Friday, July 18, 2008

Meadows, meadows everywhere

Meadow gardening in Sweden in the 1930s. Picture by Sven A. Hermelin, published in Hem i Sverige 1935.

Meadow gardening has really taken off during the recent years and seems to create as much headlines here in the U.S. as it does in Sweden and other European countries. One of the most beautiful books in this area is the late Christopher Lloyd's "Meadows" (Timber Press, 2004), a captivating guide about how to preserve grasslands, and establish and maintain meadows. Of course, other excellent books exist, but I am a long time fan of Christopher Lloyd's writing, which always is extremely well-informed, entertaining and lively. (Sadly, he died just before my first visit to Great Dixter, and wandering there knowing he would never be gardening or writing again was a very sad moment. It is strange how some writers make you feel like you would know them personally - for me, I really felt like I had lost a close friend, even if I never met him).

Meadow at Great Dixter. The strictness of the huge Taxus topiary figures contrast so well with the dainty meadow flowers. And my daughters are taking in all the beauty.

Meadows as a gardening practice are decendants of two different origins: natural meadows, and a farming practice, which resulted in meadows. A natural meadow is a perpetual grassland - a habitat of rolling or flat terrain where grasses predominate. These grasslands are so called climax ecosystems that are capable of sustaining themselves; environmental factors restrict the growth of woody plants and therefore the grasslands are kept clean of shrubs and trees, which otherwise would succeed the grasses. Some typical environments for natural meadows are the alps, coasts, deserts and the prairies, all with harsh growing conditions (cold, wind, salt, heat, drought).

The meadow in my garden in Saltsjöbaden - kept in bay by the cold and salty winds from the sea, but still needing maintenance to keep out the unwanted invaders.

Meadows formed also as a result from the ancient farming practice of growing winter feed for the cattle on open land. The grasses were cut down in the end of the summer and carted away and their seeds were left on the fields, and so could regenerate the vegetation the following spring. Pastures are not really meadows as they are continuously grazed by animals that keep the grass short the whole season.

Beautiful, seaside pastureland with grazing sheep at Beachyhead, East Sussex; I warmly recommend it as a a wonderful place to visit.

Meadow gardening and "prairie style" gardening have been popular since the 1990's when Piet Oudolf's and Oehme & van Sweden's designs (only mention a very few) got a lot of space in the gardening magazines. And of course, Christopher Lloyd's many books, with beautiful pictures of lovely meadows have had an enormous impact. In my research for my first garden history thesis, I found some wonderful articles in Swedish gardening magazines from the 1930s promoting meadows in gardens, as the first picture above. During the 1930s, meadows as an agricultural practise was disappearing and many garden writers were worried about that the cultural and ecological environments would disappear as well. One of the most popular garden architects in Sweden during that time, Sven A. Hermelin, suggested using meadows instead of lawns in gardens, as they are more esthetically pleasing and give a larger biodiversity than the monotonity of a close-cut lawn. It just took another 60 years before his thoughts became popular... is nothing ever new in gardening?

A birds-eye view of the meadow towards the moat and the pavillion at Sissinghurst, with mown paths, roses and fruit trees in the grass. I took this picture from Vita Sackville-Wests writing tower.

Later update: see also my post European meadows, American meadows.


Sunita Mohan said...

There's something so beautifully life-affirming about meadows. No barren land, but green grass peppered with wildflowers, and a thriving, busy animal colony on various levels, while looking serene and unruffled on the surface.
Beautiful photos which make me wish I was there.

Lavender and Vanilla Friends of the Gardens said...

Your comment in "awaytogarden" caught my eye, it is soothing to come back into natures arms as a FLOWER! I love the picture with your daughters in the beautiful garden of the late Christopher Lloyd.

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Hi Sunita, maybe meadows are a bit like life itself, just like you describe it in your comment?

And Titania, welcome to my blog and thanks for your comment; yes, I would love to come back as a flower on a meadow, if that's possible! Maybe it sounds a bit morbid, but I don't mind being good compost for a garden either :-)

Philip Bewley said...

I just loved this post. I love Sweden.I love meadows. I have only been there in the Summer, however!
The first time I visited I was so impressed by the brilliant light and long nights. Birch tree everywhere! I felt like the country was like a natural garden. I love the high country...The high Sierras and the Tetons so I fell in love with the rock and wildflowers of Sweden.Your own meadow is a dream.

Unknown said...

Oooh I love this post. Your meadow in Sweden looks absolutely perfect and I would like to transport myself there right now and romp around. What a view!

West Coast Island Gardener said...

Your Saltsjöbaden meadow is inspiring. A delight to read your thoughts on meadow gardening as I am trying to re-design my new home to include Garry Oak meadows, too.

regards from your neighbour to the north

Arija said...

Love your posts and could see the raccoons even without the pics. also found the gates charming, not Bill but definitely the neglected one! Thanks. Obsession ia such a wonderful state, I fully subscribe to it!

Niels Plougmann said...

If only more people with bigger gardens would let more of those lifeless lawns become meadows with a moved path instead of making these huge lawn deserts!

Antigonum Cajan said...

I have a great dislike of lawns after some thought to maintenance practices.

Using gas/oil,fertilizer,insecticides,
fungicides,herbicides to keep lawns is
an aberration. Irrigation a waste of a precious resource. Not only you pollute
water,soil,air but create an unfriendly
environment with noise and smoke to detriment of flora/fauna.

The case of golf is the worst in my opinion. My blog deals with this and related issues, from the perspective of a Caribbean isle.

Meadows and ground covers will certainly help our surroundings.

Great post. Thanks, until then