How to Make a Meadow

The Link, Autumn 2017
| by David Newland |

Autumn is lovely in a meadow – a celebration of seeds and leaves. The trouble is where do you find a meadow nowadays? There are fields, usually farmland or pasture. There are parks, mostly mowed and trimmed. There are golf courses, football pitches and ball diamonds…but outside of fairy tales and poetry, meadows aren’t exactly a household item anymore.

Except at my house, that is. Here, meadows are resurgent. We’ve got milkweed, motherwort, goat’s beard, harebell, yarrow…and the birds, bees, butterflies, bugs and bunnies they attract. Vines, berries, bushes and sweet fragrant smells. A compost pile, backyard chickens and a gang of free-range children, some of whom belong to my wife and me. Everything you want in a meadow!

Our meadow goes by the technical term “butterfly garden.” We’ve got a sign that says so: officially, Monarch Waystation number 8196 as certified by Monarch Watch. But that’s just to keep bylaw enforcement at bay. What was once a neatly trimmed front lawn on a busy thoroughfare has become an extravaganza of flora and fauna – now in glorious autumnal display.

The backyard is even more meadowy than the front. Brambles sprawl across one corner and wild cucumber overtakes a brush pile as Virginia creeper sneaks its way along the fence. There are plants tall enough for children to hide among – and they do. So do toads, chipmunks, squirrels, prowling cats, the occasional skunk or raccoon and, from time to time, a curious fox.

“Never mind mowing – just get growing!”

A complete inventory of who’s who and what’s what in the meadow is beyond me. I counted about 80 plant species at one point and it’s grown since then. (Growing is what meadows do best.) Several dozen bird species are regular or occasional visitors – from the ordinary backyard feeder birds to a truly extraordinary snowy owl. We even see bats. Which is no surprise, given the insects.

“Butterfly garden” doesn’t do it justice. A meadow is an insect paradise! When you hear crickets chirping in chorus, you suddenly realize just how much you’ve missed them. And it’s a proven fact that cicadas make a hot, summer day longer and lazier. It’s a meadow miracle!

Now, I called this ‘How to Make a Meadow’ and I haven’t told you how. Here’s the thing: you can’t make a meadow. The most brilliant gardener in the world couldn’t. But what you can do is make space for a meadow. Set a patch aside. Call it a butterfly refuge or a wildflower garden. Leave it alone! Let nature do its thing. Living things will grow as if by magic. If you feel like you must do something, learn to identify invasive species and pull them out.

Never mind mowing – just get growing! When bees have done their buzzing in the goldenrod, butterflies have bred in the milkweed and the songbirds are on their way south, you can enjoy the splendours of autumn with the contented smile of someone who didn’t do a bit of yard work all summer. And a meadow is made!