Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Lawns, Ground Cover, & Wildflowers
Meadows Come to Town
by Karen Dardick
Many homes are better served by a naturalistic rather than traditional landscape.
A lush green carpet of mowed turf is almost synonymous with the American home landscape. Yet one of turf's virtues is also its weakness: it always looks pretty much the same. And to keep it looking the same requires considerable time and effort. If you don't need a lawn for children's play or for sports, you might consider an alternative ground cover. It goes by various names, including meadow or meadow lawn. My favorite name, because these gardens so often look natural and wild, is wildscaping.
One proponent of wildscaping is John Greenlee, founder of Greenlee Nursery in Pomona, California. "Meadows are more entertaining, artful, and -- with careful planning -- just as functional," Greenlee says. "Lawn care is more like carpet cleaning than gardening; I don't like all the chemicals and machinery that are required."
Neil Diboll, owner of Prairie Nursery in Westfield, Wisconsin, agrees. "When you make a meadow, you enter into a joint venture with the natural world. You're building a plant community that is diverse, strong, dynamic, and at times stunningly beautiful. A wild or meadow garden consumes less energy than turf and so is more ecologically sustainable." Meadows also attract an abundance of bees, birds, butterflies, and other wildlife that feast on the nectar, seeds, and pollen of the native plants used in this type of landscape.
"Wild" gardens needn't be either large or out of control.
Even though a wildscape is ultimately one of the easiest kinds of gardens to maintain, it's not necessarily simple at first. Preparation, planning, and patience are required. Depending upon where you live, several years may have to pass before your wild garden is really established. Even then, it will likely need some regular tending, if only to remove seedlings of unwanted plants.
One of National Gardening's horticultural consultants, Rick Darke, maintains a wild-looking meadow as part of his Pennsylvania yard. "We constantly have to battle invading woody plants," he says, "but overall the amount of planning and effort is comparable to any type of low maintenance garden."
Fall is the best time to plant a wild garden. It's a good time to sow most grasses, and plant perennials and bulbs. Early-spring planting works almost as well, but leaves the new seedlings vulnerable to aggressive weeds like crabgrass.