Lawn to Meadow: Gardening on the Wild Side
While my gardens have never been manicured, I did find myself instituting design ideas and practices based on urban and suburban experiences, conformity and aesthetics. (When in the city do as your neighbors do.) When I moved to the country, I relocated some now-evident and misguided gardening protocols, and acted as if I was still cultivating a small city yard, when in fact I had about one acre of ornamental garden space around the house.
Eight years later this aching gardener has figured it out. I don’t need to mow two acres. I don’t have to plant 50-foot perennial borders or elaborate displays of annual flowers. In fact, as seen in the photo below, I can mow the ‘sideburns’ of the drive and let the sidling wild things grow freely.I came to the conclusion that a dandelion is no less impressive than a poppy and that grass and seed heads are the new must-have for rural gardens everywhere. Got a dead tree, twisted, gnarly and falling apart? Well that my friends is natural art at its best, though I suggest no picnics under its feeble branches.
I’ve cinched in the lawn to include about a hundred-foot perimeter around the house, enough space to support impromptu croquet, proper lawn lounging, dog play (when and if the spirit should move Boz and Gracie off the porch) and horse play (when and if the spirit should move me off of the hammock).
Now that I’ve accepted the idea that wild wins the gardening battle (unless you have staff), I have a new plan to passively (in relative terms) encourage the fields outside the lawn perimeter to do their own thing. Here’s how it’s going down, starting now:
- July-August: let it grow, let it grow, let it grow
- September – October: mow down the dried vegetation, leave it in place, plant spring-blooming naturalizing bulbs
- November – January: let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
- February – March: Rough up some areas to expose soil, scatter wild flower seeds
- April onward: enjoy rampant growth and seasonal reinvention
- Mow needed paths through meadows or mow edges to neaten up the look
I believe the key to success will be mowing down the field in the fall and adding wildflower seeds and bulbs annually to establish some floral dominance among the grass and more invasive weeds.
First year: I planted some Regale Album and Turk’s Cap lily bulbs as well as tossed in some red clover, Shirley poppies, calendula, bachelor buttons, columbine, lupine and forget me knots seeds. I added some daylilies and called it a day. By choosing herbaceous (non-woody) grasses and flowering perennial and annual plants, I can simply put them to bed by mowing them down in the fall. A final mowing creates mulch and scatters seeds. This grand plan may not work, but I’m willing to give it a try, as it’s based on what I don’t do, rather than what I do. (Less is more is my new gardening philosophy.)