Meadows – Natural and Man-Made – Is There a Difference?

Meadow-in-June

Posted meadow

Here we go again, differentiating nature and the wildlife that use native gardens. Replicate, “improve” and alter nature. Why do we do it, especially in urban gardens? Sometimes for aesthetics, other times for wildlife, but sometimes the two shall meet. So we want to make a meadow.  How long do they last is always the question. Nature will find a way to “mess up” our beautiful plans and revert to native plants (or non-native) we might not desire. Almost all the time, it happens in meadows. Wildflower meadows by nature are in a transitional stage, always becoming something else. Have a look at all the meadows pictured and see how you feel about the natural meadows and the man-made meadows. Also, at the end of the post, a garden walk garden that is all natural.

First up below, is an example of a man-made meadow that reverted after two short years, June 11, 2012- June 12, 2014. Hardly a self-seeding poppy in sight after having them in great mass in 2012 and 2013. I really had to hunt this year to get the small group in the gallery below.

Grasses in Meadows

I mentioned on a previous post that grasses are an essential component of a self-sustaining native garden. Many people just add a few clumps of grass when making a meadow. This is not the way native grasses occur in a working meadow. They are more spread throughout. People often don’t recognize a wildflower meadow is an interactive plant community. It is not just a collection of individual specimens.

The grasses provide many important functions in a complex meadow habitat. They prevent erosion, support tall flowers, take up space that would end up as unwanted weeds, and most of all, they provide shelter and food for critters. Grasses are what those objecting to floppy-flower meadows in cities and suburbs deem as weedy. Above is a man-made flower meadow, complete with supporting grasses. I will show this large rural meadow later. It looks untidy and weedy, but there is no denying the beauty. It is an example of a flower meadow being in the right place. How many made-made meadows do you see this well done?

How Should a Meadow Look?

Funny thing, it really is hard to describe how a meadow should look. Its purpose is to feed, shelter and allow procreation of species that inhabit it, so its function is well described. The natural habitat usually has more opportunity for wildlife than our built environment, but both have their place for birds, animals, insects and vegetation.

Do you know certain types of meadows grow better on an incline? This is because the slope discourages unwanted plant species that cannot grow in these drier, less root-clinging conditions.

Meadow-on-hill

One problem facing meadow making is the amount of space afforded. Working meadows are usually a bit larger than we can create in our suburban and urban areas, but both have their own place.  I prefer calling these designed urban spaces by another name, but they do help green up our cities and invite nature to spend some time.

Natural wild meadows below. Click on all the galleries to see both natural and man-made meadows. Worth seeing bigger.

Making of a Meadow

We seed the wildflowers and what shows up, but wildflowers we did not invite. Usually, the first few years we get what we want if we use specialized seed mixtures, but then the unruly grasses and weeds take control. See the poppy example above.

coneflower-fleabane

Meadows we seed in designed meadows are usually a combination of both perennial and annual flowers, and they need a rich, moister, WEED FREE soil to get started and established. Many natural wildflowers generally require impoverished soils though. Our gardens are better conditioned most times and can defeat certain plants vigor over time.

One thing that makes meadow making difficult, is getting the seed established in the first place and simultaneously keeping unwanted weeds out. Soils need to be right so does the amount of water provided.

Man-made-Meadow-3

A man-made meadow with self-seeding flowers above. It has lots of flowers, but still has that weedy look. In time without maintenance, this flower meadow will also revert.  The other meadows in the gallery also have the “right” amount of grasses.

Natural meadows have to be maintained by grazing, storm or fire or they revert back to having shrubs and tree cover over time. Man-made meadows will need mowing. Either way, having a meadow natural, or man-made is a plus to wildlife.

OAL-and-Insects

Plants that insects and birds like are plants for the meadows.

Do People Really Plant Weeds?

And where does our garden walk take us? To an urban garden that just lets nature have her way. This gardener does add native perennials and trees, but in this garden you see a lot of what mainstream gardeners would call weeds. Milkweed was generously planted in the front garden. Do you know what plants you are seeing in the gallery below? Queen Anne’s Lace and yarrow liberally planted.

Fleabane-Thistle-Goldenrod

And yes, this city gardener is not adored by her neighbors all because she has an alternative garden. Some have gotten the City inspector after her. Her garden is very overgrown and densely planted, yet I admire her taking a stand to keep her garden natural in every respect. Looking down her street, I saw house after house with lush green lawns. I bet birds, bees and butterflies like her property much better, even if the neighbors don’t.

In this post, I showed four man-made meadows. You may or may not like this look for a suburban garden, but in a rural setting for the peaceful view, it is one the world over enjoyed by many.

Where do we garden walk next on GWGT? A place 180° opposite than this one.

On Nature and Wildlife PicsCatching a Ride. What can that be about?

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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53 Responses to Meadows – Natural and Man-Made – Is There a Difference?

  1. Merilee says:

    I actually like that look in a suburban garden. When I see one, or walk by one, it makes me want to linger, look and admire it. Something about it makes my blood pressure go down.

    • That is true about lowering blood pressure. I read somewhere a study saying we are hardwired to like this look. My own garden is almost fully planted with many native plants and loads of flowers. When I installed this garden, I took some flack from a neighbor a few streets over. Said I would attract rats. Funny, now a few neighbors are starting to lose more and more grass too.

      • Merilee says:

        They said you would attract rats??? That’s kind of funny, and a really bizarre thing to say. I think it’s good for the soul, the spirit and the sense of place to have lots of natives and flowers, and less lawn! Especially in California…

  2. swo8 says:

    We do it because we can. There is always a challenge there. We have a few of those wild gardens here. Sometimes even mine gets a bit out of hand and needs a real good weeding.
    Leslie

  3. Oh Donna, I think this is my very favorite of your posts–ever! So informative and beautiful. I was just thinking the other day–it’s not really the plants that make a native garden (or meadow) seem messy to some people, it’s the natural spacing of them and with grasses. I like it. But if a person wants a more tidy garden, they can find ways to arrange native plants to support each other, and they can add beautiful stakes and supports–just like they do with other garden plants. If they want a bigger meadow or prairie, they’ll have to accept a little change from year to year. To be honest, though, the soil in many prairies (meadows) is some of the richest in the world. That’s why they’ve disappeared–at last here in the Midwest. The deep, rich prairie land was snatched up for farmland. It has less to do with the soil type, and more to do with which plants you pick. So, anyway, just about any soil type can support a meadow or prairie style garden–you just have to pick the right plants for your climate and soil. I love this post!!! Also, you and your readers might enjoy this excellent presentation by Neil Diboll, of Prairie Nursery, Westfield, Wis.: http://wpt.org/University-Place/five-steps-successful-prairie-meadow. He has some excellent suggestions for starting and maintaining a prairie meadow.

    • Thanks for the added info, Beth. Soils are so different here as we have never had prairies. We don’t have that deep, rich soil you would have. Our designed meadows are based on our soil and there are so many mixes from which to select to get the right combination of soil and plants. You are right, there is a mix that will satisfy almost any soil condition. Also, it is based on terrain as in the slope like in retention ponds for instance. Around these ponds a special mix is used that holds to the slope. They are so beautiful the first few years, then they turn to whatever vegetation is predominate in the area. The article in your link would be very helpful because the main issue over time is in maintaining the meadow. I wish we did have prairies here. I think they are some of the most beautiful landscapes and scenery.

  4. Mike says:

    Terrific report and some really nice photography. I see people around here trying to reestablish “prairie” sometimes in large areas and sometimes in very small strips, such as along bike paths. I’m not sure if, as your experience showed, that all of the work to select varieties will lead to the prairie mixture they’re hoping for. It seems very likely that without a lot of human intervention these selected varieties will be overwhelmed by lots of uninvited weeds and grasses.

    • In my experience, the meadows do get overwhelmed. The poppy meadow above also had Leucanthemum in numbers too. I should have added that image from this year. They overtook the meadow where it was large swaths of daisies in late June. Then they go to seed and all the mid summer “weeds” move in. Fall might bring the asters (seeded originally) but I am seeing a lot of Chickory, QAL and thistle now. This particular meadow is huge, so it would be difficult to control.

  5. This was very interesting. Would you say Queen Anne’s lace is a natural plant or an invasive species?

  6. Emily Heath says:

    It makes me sad to think that neighbours would complain about such a wildlife-friendly garden and approve of sterile green lawns instead. Honestly, do some people have nothing better to do with their time?

  7. Annette says:

    I agree with Beth! Fab post, Donna, thanks for that. People often think that meadows are an easy thing to establish and maintain but far from it. There’s so much going on and it’s constantly on the move. I have done one in my mountain garden which I’m quite happy with but the best one is the one nature created in front of our new house and it’s well balanced, full of variety and wildlife. Do you know Christopher Lloyd’s book on meadows?

    • Meadows are difficult to get going. The landscaper doing the installation had to get special equipment for these jobs. Water is so important too to get the right amount on the seed. I don’t think I could get one going on my own. Location means a lot also. Our sticky, heavy clay is not meadow friendly – even though there are mixes for this type of soil too. Yes, I do know of his books. I think I would like to garden at Great Dixter.

  8. Myriade says:

    Hi Donna, what an interesting blog ! Thank you for all the information and pictures !

  9. Alisha says:

    informative and worth reading as usual..thanks for sharing Donna

  10. Alex Jones says:

    I think it better to work with nature rather than impose an opinion on it, otherwise people are wasting their time.

  11. Great discussion of meadows which as you say are quite beautiful when done right. I love to see all the butterflies and other insects they attract.

  12. Interesting post. A few days ago I interviewed the director of the Lurie Garden, which most would call a prairie or meadow-style garden (though is there a significant difference in this context between a prairie and a meadow?). Lurie is five acres, and the Director, Jennifer Davit, said that it took about 90 person hours per week to keep the garden consistent with the original design.

  13. bittster says:

    Very interesting post. I love wild gardens, but in my opinion even wild gardens need attention now and then or they become a mess. Something as simple as a neat edge, border, or path can make the most ‘exuberant’ growth look ok… but then some people will only be happy with a watered, fertilized lawn. I have a few neighbors like that and as I see them relentlessly mowing all I can think of is wow, what a time sucking waste.

    • I agree any plot of plants improves with a nice crisp edging. A kick-edge along the garden makes a great improvement. Mowing for meadows is a better kind of mowing. Unfortunately, our city requires having some “green” and I do believe they want the grass. In Buffalo, a few homeowners had either problems, fines or neighbors mowing their urban meadows.

  14. There is a fascinating discussion about re-establishing a wild flower meadow in Dave Goulson’s book “A Sting in the Tale” – a very interesting and informative read.

  15. Phil Lanoue says:

    One thing that is truly great about these areas is they provide habitat for various wildlife.

  16. Indie says:

    I am fortunate, as at our current place we have the perfect spot for a meadow – a detention pond out in our backyard. It currently has a good amount of grasses, ferns, and some wildflowers. It also has a good amount of invasives (Purple Loosestrife), so I’ve spent a good amount of time cutting those out. I plan to add more flowering natives. I’m sure it will need some upkeep, but I think it would be such a beneficial place for wildlife.

  17. A.M.B. says:

    Beautiful pictures! I’d never thought about how quickly nature reclaims the land. I notice it with man-made structures, though (the vines that grow on the house, the saplings that sprout in the gutters, etc). We have to engage in constant maintenance to keep nature at bay.

  18. Roger Brook says:

    What fantastic pictures!
    Creating such gardens artificially is such hard work and very skilled and very labour intensive as well you know. Sadly many people fail.
    I have just returned from a holiday at Tignes in the French Alps at 2500 metres and the wild flowers are absolutely superb. We were down on our knees looking at the alpine plants all the time. I will be blogging about it next month and I have some lovely pictures. Sadly not up to your photographic standard Donna but good enough to generate discussion

    • Very hard work keeping them more than a few years. You visited a place where the meadows would be heavenly. It will be a pleasure to visit your site and see all the wonderful alpine flowers.

  19. Sigh. I love meadows, both man made and natural. It’s my childhood dream to go flower picking in a real meadow.

  20. Always so calming to read your wonderful posts and gaze upon your beautiful flowers, whether in meadows, gardens, or pots. Thank you, Donna!

  21. I will walk 4 hours to get to a mountain meadow to sit just 20 minutes to breath in the beauty and feel the sunshine….Love the photos.

  22. Brian Comeau says:

    Walking through a meadow with my kids is the next best thing to walking beach. They love to discover and there are so many opportunities if we only look for them.

    • I love both too. I might be in Maine in September (depends on getting a place to stay) going to Bar Harbor with a friend. She wants to go to the Bay of Fundy. I thought it really odd she mentioned there. If we go, I will let you know. I told her about your photos since what she wants to see is the beach and sunsets.

  23. Absolutely WOW!
    Now I understand why the shaggy, natural look is so hard to keep…because it’s a transitional stage in nature.
    Thank you for this refreshing and affirming (in that I’m the one who has had to justify a ‘natural’ garden in front of the house to the HOA) post.
    Love the pics, love the science, love the prose…

  24. Denise says:

    In our city many meadows have appeared in the last few years. I don’t know if it was deliberate or whether the city just has no money for mowing the verges, but I love it. It is very cheerful and must be wonderful for the wildlife.

  25. Well you know I have a meadow. It is at the back of our property bordering a wild area. When the ground was all cleared only invasive weeds grew in it so we gradually planted some natives and have been carefully taking out teasel and thistle as they will take over the entire area especially in the first several years after an area has been cleared. Since providing a more native natural meadow with grasses and a variety of wildflowers, we have an abundance of critters who visit and take up residence. And many native plants have found their way into the meadow. We do not mow our meadow as nature doesn’t mow them…It is flattened by winter and weather and grows right back through the old plant material which as it breaks down provides soil and nutrients eventually and nesting for wildlife.

    • What you do on your meadow, “as nature doesn’t mow them,” is what happened with the poppy meadow in the post. They did not mow it and all the seeding weeds of fall pushed out all the poppies. The reason for mowing is to cut off the top of faster growing weeds to allow the more delicate and slower growing meadow flowers and native plants a chance to grow. The opportunistic weeds grow too fast, shading out the wildflowers before they have a chance to flourish or even sprout. In spring, the daisies also crowded out the other wildflowers. These daisies are considered invasive in some states and Canada, and this meadow represents why. The asters never came in this year because of this succession process. Your meadow is better managed – similar to your gardens – so it has a fighting chance against weeds. These much larger meadows I am showing, natural and man-made, have completely different management. They are professionally cared for, and I suspect the poppy meadow will be replanted at some point in the future. It is a very popular attraction to this park and community.

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