Monthly Archives: December 2013

The meadow in winter

Sometimes it’s hard to look at the meadow, which was so beautiful during the growing season – a riot of yellow and green with a little white and purple scattered throughout –  and appreciate it this time of year in all it’s dry brown-ness. Everything looks dead and messy. The neatnik in most of us wants it all cut down, raked up and hauled away; after all, that’s what we do with our gardens at the end of the season.

But meadows are different. The seed heads left on brown stalks will provide much-needed food for over-wintering birds. The stems of grasses and flowers are laden with the unseen eggs of pollinators and beneficial insects that won’t emerge until temperatures become milder. Even though they are brown and tattered, the remaining grasses and flower stems provide shelter for birds and other animals. Cutting everything down now would eliminate all those benefits. Yes, it might look “better” but it would provide no more benefit than if it had remained lawn. Some of us in the Great Falls Garden Club are making a point of leaving plants with seed heads standing in our perennial beds too until they have been picked clean by local birds.  Why buy bags of bird seed when we can plant it?

It’s might be challenging to our sense of design, but it’s important to remember that meadows are not supposed to be manicured or orderly. They have to be a little bit wild to be successful. They serve many purposes beyond pleasing us during the height of the flower season and a good meadow doesn’t have a design beyond a well-curated plant mix. Think of it this way: if you were driving through the countryside this time of year and saw acres of meadow packed with native grasses and flowers along the road, would you feel the same urge to “clean it up” or would you be more likely to appreciate its natural beauty and reflect on the year-round value it offers to the environment and wildlife? Although our meadow is in front of the library right in the center of town instead of along a remote country road, try to think of it in the same terms as one in a rural setting. It’s our own little patch of wild; a different kind of beauty.

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Barely any green left in November.

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Which sunflower is that towering over everything else? Whatever it is, it’s happy.

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Looks like some tasty seeds.

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The birds were chowing down on these seed heads the day this photo was taken in early December.

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One of the new grasses planted on the edge of the meadow near the sidewalk – Panicum Virgatum ‘Haense Herms’. Commonly called red switch grass, it grows 36″ to 42″ and sets beautiful pink seed heads in the fall.

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The view from the sidewalk, looking back towards the Freedom Memorial.

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Some asters are still hanging own. Our “Please do not mow” sign is engulfed in vegetation. Fortunately the County’s mowing team knows not to cut the meadow until February or March.

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Move in close to see how many seed heads are waiting to be eaten.

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This was a feast for some lucky birds.

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I’m not sure, but these seed heads look like they’ve already been picked clean and it’s only December.