These colourful, exquisite and seemingly ‘wild’ garden expanses, usually associated with Europe or America, are adored by many gardeners – for a good reason, they are beautiful! 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 sold by Gardeners Planthub through their online store, www.theplanthub.com.au
A visit to our Meadow Gardens Pinterest Board may help get you started - https://www.pinterest.com.au/PlantHub/meadow-gardens/
Keeping It Simple
The simplest Meadow Garden is paddocks 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 the order of the mown areas. Dan Pearson Studio, London achieves this effect nicely, as seen in the first photo. Visit our Pinterest page for more examples of landscapes by this designer.
Things to note with these ‘Meadows’ is they are not as wild as they seem to appear as they are often designed with great detail. The mown areas are actually very well-maintained turf with distinct edges – presumably to prevent the lawn grass from invading the adjoining ‘wild’ areas. The ‘wild’ areas consist of a limited number of grass species and are often different from the lawn grass. Nothing most gardeners can’t handle, of course... in some rare settings, you may get by with occasionally running the lawnmower through a patch of neglected grass and weeds.
This simplest form of Meadow Garden is well suited to Australian grass species. For the turf parts of the garden, choose turf grass suited to your climate and regular mowing (Sapphire Buffalo is a popular choice with gardeners today). Grasses that will work in the ‘meadow’ include; Kangaroo Grass, Poa ‘Kingsdale’, Poa ‘Eskdale’, any of the Pennisetum varieties, any of the Lomandra varieties along with sedges such as Tall sedge, (Carex) and Knobby Club Rush, (Ficinia).
Australia’s Endangered Grassland Communities
Your Meadow Garden does more than 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 grasslands 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 (Kangaroo Grass) 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. 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 an 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)
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 Matt Rush and Slender Matt Rush would serve as excellent structural plants in an Australian Meadow Garden.
The Flowering Meadow
To some, Meadow Gardens should be a riot of colour and 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.
Tips for success include:
· Sunny position;
· Careful species selection. Some research will reveal designers like Ian Barker Gardens. Ian has a palette of 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 to sow 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.
· Slashing/mowing once or twice a year.
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. Gardeners Planthub strongly believes that Australian native grasses and hedge species are underutilized and well suited to the Meadow Garden, particularly in our harsh climate.