Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
June, 2006
Regional Report

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Oxeye daisies are favorite perennials for a meadow garden.

A Meadow Garden

With the current trend of more naturalistic plantings, low-maintenance gardens, and less dependence on chemicals, one of my favorite types of gardens is the meadow garden. Once established, a meadow garden will reflect the rhythm of the seasons, starting with bulbs and tiny spring wildflowers; moving through summer with larger, more blowsy sunflowers, gaillardia, and ironweed; and finally
ending the season with beautiful grasses, goldenrod, and asters. Happily, all of these will naturally be accompanied by a plethora of butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and songbirds.

A meadow garden may be just the type of garden for you if you enjoy the natural succession of the seasons and the cycles of plants, from bloom to seed.

Meadow gardens are becoming increasingly popular because they take less maintenance time once they are established than a standard perennial garden. They are attractive alternatives to the traditional lawn, with its inherent high costs to the environment in terms of chemical use and mowing. Perhaps most importantly, wildflower meadows are beautiful, as long as we can relax and enjoy the seasonality of the garden.

Start Small
Technically, a meadow is a combination of grasses and wildflowers. Natural Midwestern meadows are mostly grasslands, so in a meadow "garden," we tend to imitate meadows of high altitudes, which have more flowers. Although you could certainly turn your entire yard into a meadow, you must decide what is practical. It is usually much easier to start simply, with a small spot of wildflowers, instead of tackling a huge undertaking such as an entire yard.

The Planning Stage
Once you have decided to plant a meadow garden, it will take some time to choose your plants. You need to design the garden for all seasons, not just the primary bloom season. In other words, choose plants that look attractive even when not in bloom.

Also, you will need to understand your soil and light conditions in order to choose plants that are compatible. Putting a little extra time into doing this research will assure you of a garden that needs little irrigation beyond the first year. Plants that naturally occur in meadow habitats will be sturdier and have a better chance of establishing themselves.

What to Expect
In the first year of a meadow garden, mostly annuals will provide a spectacular show while the perennials get established. In the second year some annuals will reseed themselves, the perennials will begin to bloom, and the weeds will take off! In the third year your meadow garden will begin to take on a mature look, and the perennials will be well-established. You may find that you need to reseed some annual flowers for more color. In this year, you will begin to see relationships between the plant community and wildlife. This is also the time to begin to evaluate and change your garden as you see fit.

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