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Sun Gazette article on Boy Scouts’ Monarch Project

Here is the link to the August 3, 2017 Sun Gazette article about the local Boy Scout troop that planted milkweed in the library meadow as part of a future Eagle Scout project to help Monarch butterflies.  If clicking on it doesn’t work, please copy and paste the address into your browser.



The Best Summer Ever

This might be the best summer ever for the library meadow. The grasses we have been adding over the course of several years are finally making their presence known. It should be an interesting fall, with all their tassles peaking above the dying flowers and their autumn colors livening up the brown, dried flower stems for many months into the winter. We were told that it takes three years for grasses to get established because they spend a long time putting down significant roots, and that has certainly proven to be the case here. Planting all those little plugs three years ago was a true exercise in optimism that has finally borne fruit!

We were also told that the seeds we planted six years ago would still be viable and would show up when conditions were right, even though they didn’t appear right away. That has proven true, too. There were flowers in the meadow this year that haven’t been evident in the past. Of course, we can’t be sure if that’s because the deer just have eaten them this year for some strange reason or because the seeds just didn’t germinate earlier. Maybe it was the wet spring? Or maybe they were seeds added by birds? Who knows. In any case, there is more diversity in the meadow this year, more color (beyond yellow) and way more grass.

Even a short visit on a sunny day provided visitors with the opportunity  to see and hear dozens of bees and other pollinators enjoying the flowers. They were so preoccupied that you could practically stick your hands amongst them and they would ignore you. We have spotted a few Monarch butterflies in the mix as well, which is heartening.

Speaking of Monarchs, a local Boy Scout troop recently did us a huge favor while helping one of their members become an Eagle Scout.  He was looking for a place to plant milkweed and establish a Monarch Way Station. We were looking for help removing some invasive weeds from the meadow and the meadow is conveniently already certified as a Way Station. It was a match made in heaven. Every place the Boy Scouts removed invasive weeds and a huge patch of what we have come to call “Monster Grass”, they planted milkweed. They also cleared a buffer around the ugly stormwater drain to keep the County happy while protecting as much of our grasses and flowers as possible. The newly-certified Eagle Scout has also taken on the responsibility of watering the newly planted milkweed to ensure their survival. This means next year we will have even more of the food necessary for Monarch survival. Yeah!

Here are a few photos of the meadow this summer.

A growing patch of Mountain Mint.

Someone enjoying the bee balm.

A large new area of grass on the slope near the sidewalk.

Grasses peaking above the native sunflowers.

Bee balm that made its way over from the perennial garden on the other side of the sidewalk, plus some of the “new” grass.

Grasses shouldering their way amongst the sunflowers.

A Quick Check of the Meadow Before Winter

Stopping by the meadow one day in late October, it was a pleasant surprise to see a few lavender asters popping out against the dried grasses and brown flower stems. Large clumps of Mountain Mint were still holding their own and there were thousands of dried flower seed heads waiting for hungry birds to come along for a meal. Lots of milkweed is going to seed (yeah!) and it’s fluffy white “parachutes” stand out amidst all the brown. It’s easy to see why the gardener in us wants to cut this all down and tidy it up, but meadow afficionados and environmentalists know that would defeat the purpose. It’s time to honor our wild side and let the meadow do its thing!

The plants have gotten so dense that it’s difficult to wade in there during the summer to remove invasive vines or giant poke weed plants, but this time of year it’s possible to see through the dried foliage and fantasize about projects we can undertake early next year. Maybe we can relocate some asters and daisies from the perennial garden to the meadow. They desperately need thinning and the meadow could use the color.

Fairfax County recently mowed the steepest part of the retention pond by the sidewalk, probably to ensure adequate drainage during the winter and to allow access for maintenance. This exposes the two ugly drains and a bit of the cement culvert, all of which is nicely hidden by flowers and grasses the rest of the year, but there’s not much we can do about that.

While picking up wind-blown trash around the edges of the meadow and all along  Georgetown Pike (a monthly routine), it was easy to see where a large animal, probably a deer or maybe two, had taken shelter. It was also easy to see the ground hog holes. Evidently the children who visit the library named the ground hog, who they think is cute, but it would be nice if it moved somewhere else. Those holes are huge!

When you drive by the library from now until March, pay attention to the changes in the meadow. All the seed heads will eventually be plucked clean by the birds, the dried brown stems will fall and get soggy under the weight of winter snow and ice, making an insulating blanket for the plants that will explode like magic from the soil next year, and the millions of pollinator eggs laid in the stems will be getting ready for an early spring hatching. There’s a lot going on in there.

What exactly is growing in there?

It may be hard to believe, but we have planted dozens of different grasses and flowers in the meadow, adding each year to improve the mix. The most visible things are the tall yellow native sunflowers that we’ve taken to calling thugs! If it were possible to wade in there, though, like the deer and other animals do, you would see lots of different plant life.

This year, we are hoping the native hibiscus returns and does well on the hillside near the sidewalk. We’re also anxiously looking for the 500+ grass plugs we planted two years ago to make their presence better known this year. Evidently it takes a good three years for them to take off. Fingers crossed! And on May 9, we will be planting more bluestem grasses and a lovely flower commonly called Blue Mist to get more color and plant diversity as well as visual movement.

We will also be digging up and potting some of the native sunflowers to sell at the garden club plant sale on May 14. Even though we’ve labeled them “thugs” you shouldn’t be afraid of putting one clump in a sunny spot in your yard. They haven’t spread in the meadow, we just ended up with too many and they are shading out other flowers. They certainly do well in our climate. I plan to put some outside my home office window so I can enjoy them all summer.

Here’s a list of what is in the meadow:

Library Meadow Plants and Grasses

Sun Gazette article features the meadow

A nice article in the February 11, 2016 Sun Gazette Newspaper featured the meadow, noting that leaving it unmown until spring helps wildlife survive the winter. To read the article, click on this link or paste the address in your browser:

The meadow in winter

Winter has finally arrived and the meadow is blanketed with at least two feet of snow. The dead stems of hundreds of oxeye sunflowers are about the only things still visible. Everything is scheduled to be mowed down the first week in March, weather permitting. This will obviously make a mulch of the dead material, but be late enough in the season to avoid killing all the insect/pollinator eggs that have been laid in the hollow stems. So that’s the answer to the perennial question, why don’t we cut this all down in the fall? It is important to wait for the eggs to hatch or we would be defeating one of the important benefits of a meadow.

Last fall, a small section of the meadow was cut down for some reason. Maintenance of the drains, perhaps? A simple mistake? We aren’t sure. Fairfax County is responsible for maintenance of stormwater retention ponds, which is the location of our entire meadow. We count on them to cut it in early spring, and to avoid cutting it the rest of the year. Who knows. At least it was only a small portion.


We have a beautiful new sign! But wait, there’s more…

The Great Falls Garden Club and Friends of the Great Falls Library recently installed an educational sign at the library meadow. Finally, passersby can answer the question, “What’s going on here?”

“Fairfax County is promoting the planting of meadows in parks and other public property in an effort to create more diverse habitats for wildlife and to reduce the amount of grass in areas that aren’t needed for sports fields or playgrounds,” said Garden Club President Candace Campbell. “We were delighted to work with them to turn what had been an unsightly storm water retention pond into a beautiful meadow that’s jam packed with bees, birds and other pollinators. The Monarch butterflies absolutely love it, which makes it a nice spot to bring children.”

As the educational sign explains, the primary purpose of the meadow is to support wildlife and the environment. The plants were chosen because they support the largest numbers of butterflies and moths and attract pollinators of all kinds. Once each year, in late winter, the meadow should be mowed. By leaving the grasses and flowers standing until then, they will provide seeds and shelter to wildlife during the winter months and protect pollinator eggs that have been laid in the stems to hatch when the weather warms. (Which answers the inevitable question, “Why don’t they cut down all this dead stuff in the fall?”)

“The Friends of the Great Falls Library are pleased to support the Great Falls Garden Club with the purchase of the new sign honoring their beautifully & lovingly maintained meadow.  The Garden Club does so much to make the Great Falls Library setting beautiful and inviting,” said President Michelle Miller. “The meadow is an absolute joy to behold, either as one walks amongst it or while looking out from within the library.”

In addition to the new sign, the Garden Club prepared a binder of detailed information about each of the plants in the meadow so that interested visitors to the library can identify the dozens of flowers and grasses living there. The binder is located near the information desk. The Club also added two narrow paths to the meadow this year, so that interested visitors can walk through the meadow to see more than the handful of species visible from around the edges. Frankly, the paths are a work in progress, having been quickly squeezed by the impressive growth of surrounding flowers so that they are now nearly impossible to find. Next year they might have to be made wider… or eliminated to prevent claustrophobia among meadow visitors.

(Left to right)  Daniella Dixon, library manager; Michelle Miller, president Friends of Great Falls Library; Bev Lane, graphic designer; Candice Burt, Great Falls Garden Club; Candace Campbell (kneeling) president of Great Falls Garden Club.

(Left to right) Daniella Dixon, library manager; Michelle Miller, president Friends of Great Falls Library; Bev Lane, graphic designer; Candice Burt, Great Falls Garden Club; Candace Campbell (kneeling) president of Great Falls Garden Club.

The beautiful new sign was designed by local graphic designer Bev Lane, who also designed the Garden Club logo. “Since I am normally creating logos, newspaper ads and brochures, creating this sign for the Great Falls Garden Club was really fun, “ she said.  The 2’x3’ sign was placed near the sidewalk in front of the meadow, where it will be accessible to library visitors as well as school children learning about pollinators, meadows and the environment. “It’s important for people to know why this meadow is here, why the plants aren’t cut down until early spring, why specific plants were chosen,” she continued. “The new sign explains that and more.” Mrs. Lane has created logos for numerous local organizations, including Friends of the Great Falls Library, The Arts of Great Falls, Great Falls Lacrosse and the Celebrate Great Falls Foundation.

Next time you are at the library, please wander out to the meadow and check out the sign. Only a few steps farther and you’ll get a bird’s eye view of all the butterflies and bees working like mad.

Next project: a bench?