In ecological terms, a meadow is a biome nearly devoid of woody plants, favoring grasses and herbaceous plants instead. These sunny spaces are vital yet diminishing habitats, often traded in urban areas for monocultures of lawn grass.
Meadows and grasslands have an evolutionary relationship with grazing animals and human activities. Far from being pure, untouched biomes, the life of a meadow is contingent upon the removal—via grazing and browsing or clearing—of tall woody plants that would shade out the lower-growing life. Along with large herbivores, we humans have helped create an ecological niche that nourishes pollinators and provides habitat for an array of other creatures, especially birds and small mammals.
Meadow gardens are a small way to bring some of the richness of that biome into small-scale spaces of cultivation. Mine are found weaving throughout the garden, primarily on my hügelkultur mounds. I’ve found they’ve set off a cascade of reactions in terms of enlivening the space. First came the flowers, then came the insects, then came the birds, and recently, I’ve had wood mice move in. It should be noted: Meadow gardens are not for the gardener who doesn’t like interacting with wildlife! Beyond getting to know your non-human neighbors, meadow gardens provide a practical purpose: You’re never without cut flowers or seeds to trade with friends and neighbors.
Making a meadow garden is as simple as choosing a mix of annual and perennial flowers and grasses to seed on an area. Ideally, these should be native flowers and grasses, but those move in anyway; in the meantime, any “cottage garden” mix will provide an excellent base. I make a pollinator garden mix for this purpose.
Maintenance of your meadow garden should be minimal: Disrupting the soil with tilling will disrupt the life web. Weeds—often an over-zealous gardener’s word for native plants—are as much a part of the biome as the other flowers, so try to resist pulling them out unless they threaten to overtake the entirety of the space.
Once the garden is established, it will-reseed and mulch itself, so you can enjoy the ever-changing landscape of blossoms for years to come!
About the Author: Lynsey Grosfield is the founder of BiodiverSeed, a global seed swap network devoted to the exchange of self-harvested, organic and heirloom seeds with the goal of preserving maximum genetic diversity. Follow BiodiverSeed on Twitter.