These colourful, exquisite and seemingly ‘wild’ garden expanses, usually associated with Europe or America are adored by many gardeners – for good reason! Unfortunately, Meadow Gardens are rarely used in Australia. This is a shame because these naturalistic masterpieces can be reinvented in so many ways. Hopefully we can inspire you to create a little bit of ‘meadow wilderness’ in your patch of the world incorporating some of the plants grown by Bluedale and available online on our website.
A visit to our Meadow Gardens Pinterest Board may help get you started.
Keeping It Simple
The simplest Meadow Garden is an area of ‘paddock-like’ tall grasses complemented by regularly mown pathways, edges or even shapes. Such Meadow Gardens work well largely due to the contrast between the untidiness of the meadow and order of the mown areas. Dan Pearson Studio, London achieves this effect nicely, as seen in the first photo. Visit Bluedale’s pinterest boards for more examples of landscapes by this designer.
Things to note with these ‘Meadows’ is they are not as wild as they seem and some involve quite a bit of work. The mown areas are actually very well maintained turf that has distinct edges – presumably to prevent the turf grass invading the adjoining ‘wild’ areas. The ‘wild’ areas consist of a limited number of grass species and are often a different species to the turf grass. Nothing a competent gardener can’t handle of course... in some rare settings you may get by with occasionally running the ride on through a patch of neglected grass and weeds.
This simplest form of Meadow Garden is well suited to Australia and Australian grass species. Species choice for the turf areas are obvious and will depend on your climate. Species from Bluedale’s selection that will work in the ‘meadow’ include Themeda australis (Kangaroo Grass),Imperata cylindrica (Bladey Grass), Poa ‘Kingsdale’, Poa ‘Eskdale’, Pennisetum ‘Cream Lea’ andCarex appressa. The bolder designer might try Ficinea nodosa (Knobby Club Rush) and Gahnia clarkei (Red Fruit Saw Sedge). Other Australian native grasses well suited to meadows includeDanthonia species (Wallaby Grasses), Cymbopogon refractus (Barbed-wire Grass) and Stipaspecies (Speargrasses).
Australia’s Endangered Grassland Communities
Your Meadow Garden does more than just look great. Grasslands have great habitat value, particularly when grown in urban areas where mown grass is the norm.
According to Friends of Grasslands when Captain Cook landed, a carpet of native grasses and colourful flowering herbs covered much of south-eastern Australia. After 200 years of European settlement, the vast majority of lowland grasslands in south-eastern Australia has been lost, either by complete removal or severe modification.
Coastal dwellers would be familiar with Themeda grassland on the seacliffs and coastal headlands along Australia's eastern coastline. Sadly this is now an Endangered Ecological Community.
Why not include some Themeda australis in your Meadow Garden?
Finding Some Structure
Structural plants such as hedges and specimen plants, bring so much to the Meadow Garden. Structural plants can offer dramatic contrasts in form, particularly if they include pruned hedges or even topiary spheres. The aesthetic value of this contrast should not be underestimated. Structural plants also remind the viewer that they are looking at a deliberately constructed landscape, rather than the consequences of a lazy gardener.
Piet Oudolf is an influential Dutch garden designer, and some would argue the founder of the New Perennial movement. Piet’s work includes some outstanding meadow gardens. His landscapes can be seen on Bluedale’s pinterest boardhttps://uk.pinterest.com/bluedaleplants/piet-oudolf/ . Piet’s design tip concerning structure ………… ‘Before picking up a spade, I’ll pick up a pencil and tracing paper to sketch out the planting design as a series of three layers in overview.’ As Piet explains, the first layer consists of structural plants, followed by a matrix of grasses, and then a layer of accent and filler plants. ‘Lay all the sheets together and I’ll have the makings of a highly intermingled perennial planting design. I’ll aim to group plants by common habitat with a 70:30 ratio of structure to filler plants.’ (from Tony Spencer April 2014 http://www.thenewperennialist.com/bringing-hummelo-home/nggallery/thumbnails/page/2)
Structural plants suited to Australia include the common hedge species Buxus and Murraya. Westringia ‘Aussie Box’, Syzygium varieties and the larger Lomandra varieties such as hysterix, ‘Katie Belles’ and even ‘Nyalla’ would serve as excellent structural plants in an Australian Meadow Garden.
The Flowering Meadow
To some, Meadow Gardens should be a riot of colour. The London 2012 Olympic Park by Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough represents such a Meadow Garden and is truly magnificent.http://www.nigeldunnett.info/Londonolympicpark/
Creating a flowering Meadow Gardens is a little more tricky than a meadow based on grass species. They are generally sown in cultivated soil and involve a complete replant each year. Interestingly, The City of Melbourne embraced the Flowering Meadow in 2014 and grew annuals among the cityscape http://www.naturaldesign.com.au/2014/04/flowering-meadow/ .
Tips for success include:
· Sunny position;
· Careful species selection. Some research will reveal designers like Ian Barker Gardens. Ian has a pallette about 25 plants that will survive in Melbourne. At the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show he exhibited drifts of Echinops bannaticus 'Blue Globe', Verbena bonariensis,Echinacea purpurea and Miscanthus oligostachyus 'Eileen Quinn' amid other flowers and grasses;http://landscape.net.au/gallery/
· Annual cultivation. Cultivation may be limited to areas of flowering annuals, or may include the entire meadow;
· Regular sowing. This may include Spring sowing, over sowing shortly after germination to fill gaps and even sowing in Autumn for early Spring germination;
· Thick sowing. Evette Jungwirth from the Diggers Club advises "We have come up with a basic formula of about 800 seeds per gram so that gives you good coverage." Mixing seed with sand as a bulking agent helps with even broadcasting; and
· Maintain soil nutrients and low levels otherwise the grasses will dominate. This does sound odd but has been the key to success as Great Dixter. For more on this visithttp://thegardenist.com.au/2012/08/meadows-101-1/
· Slashing/mowing once or twice a year.
Some flowering meadows rely on bulbs to add to the colour palate. These work well emerging from grasses as seen at the Meadow Garden at Great Dixter as shown in the second photo.http://www.greatdixter.co.uk/
These are few native Australian plants that can play the ‘flowering’ role in a Meadow Garden. Bluedale’s Dianella ‘Little Jess’ is one of these few - its bright flowers and berries would look fabulous nestled among a mixed meadow planting.
Combination Meadow Garden
Depending on your climate, garden preference, budget, imagination and time you can mix and match the various elements described above to create an outstanding and original Meadow Garden. Bluedale strongly believe that Australian native grasses and hedge species are underutilized and well suited to the Meadow Garden, particularly in our harsh climate.
In my view the most beautiful and bold expression of a Meadow Garden is Oehme van Sweden’s Garden of Contrasts at Cornerstone Sonoma, California.
Although not necessarily described as a ‘Meadow Garden’ it has all the elements described above. Bold Structure plantings of Agave and Olives, straw coloured meadow grasses, colourful annuals…………… do yourself a favor and check it out.https://uk.pinterest.com/bluedaleplants/garden-of-contrasts-cornerstone-california-by-oehm/or https://degraafassoc.wordpress.com/2009/08/29/garden-of-contrasts/