Monday, June 1, 2015

The Mini-Meadow Project

When we bought our home last summer, one of the nice things about it was the yard. Upon which the previous owners had maintained a very nice lawn. While pleasing to look at lawns do have some drawbacks. One was the maintenance regimen, including $200 a year in fertilizer, applied several times throughout the year. Other drawbacks include the need to water all that grass; mowing it, which not only requires time and effort, but also adds to global warning when using the lawn mower; and that is is basically a sterile environment, providing little benefit to the native wildlife.

From day one we knew we wanted to do something with the lawn, to turn it into a more wildlife friendly space with mostly native plants. Using native plants has a number of benefits. Not the least of which is that they have evolved in sync with the local environment. Thus they can survive with only the water provided by rain, and can weather (pun!) the normal variations in rainfall. Anyone following the news knows of the severe water problems in the American west. Saving water anywhere is a good idea.

Thus we have started the Mini-Meadow Project.

The goal is to replace the lawn along our driveway with a mostly native wildflower garden. The image above shows the state of the project after day one. I removed the turf from the area shown and have started to spread replacement top soil. Most of the day was spent chopping the turf into squares and then digging them up.

Here's a view up the driveway. This perspective sure makes it seem that there's a lot more work to be done then the prior image did! But just imagine wildflowers and the attendant butterflies and humming birds lining this corridor. Much more appealing than a boring old lawn.

An added visual benefit will be to help obscure our septic mound.

As part of the pre-sale inspection, the septic system was found to be defective, and a new drain field, in the form of a mound, was installed. Not the best look for a front yard. The height of the meadow plants will help the mound to "blend in". At least that's our hope.

But beyond the visual benefits are a variety of ecological ones.

I've already mentioned that native plants will need less water, as they are acclimated to the rainfall amounts of our area.

The area of lawn replaced by meadow will need not be mowed on a regular basis. It may need to be mowed annually to keep it from becoming a forest as part of regular succession. This will save on gas, wear and tear on both the lawnmower and yours truly, and cut down on our carbon emissions.

And it will provide food and shelter to a variety of wildlife. If you have any interest in wildlife you know doubt are aware of the immense loss of habitat as the human population grows. One problem is our preference for lawns. Lawns provide very little value to the local fauna. Rabbits and deer may enjoy munching on grass. But most pollinators find very little of use in a lawn. And thus pollinators are in crises.

Monarch butterflies have seen populations crash as milkweed patches become lawns and parking lots. One way to help is to create a Monarch Waystation. By planting milkweeds, which are needed as they are the only food for monarch caterpillars, and a variety of nectar plants as food for the adult monarchs, you can help offset the habitat loss. A 10' x 10' (3 x 3 meter) space is all that is needed to create an effective way station. And it need not be contiguous. We plan to have plenty of milkweed in our meadow (and elsewhere on our property) and have plenty of space to do so.

Bees are another pollinator in crises. Honeybees, which are not native, are used to pollinate many of the plant foods we eat. As honeybee colonies collapse native pollinators can help but only if they are available. Providing pollinator friendly gardens helps to ensure that they are.

For us, adding a mini-meadow only adds to the appeal of our home. We see plenty of benefits and no downsides. Most people could find the space to have their own mini-meadow as well. Give it a try. If nothing else you'll cut down on you water bill, have less lawn to mow (and seed and fertilize ...), and plenty of pretty flowers and butterflies throughout the summer.


Any of our plant geek friends reading this are welcome to stop by and check out our progress. Especially if you bring some plants along to add to the mix!

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