Monthly Archives: May 2011

Anticipation

The Library Meadow Committee members could not be happier with the way this has turned out so far and the Great Falls Garden Club is very proud of its role in making it happen. We can envision class trips of young students walking over from the Great Falls Elementary School to learn about pollinators and the roll of meadows in helping to protect water quality. We can envision people driving by and admiring it and being inspired to turn part of their lawn into a native plant meadow. We can envision the many birds, bees, bats and butterflies that will find their way here and thrive as a result. In fact, butterflies have already been checking it out, evidently as anxious as we are to see flowers waving in the breeze.

The wildflowers that were selected were chosen not only for their appearance but also because they support the largest numbers of butterflies and moths, which will in turn attract birds and pollinators. Only once each year, probably in late February, the meadow will be mowed. By leaving the grasses and flowers standing until then, they will provide seeds and shelter to wildlife during the winter months. It may look a little scruffy mid-winter, but the brown grasses will be dramatic, poking out from the snow, and the birds will appreciate all the flower seed heads left standing for them to eat when there is little else available. Since all the flowers are native, we trust the birds will find them delightful.

May 20, 2011 The grasses are loving all the rain and warm temps

May 20, 2011 A "river" runs through it.

May 20, 2011 The ugly storm drain is already being enveloped by grasses.

“This is such a fabulous addition to our town,” said Heather Sandiford, Garden Club President. “Not often do we get to beautify our ‘Main Street’ and do something positive for the environment at the same time. The fact that it involved so many organizations from the community makes it even more rewarding.”

This meadow is a very cool thing, on a lot of levels – environmentally, aesthetically, and community-wise. We hope you share our enthusiasm  appreciate what the Garden Club has accomplished with the help of so many other  community organizations. It’s the kind of project that brings smiles to the faces of all who visit or drive by, and that makes us proud to live in Great Falls.

We hope you’ll check back regularly and subscribe to our blog to keep in touch with what’s happening at the Great Falls Community Meadow!

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The Big Day: Installation

The Mulch Solutions/EnviroGrow crew showed up as planned and began spreading the first two inches of organic compost over the soon-to-be meadow. After many hours of work, it was clear that this was going to be a two-day project. Imagine if we had tried to do this by hand with wheelbarrows and shovels! Talk about unrealistic…

Just a reminder: the "before" picture

The crew spread the seed the second day, then kindly put the third inch of compost on the steepest banks so that we could begin rolling out the biodegradable landscape fabric while they finished putting compost on the flat areas. The “fabric” is actually loosely woven fibers that we held in place with giant u-shaped pieces of metal. Everything – the fabric and the metal – will degrade over time, but not before the grasses and flowers have come up through it.

Mulch Solutions/EnviroGrow truck full of organic compost.

Let the spreading begin!

The final layer of compost is going down on top of the seed mixture

The first row of landscape fabric goes down on the steepest slope

Making progress - the entire "bowl" is nearly protected with landscape fabric.

Pinning the fabric into place with large U-shaped metal "pins."

Rolling out and cutting the biodegradable landscape fabric.

Success! The entire "bowl" is secured with landscape fabric.

Done! All the critical areas have been covered with biodegradable landscape fabric. All that remains to be done is to sweep all the compost out of the culverts.

Now we just have to hold our breath and wait to see if the landscape fabric does its job. It will be exciting to drive by every day to see if anything is germinating. I imagine there are lots of curious people wondering what this is all about. Someday soon we hope to have an educational sign placed near the sidewalk, explaining the value of a wildflower meadow, and noting all the organizations that contributed to help make it a reality. Once we see what germinates and blooms, we might also have a “cheat sheet” available in the library so visitors can identify the various species growing here.

Preparing the site

The installation process would be as follows: Lay out and measure the desired area, scalp the grass to discourage it from growing back, put down 2 inches of organic compost over the entire site, spread the seed mixture, then top it with one inch of organic compost.

Mulch Solutions/EnvirowGrow would arrive with a big truck and spray the compost and seed mixture. This saved countless hours of manual labor on our part, and ensured a good mixture of seed, which is very small and light and difficult to spread otherwise. We were certainly relieved to know that we wouldn’t have to spread all that compost by hand!

On April 19, 2011, Meadow Committee members arrived with their mowers and weed whackers to scalp the grass.  It was at least 9 inches tall at that point, since it hadn’t been cut yet this season, and soaking wet. We were severely out-gunned and a bit disheartened by the prospect of tackling such a big job with our measly “weapons.” Much to our surprise and delight, however, moments after we started attacking the grass, the maintenance crew hired by the County pulled into the parking lot and unloaded their commercial grade string trimmers and giant mowers! They were more than happy to cut the site for us, since they planned to do it any way. Woo Hoo! Not only did they cut it, they were able to lower their mower blades and do a great job of scalping it. We were giddy with relief.

Library Meadow Committee members: (left to right) Joan Burkgren, Dawn McDonald, Susan Cassell, Heather Sandiford, Candace Campbell, Lydia Attinger, Robin Rentsch

The "before" picture - all lawn

Much-appreciated mowing assistance

Mulch Solutions/EnviroGrow was scheduled to come the next day to install the compost and seed. Unfortunately, the weather report called for severe thunderstorms for at least the next 4 days, so the company suggested that we put off installation for a week. No sense putting down all that wonderful compost and seed, only to see it wash into the nearest stream, so we waited.

As anticipated, we had several days of severe thunderstorms plus unseasonably warm weather. Not surprisingly, the grass we had scalped recuperated quite nicely and grew quite a bit. This meant that we had to scalp it again right before Mulch Solutions/EnviroGrow could do the installation. So, with a borrowed riding mower and weed whackers, brooms and trash bags, a few of us returned to the library on April 24, 2011 to cut the grass as low as possible. We were optimistic that our second scalping would do the trick.

Next step: installation!

Selecting the seed mix and getting bids

Once we decided to go ahead with the meadow, the committee investigated compost companies and got bids,  investigated potential seed mixes and got prices, and developed a budget. We selected Mulch Solutions/EnvirowGrow because they gave us a significant discount and could provide an organic compost product approved by Fairfax County. We decided to use a mixture of 60 percent flowers/40 percent grasses to get maximum color and impact while still achieving the look of a meadow.

Cost: $3800. Biodegradable landscape fabric would cost an additional $380, and ensure that the compost mixture would stay on the slopes until grasses grew in to hold it in place. We also decided to spend $100 on two signs that reminded maintenance crews not to cut the meadow when they did their bi-monthly grass cutting.

The Great Falls Garden Club had only $1300 to devote to the project, so we now had a choice – to significantly scale back the size of the meadow or to try and raise the remaining $2,980 from other sources. Since we believed that a large, curving meadow filling the entire storm water retention pond would be quite beautiful (versus a small version near the drains), we decided to approach other community organizations to see if they would be interested in participating.

An aerial view of the site - storm water retention pond in blue (future meadow)

As it turned out, lots of other organizations in town were very excited about beautifying the library’s front and happily agreed to donate funds so that the project could happen this year. We received financial support from:

–         Great Falls Business and Professional Association

–         Great Falls Citizens Association

–         Friends of the Library

–         Great Falls Womens Club

–         Great Falls Friends

–         Newcomers of Great Falls

SunTrust Bank even helped out by agreeing not to charge us the usual penalty fees for cashing out our CD ahead of its maturity date, so the funds would be available to us right away.

Actually, it turned out great to have to reach out to other groups for additional funding because it has gotten them engaged and turned the meadow into a real community project. Now many more people feel more involved and will take special pleasure in seeing the meadow grow in, knowing they played a part in making it happen.

So, the seeds were selected, the company was hired, a work day was scheduled and we all looked forward with anticipation to seeing the meadow installed.

The Plan

Our original plan was to install a rain garden in the large, sunken area in front of the Great Falls Library to absorb some of the water before it entered the drains and to filter it slowly into the ground, rather than have large quantities of water simply feed through the two drains and into local streams and ponds. We also wanted to beautify the site and possibly hide the two unsightly cement drains.

Creation of a rain garden would have entailed removing a foot or more of earth and installing various sub-base materials to encourage drainage, then planting appropriate plants that could tolerate wet roots. Because this area is a storm water retention pond however, we discovered that we were not allowed to disturb the earth, plant trees or shrubs, or put boulders within the boundary of the pond.

So we then met with Ron Tuttle, County landscape architect and Chris Mueller, ecologist in charge of maintenance, on site, to discuss the alternative option of installing a wildflower and native grass meadow. Both were very excited about the prospect of a meadow. In fact,  Ron has been helping churches and public buildings install them around the County with great success. He devised a seed mixture that works well in these environments, gave us resources for approved organic compost and installation companies, and contacts at several seed companies that could prepare a custom mix. Chris showed us the exact boundaries of the retention pond and put us in touch with folks at the County maintenance division so that the meadow could be placed on the official plats.   Both of them couldn’t have been more helpful.

Ron also put us in touch with folks at a church in Oakton that had planted a similar meadow in an identical site so we could learn from their experience and see the results firsthand.

Oakton Unity Church site (before the meadow was planted)

Early Spring of year two at the Oakton Unity Church meadow

After talking with them and visiting their meadow, we decided to proceed with installation of a wildflower and native grass meadow because it met the same goals as a rain garden:

1. Looks beautiful and makes a nice entrance to our town

2. Hides ugly cement troughs and two large drains most of the year

3. Absorbs and slows down rain water so less goes directly into streams; acts as a filter for contaminants

4. Is very low maintenance –  crews contracted by the County will cut it once each year, late winter

5. Is more affordable than a rain garden of the same size

6. Supports lots of wildlife, pollinators, birds

7. Can serve an educational purpose for local schools and residents

8. Replaces lawn with useful, more environmentally sound plants

9. Uses all native flowers and grasses

10. On a more esoteric level, it will be good for the community too, building community pride and community spirit.

Next: determine the seed mix, solicit bids, determine the budget and raise funds!

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Welcome to the Great Falls Garden Club Blog, written by gardeners, for gardeners and for those who would like to get into gardening. We will be using this space to post photos and information about the  7,000 SF wildflower and … Continue reading