A Nod to Le Plume

Hayefield meadow squares 1 May 13 09

Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra

What a tough time of year to be a garden blogger: so many things to write about, and so little time to write. It was tempting to wait one more week to post for Bloom Day and try to catch up on some weeding this evening. But I spent much of the morning out in my meadow, with my mower and then with my camera, and I really wanted to share some of my finds.

But first, a few comments on the mowing. A while back, I had posted over at Gardening Gone Wild about the amazing French garden Le Plume, which had been featured with some gorgeous photos in Gardens Illustrated. That led me to the garden’s web site, where there were even more images. The whole garden is beautiful, but what really struck me was the stunning simplicity of their meadow, which had been mowed in squares with straight paths. I immediately decided to skip my meadering paths this year and try mowing part of my own meadow that way. The photo at the top of this post shows the pattern after the first mowing in mid-May; below is a different view from the same evening.

Hayefield meadow squares May 13 09

I liked the effect so much that I decided to extend the meadow even further, into what was The Shrubbery. It looks rather scruffy now, but it’ll be great after this year, and not having to trim around all those trees and shrubs saves loads of time.

Hayefield shrubbery squares July 7 09

So now I have an additional 1/2 acre-plus of meadow, and I can get away with just 1 hour of mowing every 7 to 10 days. (That includes mowing one of the pastures, plus all of the meadow paths.) Below are a few shots taken after today’s mowing. It’s not all that exciting now, but I think it’ll look awesome by this fall.

Hayefield meadow squares 1 July 7 09

Hayefield meadow squares pm July 7 09

While I was out with the camera, I braved the heat and ticks to take a closer look at the meadow plants. Most are native, but a few I’ve added, including some echinaceas:

Echinacea in meadow July 7 09

Echinacea in sand mound meadow July 7 09

And eastern gama grass (Tripsacum dactyloides):

 Tripsacum dactyloides July 7 09

At its base was a lovely little native, ragged fringed orchid (Platanthera lacera):

Platanthera lacera July 7 09

Further along the path is a nice clump of mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium, I think):

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium July 7 09

The dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) is beginning to bloom:

Apocynum cannabinum July 7 09

And sure enough, there was a beautiful dogbane beetle nearby:

Dogbane beetle July 7 09

Then, the milkweeds (Asclepias syriaca)! This patch was in full bloom today, and abuzz with all kinds of critters:

Asclepias syriaca July 7 09

Bumblebee on Asclepias syriaca July 7 09

Honey bee on Asclepias syriaca July 7 09

Milkweed beetles July 7 09

I learned at a lecture by Dr. Doug Tallamy that when you see milkweed leaves “flagging” like this, it usually means that monarch larvae are (or have been) feeding there. (The larvae chew through the midrib to stop the flow of milky sap to the leaf tips, where they like to feed.)

Asclepias syriaca flagging July 7 09

And sure enough, here was a plump larva:

Monarch larva July 7 09

Behind the uppermost pasture, there was another clump of common milkweed that was easily 6 feet tall:

Asclepias syriaca tall patch July 7 09

It smelled just as good as the previous patch and was an even prettier color, I think. Here’s a closeup from the first patch:

Asclepias syriaca closeup 1 July 7 09

…and one from the second patch:

Asclepias syriaca closeup from tall patch July 7 09

Here’s a really cool native grass, deer-tongue grass (formerly Panicum clandestinum, currently Dichanthelium clandestinum):

Panicum clandestinum July 7 09

Panicum clandestinum closeup July 7 09

White bedstraw (Galium mollugo, I think):

Galium mollugo July 7 09

And a pink Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota):

Daucus carota pink July 7 09

Then I wandered into my parents’ meadow across the street. After wading through waist-high switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), I came to a thinner spot and immediately spotted a beautiful blue skullcap (Scutellaria integrifolia, I think):

Scutellaria integrifolia July 7 09

When I stood up and looked around, I realized that there were dozens of them, all around me. I picked my way through them, and through several more patches of ragged fringed orchids, and found some yellow star grass (Hypoxis hirsuta):

 Hypoxis hirsuta July 7 09

And then, as I was heading back home, a nice patch of Canada lily (Lilium canadense):

Lilium canadense patch July 7 09

Lilium canadense July 7 09

And last, I wanted to celebrate my new Audubon Bird Habitat certification. It took just two days for a little bird (a sparrow, or maybe a wren) to take up residence in the new house I added in its honor. But she (or he) always disappears when the camera comes out!

Habitat signs July 7 09

14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sylvia (England) on July 8, 2009 at 5:21 am

    Nan, I saw this article on Le Plume, I have seen this garden in a magazine before as well. I think your meadow looks lovely mown like this and the variety of plants that you have increases the pleasure. If it is anything like here, more varieties will appear given time, it is amazing how long plants will remain dormant until conditions are right for them to flower.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

    You’re so right, Sylvia. My parents’ meadow was mowed twice a month for probably 20 years; the orchids started blooming the second year after they changed to a once-a-year cutting. So the plants had to have been there for ages, simply waiting for a chance to get more than a few inches tall.
    -Nan

  2. Hi Nan, you are an inspiration in so many ways, thank you. Your piece about Le Plume led me to subscribe to Gardens Illustrated. Your piece about the class and the Audubon society led me to get the National Wildlife certification and sign too. Now about that mowing, it is just fantastic already, but I can imagine in the fall when it is taller. You have planted the milkweed and other things, or were they there naturally? Thanks for the tip about the monarch caused drooping too, will be on the lookout. Now, can The Financier be convinced to let the little piece of lawn become a meadow with sections of mowing for paths? It’s worth a try!
    Frances

    Thank you so much, Frances; that means a lot to me. Good for you getting the NWF certification too! There are four species of milkweeds that just came up here when I stopped mowing: A. syriacus, A. purpurascens, A. incarnata, and A. tuberosa. Pretty cool, huh?
    -Nan

  3. Nan … that was a wonderful sequence of shots .. in fact it was all amazing … I kept say “Oh my god !” with each shot .. I do have a question .. I also have Canadensis ? lily .. I have had it for about 5 years or more .. and for the life of me I only get one single flower each year .. what do I need to do to get multiple flowers ? Any suggestions would be very appreciated : )
    Joy

    Oh, Joy – I wish I could give you some advice about getting multiple blooms on Canada lily, but I’ve never tried to grow it in a garden. In this patch of about two dozen plants in the meadow, I’d guess that only three or four of the plants have multiple blooms. Maybe they need to be really old to flower?
    -Nan

  4. Posted by Lisa at Greenbow on July 8, 2009 at 7:15 am

    What a pleasant stroll through the meadows. No ticks or chiggers for me. :) I am glad you id’d Dogbane. Ihave some in my garden. I didn’tknow what it was. I had let it grow because I mistakenly thought it was some kind of milkweed. I am going to show my DB how you mow your meadow. We care for a patch of ground adjacent to our house. Lots to mow. This would be a nice alternative.

    The dogbane does look much like a milkweed in leaf; it’s in the same family. It supports the dogbane beetle, so if you could keep it, that would probably be a good thing. I’ll warn you, though, that it’s a quick and persistent spreader in a garden.
    -Nan

  5. Beautiful photos, as always. We haven’t turned the field into art, but I did get my husband to mow a twisty turny path with the tractor so that the grandsons and I could more easily get out to the Apple Tree clubhouse. His excuse for not mowing more is that he doesn’t want to upset and ground nesting birds. Can’t argue with that.

    You sure can’t, Pat! I cut down on the number of paths I mow too, for that very reason.
    -Nan

  6. What a wonderful visual treat! I love the idea of the straight paths that turn into interesting rectangles. Your prairie looks wonderful. My husband has been restoring a prairie area over the past 15 years or so… we were out walking the other night. Hopefully I can post a few photos, too! :-)

    I’d love to see your post, Shady! I’m planning a future GGW Garden Bloggers Design Workshop on lawns and lawn substitutes (groundcovers, meadows, etc.), so it would work for that too.
    -Nan

  7. Wonderful close-up images from your garden, Nan. I love the plants you grow. Oh… but I really love your new meadow paths. The effect is brilliant :-D

    Thanks, Shirl. I can’t take credit for growing these beauties; I just provide a home for them and admire them. I too am really enjoying the paths. I thought the curvy ones were fun, but these straight lines really speak to me, and they’re a much better match to my gardening style.
    -Nan

  8. Less mowing, more flowers, I bet you’re wondering why you didn’t do this sooner. It looks neat now, but I can imagine how it will look this fall with the grasses all red & golden in the slanting light.
    You’ve got such great diversity going, with the Orchids and Turks Caps and Hypoxis, but what I most envy is the large clumps of Milkweed, with their wonderful vanilla scent.

    Yes: vanilla! I hadn’t thought of that at first, but after I sniffed again this evening, I completely agree. And you are so right: why didn’t I stop mowing this area earlier? I guess because I was trying to give the many tiny shrubs a good start. But at this point, they’re either big enough to hold their own or need to be put out of their misery.
    -Nan

  9. Oh lovely lovely meadow! I might mow my suburban lawn like this JUST to piss off my neighbors. But it is pretty, too! I mow every 2-3 weeks because I hate it. :) You have monarch larva? We just, today, saw our first monarch butterfly. What gives? I planted a dozen new milkweeds for about 20 total, vs. 3 last year, and we’ve been short changed. But, I just love your meadow. Some day….

    I saw the first adult monarch here on July 4, but some must have been here before that for there to be a larva this size. I’m sure your milkweeds will be munched on soon. I bet you’d be interested in this program I learned about through the last GGW Design Workshop: Monarch Waystations.
    -Nan

  10. I really wish I had a little more flat area to make a meadow like yours! Very neat idea. I’ve weaved some paths on the hillside through the Queen Anne Garden (bet you can figure out why I call it that!) but it would be nice to have more meadow space. Great pictures!

    Thanks, Dave! I love the idea of your Queen Anne Garden. As long as you keep replacing turf with gardens, you’re definitely on the right track.! And with your skill at propagation, your space should be filled quickly!
    -Nan

  11. A beautiful meadow! I’ve read this post over and over. My introduction to meadows was at a friend’s garden. I was amazed at the variety of plants and wildlife there. The excitement of discovery abounds with each walk through.

    I agree, Marie – there’s always something to see in a meadow, and none of it requires watering or staking or fertilizing or (much) weeding. I’m almost liking it better than my garden, at least at some times.
    -Nan

  12. Posted by mothernaturesgarden on July 13, 2009 at 9:56 am

    I love the milkweed and your unique mowing pattern to save time and create interest at the same time.

    Thanks for visiting! The owners of Le Plume get the credit for the mowing pattern; I just copied off of them. Before seeing their garden in the magazine, I never would have thought of imposing a geometric pattern on a natural space – but I’m really enjoying the look.
    -Nan

  13. Posted by sue on July 13, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    Nan,
    Love the meadows and their variety.
    We live on a golf course which has many meadows to enjoy.
    How did you do the NWF certification? Curious to read more about it.

    Hi Sue! Check out this link for more info on the NWF habitat program: http://www.nwf.org/gardenforwildlife/#
    -Nan

  14. A beautiful meadow, I have meadow envy!

    John

    Thanks, John!
    -Nan

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