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.
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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