Heading into winter with another year under our belts.

All too soon, it seems, the meadow is getting ready for winter. We did actually have a spectacular spring and summer with less heat and humidity than we are used to, and the meadow flowers responded in kind. If we didn’t know better, we’d think we had planted the XXL size of some of them because they ended up towering over people, deer and their fellow meadow plants. The only thing taller than the sunflowers was the unidentified “monster grass” clump near the library that comes back bigger every year. Rather than try to eradicate it, we decided to play along, moving three large clumps of it down into the lowest portion of the storm water retention pond where its height is an asset.

Goldenrod September 2014

Goldenrod September 2014

In September, several Great Falls Garden Club members and two gardeners from L’Auberge Chez Francois spent several hours pulling out invasive vines, pounds of stilt grass and large pokeberries that would multiply profusely if we didn’t get them out before they set seed. There is more of this work to be done, so one more work day before winter might be in the cards.

We also added 18 large pots of grasses that we bought on sale from Meadows Farms. These were planted in areas cleared by the removal of the weeds so that bare dirt wasn’t left open for even more weeds to move in. There is nothing more inviting than bare earth!

View from the sidewalk September 2014

View from the sidewalk September 2014

Diversity in the bowl.

Surprising diversity in the bowl

Looking towards the Freedom MemorialSeptember 2014

Looking towards the Freedom MemorialSeptember 2014

In an effort to improve the plant mix and diversity of the meadow, we reached out to Joanne Shumpert of Tree Frog Nursery on Georgetown Pike for advice. She graciously spent time wandering around the jungle and gave us lots of great ideas for things we can do in the future, including making a path through the meadow so that visitors can see more of what’s growing there than just what is thriving along the edges, and adding large swaths of grass to extend the season beyond flower-blooming months and to get faster impact than planting them individually and waiting for them to spread. More grass would also provide the much-needed breeze-induced movement that rigid flower stems don’t offer.

Several Garden Club members also attended a fabulous talk by Larry Weaner on creating meadows, or as he called them “self-profierating landscapes.” Sponsored by George Washington University’s landscape design program in conjunction with the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy, the program included a tour of the Dumbarton Oaks Park and helpful information on what they are doing to restore acres of meadows originally planned by famed landscape designer Beatrix Farrand.

Lots of seed heads for hungry birds, September 2014

Lots of seed heads for hungry birds, September 2014

Area being cleared of invasive vines September 2014

Area being cleared of invasive vines September 2014

From Mr. Weaner, we learned what we could have done differently in designing and planting our meadow (ah, 20/20 hindsight), and what we could do now to improve it. We were also reassured to learn that we did many things correctly, and were reminded that it not only takes 3 to 5 years for a meadow to get established, but that it will always be a work in progress as plants either thrive or die and new ones show up on their own. We learned about specific warm season grasses that should do well in our environment; how to identify flowers that will thrive in our particular plant community; and when and how to remove weeds. In our case, cutting them down is better than digging them out. Who knew? It was time well spent, and we all came away excited about putting into practice all that we learned.

September 2014

September 2014 view from the library

Plants overgrowing the "Do Not Mow" sign in September 2014

Plants overgrowing the “Do Not Mow” sign in September 2014

It doesn’t look like much is happening these days in the meadow. In fact, it’s not especially pretty to those who prefer an organized flower bed to the controlled chaos of a meadow, but it is still a valuable addition to the environment. There are important reasons why we leave “all that dead stuff” standing until early spring. Birds are enjoying the many seeds that will help them get through the winter, and pollinator eggs are laid and ready to over-winter in the thousands of dry flower stems. The grasses we planted last month are growing roots so they are ready to explode in the spring and we are busy making plans for adding even more as soon as possible. We might even try sprinkling native flower seeds in there before the ground freezes this year so that they can germinate after going through the cold winter months.

If you would like an updated list of the plants and grasses now in the meadow, click on the link below:

Library Meadow Plants and Grasses 2014

Milkweed going to seed in September 2014

Milkweed going to seed in September 2014

Milkweed going to seed

Invasive knot weed


4 responses to “Heading into winter with another year under our belts.

  1. joanburkgren@cox.net

    What a wonderful article you have done! Do you think parts of it could be used as an article for the Connection? Joan

  2. Thank you for all your hard work. Perhaps you could update your plant list this year with what worked well and what didn’t. Judy

    • Good idea. We will be adding lots of grasses this spring so keep an eye out for those.

    • Judy:
      Sorry I didn’t see your comment on the Great Falls Garden Club blog until now. I only add posts seasonally. It would be nice to note which plants worked well and which didn’t. Maybe we’ll get to that in the future. At the moment, all of our energy has been devoted to trying to expand the diversity of flowers and get more grasses to muscle their way in. It has been an uphill battle. In the meantime, there is a terrific binder in the library near the reference desk that the garden club prepared. It has a page on every plant in the meadow, with the exception of the items (mentioned in the recent blog post) that we planted in April and June. Perhaps you could “reverse engineer” your question – if you see something in the binder that you can’t find in the meadow, it either didn’t make it, the deer ate the blossom so you can’t identify it, or it’s simply smothered by the sunflowers (aka thugs). Feel free to squeeze your way down the paths to get a closer look farther in. It’s impossible to see much from the edges.

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