The Benefit of Meadows

— Written By John Murphy and last updated by
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Meadows are one garden trend that buck the traditional template of a neat lawn dotted with beds of flowers. These gardens, which are becoming increasingly popular, are areas that combine both horticulture and ecology. The end result is a garden that is more naturalistic, filled with native plants that are diverse both in plant species and the animal populations they bring in. Meadows combine perennial native wildflowers and grasses that supply nectar and pollen sources to attract pollinators.

Unfortunately, the news on pollinator populations is grim, with declines continuing to be recorded. A number of issues identified as potential causes include pests, disease, pesticides, pollutants and loss of habitat. Meadows can be an important solution, offering a way to supply food and habitat to a variety of bees, butterflies, moths, other beneficial insects and birds. As keystone species, the reproduction of over 85% of all flowering plants depends on pollinators, as well as three quarters of our food crops. Finding solutions to bolster these populations is as important as ever.

Designing a meadow is much like designing other gardens, first considering sun and water conditions of the site. Plants are chosen for qualities of height, texture, color, and when they are showiest. Planting seed mixes have moderate success in getting established. Planting plants is more successful, however the cost is much higher.


Meadow showing Joe Pye weed, Asters, Mountain Mint, Black-eyed Susan and grasses

Once planted, meadows require little maintenance, the landscape is given free rein to evolve over time. At Bullington Gardens, the maintenance to the meadow there has amounted to cutting it down once a year in late winter. However with the meadow now being 6 years old, some perennials could benefit from dividing and others that are more aggressive growers, like mountain mint, may need to be reduced. Obviously, meadows should be as pesticide free as possible.

There are many good resources to help one get started on meadows. The Bee City USA website,, is a good place to start. There is also a program coming up on March 1 at Bullington. Landscape designer Nancy Duffy will present Making Sense of Meadows. Nancy has designed and installed a number of meadows including the one at Bullington. See the Bullington gardens website,, for more information.

Meadows can be beautiful additions to the landscape while providing an important solution to declining habitat for pollinators. Planting even a small meadow can be beneficial.