What is in My Urban Garden?

Primrose-Catnip

Popular as meadow gardening is, even tiny ones in a city or suburb can be a lot of work. While city “meadows” function less like a natural meadow, they make gardeners feel good about providing for wildlife, but it is not maintenance free. I just had a discussion with a few other professionals about this very point.

Part of the problem with making an urban meadow is they can become unsightly some of the season, and become more work than many can undertake. You just might start appreciating the ornamental merits of weeds if you can’t keep up with maintaining your meadow.

Every meadow garden is work and every meadow garden has those “down times” eventually in the meadow’s lifetime. Look at the prairie garden from yesterday. As beautiful as it is, if that was your small city garden, the neighbors might question your choices.

Like I mentioned in the last post, as gardeners age, keeping a tidy urban meadow or heavily planted city garden can get overwhelming in maintenance. Also, planning comes to the forefront to keep the garden in color to span the seasons, keeping some semblance of a garden rather than a field.

Meadow making is actually the restoration of an entire ecosystem, but this is a garden, not a restoration, so color and bloom (grasses included) are important.

Butterfly-weed-bed

Small gardens that incorporate plants like goldenrod for instance might be in for having a thug in the garden. A beautiful plant for pollinators, goldenrod can be aggressive to say the least. I tried removing it, but it keeps popping up throughout the garden.

Front garden

Front garden

Rudbeckia, coneflowers, baptisia, phlox, goldenrod, coreopsis, aster, and milkweed, can be mixed with grasses for the meadow effect, but think how aggressively some of  these plants perform. It is best to allow them room to roam. Of course, a tiny city garden is not a meadow, yet can still have meadow 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 are listed below.

What you might notice is the self-sowing plants and plants with runners. This is where all the work surfaces. Next post looks at how Chanicleer handles these very 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 in my clay or get diseased)
  • Coreopsis (Zageb stays containable, other varieties seed easily)
  • Festuca glauca (Very well-behaved)
  • Goldenrod (removed 2014 yet is persists in the garden – far 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, even though tag says not)
  • Pennisetum setaceum (annual)
  • Penstemon (Needs constant culling, seeds all over)
  • Phlox (Needs constant culling, runs)
  • Rudbeckia (Hard to keep contained, spreads easily)
  • 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, yet it is still all over the garden, front and back – far too aggressive)
  • Various Verbena (seeds)
  • Yarrow (Looks rangy as the season goes on, but behaves to a point)

Plants I have to keep the color through the seasons:

  • Allium (Multiplies, and that is a good thing for some)
  • Caryopteris (Bees love this non-native)
  • Daylilies (Needs dividing VERY 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)
  • Lupine (Does fine and seeds, but often finicky)
  • Perovskia (Bees love this non-native)
  • Poppies (Dies out over time, but will spread)
  • Primrose (Very aggressive, spreads by runners-must be contained)
  • Myosotis (Seeds itself all over, easy to remove though)
  • Roses (Ground cover, but gets three-feet high)
  • Various annuals, like Verbena  bonariensis, (Most 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.

Pink-coneflower

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.

Pink-Monarda

I am still in Pennsylvania now (this post was made and scheduled  – provided I made it safely home). I hope you enjoy the naturalistic way to gardening. Even on a tiny plot, you can add a bit of nature.

I am sure to have some very neat images on meadows and native plantings when I get back. I am planning to visit Mt. Cuba in Delaware. While I did not get there in Spring as planned, I hope they have summer blooming wildflowers. I have never been to Mt. Cuba Education Center, but their tag line is  “Gardening on a Higher Level.”  Their mission is to “inspire an appreciation for the beauty and value of native plants and a commitment to protect the habitats that sustain them.” Readers here should enjoy my findings.

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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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20 Responses to What is in My Urban Garden?

  1. I never would have known/thought of this!!

  2. “Meadow making is actually the restoration of an entire ecosystem, but this is a garden, not a restoration,..”
    Excellent distinction…helps to see its management/maintenance during the growing season in proper perspective.
    I learned early on that sowing those in-the-can meadow seeds aren’t all they promise on the can’s photo!
    🙂

  3. Alesia says:

    I really like the high line in lower Manhattan . Not sure what you would call it a meadow, but it was an amazing experience walking there.

  4. swo8 says:

    Do you have any suggestions for lower maintenance garden, Donna?
    Leslie

  5. Karen says:

    I agree completely, I’ve had many people ask me why we didn’t plant a meadow garden since it would most decidedly be ‘less work’. I had one acquaintance ask why their garden didn’t turn out like the ‘can’ of seeds they planted, ‘there’s so many weeds!’ We’ve been fighting aggressive plants for years, like any other gardener. I was sold ‘Creeping Charlie’ as a ground cover ‘capable of handling foot traffic’ back in the 80’s. Yes, it can handle foot traffic, lawn mower traffic, people traffic, bulldozer traffic, egads, I wish I would have run screaming from the greenhouse that day, it’s the kudzu of our garden.

    • Oh, the weeds, yes. Planting from seed in meadows is a great way to get started with fast, annual bloom, but boy do the weed seed set in fast. Creeping Charlie here is rampant. It is a decent looking plant, but very aggressive. Your kudzu description is so funny and accurate. I never new it was sold at one time.

  6. As you pointed out, some perennials spread a lot faster than others. I got two perennials at a plant exchange and planted them side by side. A few years later, one had overtaken the other. I had to search for it and rescue it. It’s been about 10 years, and now the one that spreads a lot is in large spots all over my yard, while the other plant isn’t a lot larger than it was that first year.

  7. debsgarden says:

    Your garden is gorgeous, but I would never think of it as low maintenance! I remember what a controversy arose in a Birmingham neighborhood of neat lawns when one owner turned her front yard into her vision of a meadow. Her yard had many benefits for wildlife and there were some pretty plants, but to common eyes it was all weeds. She made no effort to accommodate her neighbors, who eventually took her to court. I never heard the final result, but I remember thinking that with a bit more maintenance and a picket fence and some hardscape to define it, her neighbors would have taken a different view.

    • Thank you, Deb. Right now the work is trimming the boxwood. I do it very three years and this is the year. The boxwood is great for keeping order and adding a formal edge, but with so many of them, it is a chore every few years. They make a nice appearance to the neighbors too. We also have a gardener in our area that has been battling the neighbors because of her wildflower garden. A neighbor even mowed it one time.

  8. A.M.B. says:

    Beautiful! I’ve definitely learned to appreciate the “ornamental merits” of weeds. Ha.

  9. A “meadow garden” is more work than a plain old lawn, but so much more rewarding. They need to be carefully planned in order to maintain a good look throughout the year. They can also be made less labor-intensive, I think, by using more grasses and low woody plants. Around here I wouldn’t say meadow gardens are popular in small home gardens. There are a few, but you are much more likely to find them in parks and other larger landscapes.

    • Yes, far more rewarding. But if you saw my post on alternative lawns last year, turf grass grown long can contain many native wildflowers, not to mention added bulbs, corms, perennials, and biennials. I really like that look. Chanticleer does it so well, but my recent trip explains this apparently “easy” method is much work. I went down for their self-seeding and biennial seminar. I thought they would have tips for less work and found out it is an enormous amount of work, no different than my own garden only on a huge scale. A post is coming.

      Of course gardens can be made less labor intensive by adding trees and shrubs. Grasses are work though. They die out in the middle indicating time to split them up. They are a bear to dig out too. Some plants like carex can spread uncontrollably and are a royal pain to dig up too. Grasses are great in the beginning, but most require work over the life of the plants. You need to come to Buffalo during Garden Walk Buffalo. You would be in heaven with all the properties completely planted. Lots of Rudbeckia, Monarda and Echinacea.

  10. Karen says:

    Love your photos as always. Your first one reminded me of growing up on our ranch in Texas. The front five acres where our house sat was covered in those pink flowers at certain time of the year. People would often stop to take photos of the pasture literally covered in pink. Everyone called them buttercups where we lived.

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