Massachusetts Meadow

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Today we’re visiting Heidi Dollard’s garden.

I have been gardening for 35 years in western Massachusetts. My gardens were always in the shade until four years ago, when we moved into a new house. The new house is on a slope and has dramatic views of the Connecticut River Valley and Holyoke Range. I now have all the sun I could ever want, and I’ve had to learn about a whole new plant palette. I’m creating a low-maintenance, bird- and pollinator-friendly yard. A landscape architect designed the hardscape and land contours, including a welcoming pebble patio under a pergola, surrounded by a mostly perennial bed that also sets the house nicely into slope. Below the perennial garden is a mown swath, and below that is a native plant meadow over our leach field.

My initial plant choices for the garden were mostly “pollinator friendly” but not necessarily native species. Since I retired two years ago, I have been volunteering with the Massachusetts Pollinator Network and have learned the importance of planting “straight” natives, not cultivars. In addition to providing nectar and pollen for adult bees and butterflies, they also provide food for early life stages and nesting and overwintering habitat. Some specialized native bees can only feed from specific native plants. I now follow Doug Tallamy’s advice to plant at least 70% natives, which allows plenty of scope for my favorite nonnatives. The foraging bees and butterflies provide endless entertainment and a sense that the garden is truly thriving.

The garden area has excellent topsoil and has been a pleasure to fill with flowering plants; nearly everything is happy there. The meadow, by contrast, has lean soil that dries out quickly, and it has been slow to establish. This year it’s finally coming into its own as the little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium, Zones 3–9) becomes dominant, with red-hued wild rye (Elymus canadensis, Zones 3–8) around the edges. The subtle colors and textures of the grasses are complemented by bright pops of color from seasonal flowers scattered in the meadow and are a special delight.

Most of these photos were taken by my friend and neighbor Marvin, who is an amazing photographer!

garden pergola overlooking meadowThis first photo shows the patio and pergola, with its surrounding flower garden and the meadow below.

meadow gardenThe flowering pollinator meadow lies over the leach field. In addition to the bluestem, which I planted both from seeds and plugs, currently flowering are volunteer goldenrods (Solidago canadensis, Zones 3–9; Solidago altissima, Zones 5–10; and Euthamia graminifolia, Zones 3–9), fleabane (Erigeron strigosus, annual), boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum, Zones 4–8), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea, Zones 4–9), prairie coneflower (Ratibida pinnata, Zones 3–8), New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis, Zones 5–9), green-headed coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata, Zones 4–9), and Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum, Zones 4–9).

meadow garden with mountains in the backgroundThis is a view from the patio. I’ve planted lots of annuals to make sure the patio is always surrounded by flowers, and I make sure they are airy enough not to block the view. Seen here: Verbena bonariensis (Zones 7–9 or as an annual), orange cosmos (Cosmos sulphuerus, annual), zinnia Queen Lime (Zinnia elegans, annual), and Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota, annual or biennial).

mix of annual flowers growingZinnia and Queen Anne’s lace are growing together with Verbena bonariensis.

mix of pink and purple flowers in a meadowThis view of the meadow includes an orange gladiolus (Gladiolus hybrid, Zones 7–10 or as a tender bulb) in the background.

orange Butterfly weedButterfly weed (Asclepius tuberosa, Zone 5–9) looks great with little bluestem in the meadow.

purple flowers surrounded by grassAnother favorite in the meadow (from earlier in the season) is blazing star (Liatris spictata, Zones 3–9). Even the dried seed heads look cool.

pink flowers next to plant with dark foliagePenstemon digitalis (Zones 3–8) is one of my favorite plants. It is decorative in all seasons. Here the seed heads look great, especially with the purple coneflower.

green meadow with flowersHere is one of Marvin’s perfect photos of the garden, the meadow, and the mountains in the distance.

Have a garden you’d like to share?

Have photos to share? We’d love to see your garden, a particular collection of plants you love, or a wonderful garden you had the chance to visit!

To submit, send 5-10 photos to [email protected] along with some information about the plants in the pictures and where you took the photos. We’d love to hear where you are located, how long you’ve been gardening, successes you are proud of, failures you learned from, hopes for the future, favorite plants, or funny stories from your garden.

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