZERO competition from existing vegetation or weeds was absolutely key. Loose soil (without deep tilling), and area small enough to use watering to push germination and erase drought stress the first season. More weeding....YES, the Chelsea chop! It's such a useful tool for managing height, bloom time and floppiness! Really appreciate your thoughtful comment : )
What a lovely meadow. All the beneficial pollinators must be so grateful for what you have achieved. And it is so very pretty. Congratulations.
Thank you, really appreciate that! It's really amazing to stand there on the sidewalk and watch the pollinators. I was climbing in there today to go after some Bindweed and Crown Vetch, and saw a Monarch larvae on the Butterfly Weed : )
Thank you, I'm so glad you enjoyed!!!
Oh how I wish every yard everywhere was a meadow like this! Imagine how beautiful that would be! We have been able to turn most of our backyard garden around the pool into a meadow-like area with lots of native pollinators, but doing the front yard is requiring me to be rather sneaky - just enlarging the planting beds a little at a time! I hope to end up with turf grass only as a pathway between beds. We are changing the grass between our raised beds in back into clover over the next several months. We gardeners saving the planet one meadow/bed at a time!! Thank you for sharing this lovely place.
Wonderful to read your comment, thank you! Oh how I wish the same! Glad to hear your plan to introduce more plants into your front yard, sounds effective! We gardeners are a HUGE force, and it's the friends we get into it because they saw the results of our toils that multiply our efforts : ) Keep it up, the pollinators thank you!
FYI- many of the concepts we applied here were learned through attending symposiums by New Directions in the American Landscape (Larry Weaner, NDAL). Many of the programs are offered online now. I also applied concepts I picked up by reading "Planting in a Post-Wild World", by Claudia West and Thomas Rainer.
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