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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.