A Meadow Designed to Brighten a Sidewalk

By Holly Samuels, Owner, Holly Garden Design

August 2021

In an effort to bring a good-sized pollinator meadow into a suburban setting, three years ago I had the opportunity to design and install a 10’ x 100’ meadow for a client at 39 Bow St in East Lexington, which is in my neighborhood. This is not a true meadow as you might find in our conservation areas in Lexington, but a collection of mostly native plants that are allowed to grow together into a plant community, self-seeding and spreading, with no open soil or mulch areas to be seen.

The meadow was installed with landscape plug-sized plants in March 2019 along the sidewalk of this property, with a new lawn and new native foundation plantings. Criteria for the plant selection included the conditions of the site (full sun and drought tolerance), resistance to rabbit browse from our hungry rabbit population, height that is not overwhelming to passers-by (nothing much over 4’), and plants that are as pleasing and varied to the human viewer as to the local pollinator population, selected from a predominantly native plant palette (although, for the purists, not all native to our region).

Plants were selected that grow at different heights from ground covers up to 4’ and whose root systems are at different depths so they can exist comfortably together. The location, surrounded by lawn and sidewalk, and some steel edging on the lawn sides, makes it easy to keep the meadow from spreading beyond its intended boundaries. It was important to me that this planting, which I hoped would get very dense and full, would retain legibility as an intended planting and not look like someone just decided to forget about mowing. The boundaries help make that happen.

In one year from planting, the meadow reached a very pleasing level of maturity and has continued to fill in this third year. Some plants that had been (expectedly) rabbit-browsed the first year (Pale Coneflower, Asters, Liatris, Swamp Milkweed) began to have a chance in the second year because they were surrounded by other plants that rabbits do not prefer to nibble (various plants in the mint family). This was the first year that everything in the original planting was visible and flowering, and the first time I saw one Echinacea paradoxa, an unusual yellow Coneflower. The second year there was a lull in color late spring after the initial purple and yellow of the low Barren Strawberry and Nepeta, so I added in some early summer ‘eye candy’ in the form of some cultivated varieties of native perennials, (a purple Penstemon, a pink Yarrow, a butterscotch Coreopsis).

Management of the meadow has included some initial weeding the first year as plants filled in, and then selecting for what ‘volunteers’ would be allowed to remain. Some unexpected, unplanted new residents are also showing up, including Blue Flag Iris, Great Blue Lobelia amongst its cousins the (planted) Cardinal Flowers, and even a group of Cattails! The lawn is irrigated and, along with the copious rain this season and a rather high water table in this low area, these wetlands plants are making an appearance at the lower, driveway end of the meadow. The Cardinal Flower was not in the original design as it really requires some moisture to survive, however the lawn irrigation seems to be providing that, so it is a welcome splash of red in the middle of the long meadow. It was a remainder from another project and I just added it spontaneously but I'm glad I did!

Weeding is minimal this third year, and I have been removing some seeding plants along the sidewalk edge to keep that edge low. Right now, something is growing in the middle that I haven’t yet identified but may be a willow family member and will probably need to be removed. We really live in a natural woodland so any herbaceous planting needs to be monitored for the trees that just want to grow! Pollinators seem to be very happy, almost berserk in their foraging activity. The size of the planting area really gives them a lot of variety and food, and I think they have been sending out pollinator texts to all their relatives in the local area letting them know there is a banquet on Bow St!

The homeowner welcomes visitors to view the meadow but please stay on the sidewalk. Before you go, download and print out the accompanying plant list to take with you. See how many plants you can find!

For additional perspective, watch a Cary Memorial Library video presentation last year about this project.

Sunny Meadow Plants for Meadow Under 5' cw.pdf

Plant list for 39 Bow St meadow, designed and established in 2019 by Holly Samuels.