Wednesday, November 17, 2010

When is a meadow not a meadow?


Head height reed canary grass
Photo courtesy of One Thousand Words Photography
On a sunny August day last year my husband and I smiled at each other as we watched the swallows dip and dive over the meadow which swayed gently in the breeze. Perfection. I had even put ‘meadow’ on our wish list when we started hunting for the perfect property but had never even dared to hope that we would find one. Yet we had found everything; 5 flat acres, a big barn, an organic vegetable garden, a modest house and……….a meadow. What else could we possibly want?

Probably a copy of Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast which would have told me that the ‘grass’ was actually the thug ‘reed canary grass’, growing well over 6’ tall and with the constitution of bamboo; the really BIG sort of bamboo that pandas eat. What’s the matter with tall grass you wonder? Well have you ever tried to mow bamboo? Or tried to machete your way through a jungle? That’s how bad it is. I may need to attach a GPS to our dog so we can track him!

Photo courtesy of
One Thousand Words Photography
Before my romantic vision was shattered I had devoured Christopher Lloyd’s book Meadows and started making notes on the hundreds of blue Camassia bulbs I would plant and how we would manage the meadow in such a way as to enable the native wildflowers to grow again. I was so excited!

Then it rained…….. and rained ………..and rained. Actually even for Seattle this was rain in monsoon proportions. Our water woes are the subject for another day, but I began to realize that the wettest areas had the thickest stands of reed canary grass. And I’m talking standing water here, not just a little damp. So now my rosy tinted meadow was an impenetrable wet jungle. Great.

I’ve had a year to think this through and I think I’ve come up with a plan that is realistic. Our wet meadow will remain just that. I have asked my husband to bushwhack a small trail through it just so that I can explore, but otherwise it will be home for the pacific tree frogs and salamanders. At times it also becomes a ‘wildlife freeway’ with deer, coyotes, a cougar and a resident bear strolling through. The trade off is that I will fight that grass to the death in a relatively small area close to the house which I want to make into a showcase mixed border. It will take a considerable amount of work to tackle drainage, remove the grass roots and amend the soil but I think it will be worth it.

So I still have my meadow, and so will the assorted wildlife. But I’ll have my garden dreams too.

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