Meadows are a desired garden type for those with anti-lawn sentiments and concern for diminishing pollinators. Large garden beds filled with perennials have been popular as well.
I mentioned in yesterday’s post how a new wave of gardening is on the horizon. Unfortunately what started as a way to bring wildlife to the home garden, is slowly shifting into low gear if not jamming into reverse.
It is becoming all about garden maintenance and when making gardens, seriously thinking about long-term care. What can you handle? Health issues may surface preventing tending so many gardens.
Yes, those lawns are starting to reappear and if not lawns, lots of gravel, rocks, concrete, paving and decking over entire properties. This is happening more and more. My own garden has quite a bit of modular hardscape materials in paths, walls, driveway, and entertaining areas. I could not handle all the gardens if I did not have all this hardscaping. Also in my garden there are quite a few shrubs and trees.
I cannot even imagine being those folks that dug up acres of garden space, even though I have designed such properties, all of which have teams of paid gardeners.
I think one has to consider that a small garden well maintained is much more beautiful than a large garden insufficiently or inadequately cared for.
For all those that look at turf grass as labor intensive and time-consuming, it just gets mowed. I have very little to mow, and enjoy not having to weed, feed and water it like I would do for the perennials. Cutting back on perennial bed work does not mean only using native plants. Many non-native plants are better behaved garden partners.
Most gardeners actually enjoy tasks like pruning, deadheading, hand-watering, weeding, and inspecting the plants daily. Any reason to be in a garden is fine with gardeners. But as gardeners age, these activities start feeling a lot more like work, with aches and pains to show for it.
Popular as meadow gardening is, even tiny ones in a city or suburb have slowly been losing their appeal. While city “meadows” function less like a natural meadow, they make gardeners feel good about providing for wildlife, but it is not maintenance free.
Around a home, natural looking meadows can be unsightly some of the season, and much more work than many can undertake. Nature doesn’t work in terms of meadows in all places either. You just might start appreciating the ornamental merits of weeds if you can’t keep up with managing your meadow.
An authentic meadow has a good ratio of flowers to grasses, a forest it adjoins with understory plants making a pleasing transition. Most of us don’t have that amount of space, plus you have to adopt a certain amount of wildness for a meadow like that. Meadow making is actually the restoration of an entire ecosystem, but this is a garden, not a restoration.
Meadows need continual effort because some plants will try to over-run the garden while others tend to die out. Late-summer drought is the nemesis of a vibrant flower-filled meadow. Plants go dormant and you are either watering constantly or willing to deal with a browning dormancy period.
Since most of us are opposed to a garden of brown, shriveled plants, an easier path is to use native and nonnative plants to create the look of a meadow, which is what I have done in my own garden, a garden transitions color over the seasons.
Rudbeckia, coneflowers, baptisia, phlox, goldenrod, coreopsis, aster, and milkweed, can be mixed with grasses for the meadow effect, but think how aggressively these plants perform. It is best to allow them room to roam. Of course, a tiny city garden is not a meadow, but it can have planting characteristics that are beneficial for the wildlife it attracts.
Plants in my city front/side gardens that might be considered (native or non-native) prairie or meadow-like plants:
- Agastache (Will spread)
- Amsonia (Will spread)
- Aster (Both spreads and will die out over time)
- Butterfly weed (Seeds itself easily)
- Carex (removed 2012 – too aggressive)
- Coneflowers (May die out or get diseased)
- Coreopsis (Zageb stays containable, other varieties seed easily)
- Festuca glauca (Very well behaved)
- Goldenrod (removed 2014 – too aggressive)
- Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’ (Spreads easily and not native)
- Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ (Forms large, hard to remove clumps)
- Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’ (Will spread aggressively, two of the shorter cultivars , ‘Marshall’s Delight’, ‘Pardon My Pink’ behave)
- Nepeta (Walker’s Low attracts cats)
- Pennisetum setaceum (annual)
- Penstemon (Needs constant culling, seeds all over)
- Phlox (Needs constant culling)
- Rudbeckia (Hard to keep contained)
- Salvia (Will brown out, must be cut back for later season bloom)
- Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ (Will brown out, must be cut back for later season bloom)
- Sunflowers (Will seed everywhere if allowed)
- Tradescantia (removed 2013 – too aggressive)
- Verbena (seeds)
- Yarrow (Looks rangy as the season goes on)
Plants I have to keep the color through the seasons:
- Allium (Multiplies, and that is a good thing)
- Caryopteris (Bees love this non-native)
- Daylilies (Needs dividing often)
- Delphinium (Seeds itself, but well-behaved)
- Foxglove ( Self-seeds but not excessively)
- Hibiscus (Never overtook its boundaries)
- Hydrangea (Pee Gee- nice late-flowering plant)
- Iris (Gets a bit frisky in the garden but a very worthy plant)
- Iberis (Spreads)
- Lilies (Multiplies, but it is a good thing)
- Perovskia ( Bees love this non-native)
- Poppies (Dies out over time, some seed)
- Primrose (Very aggressive, spreads by runners)
- Myosotis (Seeds itself all over, easy to remove though)
- Roses (Ground cover, but gets three-feet high)
- Various annuals (All selected for wildlife)
- Tulips – (Species tulips for early show)
Hard to believe all that fits in my small garden plus the trees and shrubs, but there is even more that you might spot in the images – plus the back gardens where I did not even list the plants. My garden is always undergoing change because I get a lot of plants from my job. A few years are needed to mature on some of the plants installed. Some of the plants will be culled to have larger groups of fewer varieties, but to keep season long color, many of the non-native plants will stay.
Even small city “meadows” are an enormous amount of work if you want to maintain some order. I can’t tell you how many people think it is a lazy gardener’s garden, yet it is anything but. If you are an aging gardener, making bed after bed of continually flowering plants is going to be more work than you might imagine. And don’t think native plants are little work. They are by far the most work to keep them from choking each other out. Just read my list above.