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American Society of Landscape Architects


May 2007 Issue

The Allure of the Meadow Garden
Creating a meadow garden takes patience and determination, but the results can be incredibly rewarding.

By Carole Ottesen

The Allure of the Meadow Garden Karen Bussolini 2000

There’s romance in a meadow. A field of pliant, swaying grasses and bright summer flowers evokes a time when the world was a younger, simpler, safer place. Global warming wasn’t happening, fish were jumping out of pristine lakes and streams, and genetically modified corn and soybeans were pure science fiction.

Along with a meadow’s aesthetic charms, the yearning for simpler times was and remains a force behind a meadow movement that came to life in the iconoclastic sixties. Around that time, packets of mixed wildflower seeds began appearing on the market. The idea was that one had only to scatter the seeds on the waiting ground and, presto, a meadow would spring up.

We all know that is not what happened. Typically, the results were disappointing, if not disastrous. But the allure of meadows remained. With trial, error, and energy, gardeners learned how to make them. And they now know that while meadows appear to come about as gracious, spontaneous gifts of nature, appearances deceive.

More than 20 years ago, a meadow was started at River Farm, home of the American Horticultural Society (AHS) in Alexandria, Virginia. Two acres that had once been a field and had subsequently become a lawn were disc harrowed and seeded with a suitable wildflower mix. In record time, the entire two acres produced a bumper crop of pokeweed (Phytolacca americana). Steve Davis, then horticulturist, theorized that the disc harrowing brought to the surface pokeweed seeds that had lain dormant for 100 years. They had germinated swiftly and easily outgrew the slower-developing wildflowers. Davis learned the hard way that one of the toughest places to start a meadow is in what was once a field.

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