Mini Meadows for Your Yard’s Toughest Spots

Whether you live in a drought-prone region or have a stubbornly damp section in the backyard, a mini meadow — a small patch of colorful flowers grown from seed — can thrive and beautify even the most difficult areas.

If you have a challenging landscape to work with, a meadow can act as a problem solver for you. Photo © Rob Cardillo, excerpted from Mini Meadows.

What do you think of when you hear the word “meadow”? A wild, grassy expanse where birds nest and prairie dogs scurry? A hayfield? The dictionary defines a meadow as “land that is covered or mostly covered with grass.” Maybe, in your vision, there are a few wildflowers blooming among the grasses.

My definition of a meadow is slightly different. First off, I think of it as a place that isn’t necessarily dominated by grasses but that includes all kinds of plants, both native and not, perennial and annual. A beautiful meadow should have flowers blooming from spring through the early frosts of fall. It most likely has a loose, naturalistic style and shouldn’t be overly manicured. And because these plants typically offer food and habitat for insects and birds, there are butterflies and other pollinators flying around.

A meadow can be any size — it can be in a planter box on your rooftop or it can occupy a few thousand square feet on the back edge of your property. It doesn’t need to be big! The most important thing is to think of a meadow as a kind of garden that’s loose and informal and that doesn’t take a lot of time to maintain. It shouldn’t be a burden. Allow it to develop and mature on its own, year after year, while you learn from and enjoy the process as you go.

A mini meadow can provide years of color, even in less than ideal conditions. Photo © Rob Cardillo, excerpted from Mini Meadows.

For the past 25 years, I’ve been fortunate to have spoken and worked with gardeners of all levels, all over the world, walking them through the process of creating the meadow of their dreams. The fun and exciting part for me is that each meadow planting is unique and different — from a 300-acre commercial planting in Alabama to a rooftop garden in Dallas. Meadows can be defined in many ways, and each one carries its own unique stamp that reflects the aesthetics of the gardener as well as the conditions of the site; that’s one of the great things about them.

If you have a challenging landscape to work with — such as a sloped hillside, hard-to-reach area, or leach field — a meadow can act as a problem solver for you. Many wildflowers, in particular, adapt to extreme growing conditions and require little maintenance, meaning they’ll not only look beautiful but also serve a purpose on your property.

The first step is to determine your purpose, then find the right plants for the job.

A Drought-Tolerant Meadow

Increasingly warmer summers with inconsistent rainfall can make for some very stressful growing conditions for a lot of plants. In recent years, we’ve seen an increate in drought conditions across the country, from Connecticut to California. As a result, there has been a big increase in demand for drought-tolerant plants in home gardens. A meadow planting of drought-tolerant plants can actually thrive and provide years of color in these less-than-ideal conditions. Just keep in mind that whether you’re planting seeds or plants, they’ll need watering at the early stages to get them established. All young plants need regular water, especially seedlings, so think about how you will get some water to them in the first few weeks after planting.

Drought-Tolerant Meadow Plants

Drought-tolerant plants, such as cornflower (or bachelor’s button), bee balm, purple prairie clover, oriental poppy, sage, and none-so-pretty (or catchfly) can actually thrive and provide years of color in less-than-ideal conditions. Purple prairie clover photo © WILDLIFE GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo; all other photos © Rob Cardillo, excerpted from Mini Meadows.

A Boggy Meadow

If you have an area on your landscape with poorly draining soil that collects water — especially in spring — you may try your hand at planting wildflowers to create a boggy meadow. Typically these boggy spots are found at the bottom of slopes where water collects or in newly cleared wooded areas.

Before you get started, it’s important to first survey the area. Is there actual standing water in this area and if so, how often? Most meadow plants won’t thrive in constant standing water, so if this is the case with your area, you may want to create drainage to give the water a place to go.

There are plenty of meadow plants that thrive in damp soil. This area of your property may quickly become one of your favorite colorful spots to enjoy throughout the season.

Plants for Damp Sites

Some plants thrive in spots that tend to be boggy, but not in areas with permanent standing water. Try planting cardinal flower, swamp milkweed, marsh marigold, rocket larkspur, jewelweed, and forget-me-not. Rocket larkspur photo © Premium Stock Photography GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo; all other photos © Rob Cardillo, excerpted from Mini Meadows.

Whatever your gardening needs are, I hope I can inspire you to plant a meadow and experience the same joy and passion I’ve shared with people across the country for more than 27 years.

Text excerpted from Mini Meadows © Michael Lizotte.

Mike Lizotte

Mike Lizotte

About the

Mike Lizotte, aka “the Seed Man,” is the author of Mini Meadows. As the owner of American Meadows, he has been helping people start home-scale meadows for more than 25 years. He lives in Essex Junction, Vermont, with his wife and daughter.

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