Meadow Exhibit Now in Great Falls Library with Butterflies from Anthropologie

The Reston store of fashion-forward clothing retailer Anthropologie has donated its spectacular window display of more than 10,000 hand cut and hand painted paper Monarch butterflies to the Great Falls Garden Club for use in the Club’s new exhibit on the wildflower and native grass meadow at the Great Falls Library.

“Several years ago we began work on designing and planting a wildflower and native grass meadow in the storm water retention pond in front of the Great Falls Library,” explained Club President Joan Burkgren. “With financial assistance from numerous local organizations, we have achieved a beautiful and environmentally-beneficial habitat for all kinds of wildlife and pollinators, including Monarch butterflies. In fact, the meadow has been certified as a Monarch Waystation by Monarch Watch as well as a Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.”

To educate people in the community about the benefits of a meadow and to provide information on the specific plants in this one, Club members created an impressive resource book and long-term exhibit that will be dramatically enhanced by the 10,000 paper butterflies donated by Anthropologie.

Meadow Resource Exhibit in Library

Meadow Resource Exhibit in Library

“Every April, the windows of Anthropologie stores become more than a showcase for artful installations – they become a platform for our Earth Day efforts, a means to raise awareness of causes near and dear to our hearts,” said display director Erika S. “This year we paid tribute to the Monarch butterfly, whose annual migration – one of nature’s greatest spectacles – is at risk of disappearing due to vanishing habitats, extreme weather and increased use of herbicides.”

“It is awe- inspiring to think that the butterfly, a species so small and humble, can complete an annual migration of epic proportions. There is so much beauty within these tiny creatures and yet they are so greatly at risk,” she continued. “We hope to give them a voice – one that allows people to hear their story, to share it, and to see how simple it can be to help them flourish. We are delighted to donate the Reston display to the Great Falls Garden Club to help draw attention to the plight of the Monarchs and increase the community’s awareness of the value of having a meadow that will help the butterflies complete their long journey.”

The Eastern population of the orange and black butterflies migrates thousands of miles from Canada to Mexico. The caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed, which is declining in many areas because of development. Monarch Way Stations, such as the meadow at Great Falls Library, provide access to milkweed as well as shelter for the butterflies that pass through our area on their migration in the fall.

If you’d like more information on the plants in the meadow, please check out this resource book. It shows the common and botanical name for each plant as well as illustrations of leaves, seeds and flowers to help in identification.

Here’s a link to the September 17, 2014 article on this exhibit in the Great Falls Connection Newspaper.

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.


Barely any green left in November.


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


Looks like some tasty seeds.


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


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.


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


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.


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


This was a feast for some lucky birds.


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

What are all the yellow flowers?

A few folks have asked us, “What are all the yellow flowers in the meadow?” Those with a more garden-design perspective have also wondered why it seems like all we have are yellow flowers. Actually, there are other colors in there too but, yellow being what it is, it tends to scream at you while the lavenders and whites recede. In addition, the deer have eaten many of the beautiful red Monarda that were growing along the edges where they could have been easily seen by passersby and provide a contrast to all that yellow. Fortunately what seems to bother garden designers doesn’t phase the birds, bees and butterflies.

There are a few other reasons why the sunflowers and goldenrod are going gangbusters – first, as I mentioned in my last post, we had ideal weather for growing that resulted in many of the plants growing taller and faster than expected. Second, and perhaps more to the point, we had no control over the seed mix planted last year by Mulch Solutions. As you can learn from previous posts, we started out with a carefully curated plant and grass combo that didn’t really make it out of the starting gate the first year. Mulch Solutions graciously offered to reseed for us at no cost, but we didn’t get the plants we specified during the first go-around. Living by the motto “never look a gift horse in the mouth” we were quite happy to accept what was given and, as you can see from the photos in the previous post, loads of flowers germinated – the majority of them being yellow – and now seem to be angling for a role in a science fiction movie about monster plants.

So, moving forward, we continue to add plants and grasses that the Wolf Trap native plant garden and Meadowlark Botanical Gardens graciously allowed us to dig from their gardens and replant in the library meadow. Although the plants are wonderfully free, Garden Club members still have to do the manual labor, which means the amount of plants we can add each year is limited to the available woman power. Just think what we could accomplish with more volunteers (hint, hint) Little by little, we’re improving the plant mix. We are also working with local experts to round out our meadow with other colors and plant selections and to fulfill the requirements for becoming a certified Monarch Butterfly Waystation. Clearly the meadow is a work in progress and within a few years it should be more self-sustaining.

Please stop by throughout the growing season and in coming years to see how the meadow is evolving. In the meantime, we know the birds, bees, dragonflies and butterflies are living it up. They don’t care how much yellow there is!

Here’s a list of items that are already in the meadow:

Latin Name Common Name Height
Andropogon virginicus Broomsedge 2′ – 5′
Asclepias incarnata Swamp Milkweed 3′
Asclepias syriaca Common Milkweed 2′-3′
Aster prenathoides Zigzag Aster 8″ – 40″
Baptisia australis False Blue Indigo 3′ – 4′
Chamaecrista fasciculata Partridge Pea 1′ – 3′
Chasmanthium latifolium Northern Sea Oats (Grass) 2′ – 4′
Coreopsis tripteris Tall Tickseed 4′ – 6′
Coreopsis verticillata Tickseed 8″ – 18″
Dichanthelium clandestinum Deer Tongue Grass 3′ – 6′
Eupatorium dubium Joe Pye Weed “Little Joe” 3′ – 4′
Eupatorium purpureum Joe Pye Weed 7′
Euthamia graminifolia Grass Leaved Goldenrod 1′ – 4′
Filipendula purpurea ‘Elegans” Japanese Meadowsweet 3′ – 4′
Helianthus divaricatus Woodland Sunflower 2 1/2′ – 6′
Helianthus mollis Downy or Ashy Sunflower 2′ – 6′
Heliopsis helianthoides Oxeye Sunflower 3′ – 6′
Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’ Spike Gayfeather 2′ – 3′
Liatris squarrosa Rough Blazing Star 2′ – 3′
Monarda didyma Common Beebalm 1′ – 2′
Monarda fistulosa Wild Bergamot 1′ – 2′
Oenothera fruticosa Common Sundrops 18″ – 24″
Penstemon digitalis Tall White Beard Tongue 3′ – 5′
Phlox paniculata Phlox 3′ – 4′
Physostegia virginiana Obedient Plant 4′
Pycnanthemum virginianum Mountain Mint 3′
Rudbeckia hirta Black-Eyed Susan 1′ – 3′
Schizachyrium soparium Little Bluestem (Grass) 18′ – 24″
Senecio aureus Golden Ragwort 1′- 3′
Senna hebecarpa Wild Senna 6′
Solidago juncea Early Goldenrod 2′ – 3′
Sorghastrum nutans Indian Grass 3′ – 8′
Verbesina alternifolia Yellow Ironweed 3′ – 8′
Vernonia noveboracensis New York Ironweed 4′ – 7′
Veronicastrum virginicum Culver’s Root 4′ – 7′

July 2013 – What a jungle!

Thanks to a wet and not-too-steamy Spring, everything in the meadow is not only thriving but growing larger and taller than normal. It’s a jungle out there! A gorgeous, show-stopper of a jungle. What started as a sea of yellow now has spots of white and lavender. As we continue to add plants and learn which ones thrive and which ones give up the ghost after a year, the color palette and diversity will expand.

With that in mind, members of the Meadow Committee went to the Wolf Trap Foundation theater earlier this year and dug up numerous perennials that were graciously donated to us by the staff. They needed help dividing some of the more successful members of their native garden, and we needed to add some diversity to our site. It was a win-win.

Also this Spring, several members of the Potowmack Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society came for a visit and helped us identify invasives that we should remove and suggested several plants worth adding to the mix.

We have also been working on several fronts with folks from Fairfax County. They are interested in the meadow for several reasons:
First, they want to start establishing Monarch Waystations throughout the County because development is eliminating the plants the butterflies need to eat and travel through our area. Our meadow is an ideal candidate for this. In addition to the many nectar plants we already have, we will be adding both common and swamp milkweed, both of which are pink, in the Fall because those plants are specific hosts for Monarchs. For more information on the program, check out

Second, the County is developing a curriculum for use by area elementary schools that will encourage teachers to take their students to meadows such as “ours” to study the environment, pollinators, water quality and more. Great Falls Elementary School is not only walking distance from the meadow, we already have a footpath that connects the school and the library so visiting students can simply hike over with their class. No buses needed!

And third, the County is studying numerous issues regarding stormwater management areas such as the one our meadow has filled to see how the plants impact water flow, to determine if edging the meadow creates run-off, to determine the ideal mowing schedule and other important factors.

It has been suggested that our meadow be used as a pilot project for all three of these activities and, of course, we are delighted to participate. Beyond all of the other reasons for establishing the meadow, these additional activities will add to the educational value for citizens and County officials alike.

In addition, one of our members is putting together a binder of information on all of the plants in the meadow. Each plant will be described on a laminated page that will include photos of the flower and seeds as well as basic botanical information. The binder will be kept at the Reference Desk in the library so it is available for those who want more information on the plants or who need help identifying some of the “residents.” It should be ready this Fall.

Plans for the Fall also include the addition of ironweed, which is purple, and deer tongue grass to the meadow. We are woefully short on  grasses so we plan to add as much as possible in the years to come. At some point we know the meadow will be self-sustaining, but right now we still need to work on our mix of plants. We are also still learning which ones are tough enough and well suited to the site so they will be around for years to come.

July 14 2013

July 14 2013

Happy sunflowers are hiding the sign that says "No Swimming." Really?
Happy sunflowers are hiding the sign that says “No Swimming.” Really?

Looking back towards the library entrance. What a glorious sight.

Looking back towards the library entrance. What a glorious sight.

I don't think the deer are willing to wade in because the flowers are so thick. They seem to be grazing along the edges this year. That's ok- there's plenty to go around.

I don’t think the deer are willing to wade in because the flowers are so thick. They seem to be grazing along the edges this year. That’s ok- there’s plenty to go around.

Some baptisia trying to hold  its ground. This was one of the plants we dug recently from the Wolf Trap garden.

Some baptisia trying to hold its ground. This was one of the plants we dug recently from the Wolf Trap garden.

I see some milkweed poking up on the bank near the sidewalk.

I see some milkweed poking up on the bank near the sidewalk.

The deer loved these. All the flower heads were nibbled off before they had a chance to open.

The deer loved these. All the flower heads were nibbled off before they had a chance to open.

On the day I came to take photos, these huge bees were working the blossoms like there was no tomorrow. Butterflies were enjoying the flowers too but I wasn't willing to wade into the jungle to photograph them up close.

On the day I came to take photos, these huge bees were working the blossoms like there was no tomorrow. Butterflies were enjoying the flowers too but I wasn’t willing to wade into the jungle to photograph them up close.

View from the sidewalk looking down the length of the meadow.

View from the sidewalk looking down the length of the meadow.


Check out which flowers and grasses have shown up so far.

For those of you who have stopped by to check out the meadow, and those of you who may do so in the near future, I thought I’d provide a list of the plant material we used. It was all from seed and some items don’t produce flowers for 3 to 5 years, but it’s easy to see what is growing and flowering now. The Meadow Committee is working on an informational piece that will include information about each item and a photo to help you identify what’s out there. We’ll make copies available through the Reference Desk in the Library, as soon as the material is compiled.

Grasses and sedges were 40% of our seed mix and included:  Andropogon virginicus  (Broomsedge) 3%; Dichanthelium clandestinum  (Deer Tongue grass)  10%; Schizachyrium soparium  (Little Bluestem)  15%; and Sorghastrum nutans  (Indian grass)  12%

Herbaceous Flowering Species were 60% of our seed mix and included the following in these colors and percentages: Asclepias syriaca  (Common milkweed – pink) 3%; Aster prenathoides  (Zigzag aster – white) 8%; Baptisia australis  (Blue false indigo – violet blue) 3%; Chamaecrista fasciculata  (Partridge pea – yellow)  3%; Eupatorium dubuim  (Joe-Pye weed  – pink) 2%; Euthamia graminifolia  (Grass-leafed goldenrod – yellow) 5%; Heliopsis helianthoides  (Oxeye Sunflower – yellow) 8%; Liatris squarrosa  (Rough Blazing Star – purple) 6%; Monarda fistulosa  (Wild Bergamot – pink) 6%; Penstemon digitalis  (Tall White Beard Tongue – white) 4%; Rudbeckia hirta  (Black Eyed Susan – yellow) 3%; Solidago juncea  (Early Goldenrod – yellow) 5%; Vernonia noveboracensis  (New York Ironweed – purple) 4%.

In addition, one of our especially dedicated Meadow Committee members trekked over to Meadowlark Gardens and dug up (with permission, of course) a number of fabulous plants from their well-established meadow and transplanted them in ours. They include: Asclepias incarnate (Butterfly Flower); Oenothera fruticosa (Sundrops); Vernonia noveboriensis (New York Ironweed); Helianthus mollis (Downy Sunflower); Coreopsis tripteris (Tall Coreopsis) ; Monarda; Pycnanthemum virginianum (Mountain Mint); Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver’s Root); Baptisia australis (Blue False Indigo); and Solidago (Goldenrod).

Here’s what the meadow looked like on July 23, 2012. Pretty impressive for the first year. Just imagine how good it will look when it really hits its stride!

July 23 2012

July 23, 2012

July 23, 2012

July 23 2012


Photos from June 25, 2012

Here are some photos taken of the meadow on June 25, 2012. Even more fabulous flowers have revealed themselves since then. At this early stage we could see Chamaecrista fasciculata (Partridge pea), Rudbeckia hirta (Black Eyed Susan), Monarda didyma (Bee Balm), and some Mullen and Cosmos that showed up on their own. We evidently have a resident fawn as well, but she wasn’t around when I took these photos. Butterflies, bees and dragonflies are also enjoying everything.

Hallelujah! We have flowers! And grasses! And some surprises!

Several months ago, the Meadow Committee asked Larry Conrad from Mulch Solutions to stop by the meadow and basically reassure us that we would indeed have flowers and grasses this year. He had graciously re-seeded earlier in the year, but all we could see were the dead cuttings and some unidentifiable green things. To us, the landscape fabric we had put down the year before looked like it would suffocate anything that tried to grow this year.

The day he joined us, there were lots of little sprouts, some Bermuda grass, and some interlopers visible, but he urged us not to wander around in there trying to make it perfect. We’d only trample the little things trying to get established. Have patience, he counseled. It was hard for us to obey. The gardeners in us wanted to wade in there and start pulling “weeds”!

In order to stack the deck in our favor, we added an irrigation system of hoses and sprinklers this year. Last year, our fledgling effort got baked to death and we wanted to avoid a repeat of that heart break. So the hoses were laid, the sprinklers set up, and a timer was set. Once the grasses got going, we put the sprinklers up on legs so they could actually disburse the water without the grass impeding the spray.

And voila! Thanks to regular irrigation and an amazing Spring, not only do we now have flowers and grasses, but we have some very interesting immigrants. Heaven knows how we got cosmos – they certainly weren’t on our seed list – but we have several colors of them and they look delightful. We also have a few giant mullein that seem quite at home. There is an impressive swath of Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) that was supposed to be 3% of our seed mixture, and some brilliant red Monarda that I know we didn’t pay for.  There might be some Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), but I won’t know for sure until I see blooms. For now, everything is being welcomed. We’ll decide in the Fall how we want to tweak the mix. In the meantime, a visit and close inspection every week should reveal more surprises.

A few intrepid Club members visited Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in the Spring and brought back some wonderful plants that the staff there was anxious to cull from their own meadow. We benefited from their desire to thin their over-zealous residents, which Club members planted on the side near the road. Then in early June, a few of us removed the “monster grass” that had grown for the second year in a humongous clump near the library. It was about 8 feet tall and at least as wide. In the Fall we will probably divide some of the perennials in the garden along the walk and transplant them to the empty spot. For now, it’s just tempting soil for “illegal aliens.” We have also been invited back to Meadowlark to dig more of the wonderful meadow residents that are doing so well over there.

Of course, the library meadow is also being visited by several types of butterflies and other winged critters, along with local deer who are nibbling flower buds along the edges. I haven’t personally seen any bees yet, but I imagine they’ve been on site. How could they resist?

As things appear, we will take note and begin preparing a “white paper” on the glories of our meadow. We’ll include photos as well as information on each plant so that visitors to the library will know what’s going on out there. We’ve been told that it takes at least three years to establish a meadow, but I have to say I can’t stop smiling already. We might as well consider this year one, since last year was such a disaster, and already the meadow is fabulous. What an improvement over that grass-filled storm water retention pond! And how nice for the pollinators. Just imagine how it will improve through the years as flowers self-seed and we add plants from the perennial garden and Meadowlark.

As always, stay tuned! Better yet, stop by for a look. It will make you smile, too.