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More Meadows

Updated: Mar 26, 2020

Recently there has been a trend for ecologically designed, naturalistic landscapes, and meadows have been one of the stars. New Directions in the American Landscape (NDAL) is one organization that has been encouraging ecological design through a series of conferences and workshops. NDAL is a nonprofit organization that looks to educate and provide effective techniques for incorporating America’s plant communities into the designed landscape. Recently they hosted a workshop that filled participants with knowledge of how to start tackling this method of design / implementation, and excitement about the potential benefits this method can have.

Photo: NDAL, courtesy Ian Quate / Nelson Byrd Woltz

Naturally, one of the largest topics for the workshop was American meadows and the associate warm season grasses and perennials. One of the themes that came across when discussing these groups was that a meadow is a community, not separate individual plants living in one space. We all understand this concept when we see a meadow in nature, it blends all its separate parts to create a harmonious community. When designing one, this translates to creating a plant palette that fills every niche.

The niches, of course include above ground space (your tall plants, your running plants, medium bunching plants, etc.), but it also includes space below the surface, such as root depth and width, to make sure soil room is filled properly. There is also the niche of time. Not just for the blooming charts to ensure there is color, (although making sure everything isn’t blooming at the same time is important) but also time over years. The niches for plants that will show up quick to cover dirt should be filled as your longer-term plants become established.

Each of the niches of a meadow play an important role in creating a hardy landscape that can make the maintenance of a typical lawn look excessive. After an establishment period, assuming all niches have been properly filled, the maintenance of a meadow can be minuscule.

Larry Weaner and Associates, Salt Point NY

During the workshop more information about what to consider when selecting plants for the meadow community was discussed. Understanding how a plant seeds or spreads will help determine its best locations within a project and how it can quickly fill in. Being aware of a plant’s competitiveness will make it possible to select species that will work together and not completely crowd each other out. Additionally, one of the best precedents we can use is nature herself, to look for which plants coexist happily together, in specific environments.

Much more than meadows and the topics above were discussed during the workshop but meadows have been acknowledged for their durability, beauty, ecological benefits, low maintenance, and potential carbon sequestering skills that make them an extremely important community. As we continue to design, we should create landscapes that blend ecology into aesthetics and the human experience. Meadow systems (as a whole, not just their components) can play a huge role in creating spaces with layered benefits, and organizations such as NDAL are helping spread the word.


Ellen Biegert, RLA

Providence, RI

Horsley Witten Group

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