The Perennial Meadow is the artist’s hand at its most playful. Here a wide range of plants with a long season of interest have been chosen carefully so as to provide interest within each season, largely through strongly contrasting forms. There is a distinct progression as the seasons advance. In spring and early summer the predominance of flowering plants are of European origin, are lower-growing, but no less beautiful. Though many earlier flowering plants, such as geraniums, lack structure after flowering, the inflorescence of many of these persist structurally (as one may notice from the photos) into the next flush of growth. On the other hand, geraniums can also seem ever-present due to their very long flowering period and abundance of flowers. What is less apparent at this time is the role played by many as yet to flower plants with their lush and contrasting colored foliage providing “filler” and bulk in a supporting role. As the summer comes into full swing the planting increases in height and the display is increasingly dominated by plants of North American origin. Many of these are tall grasses, and perhaps, at least half of this planting consists of grasses of different origin. With the arrival of fall the very tallest plants begin to flower and dominate the back of the planting. Bright colors begin to be far and few between yet can seem even more enchanting in contrast to the many earth tones represented by the persistent structural seedheads of earlier flowering plants. Lower-growing asters provide color below with their prolific flowers contrasting beautifully with the many bright shades of autumnal foliage. As winter strengthens its grip all that will remain are the skeletons of plants, with a bit of colored foliage here and there. Many of these forms will remain intact up until the first heavy snowfall, prior to which numerous early frosts will coat and highlight their spent foliage and seedheads with a layer of crystalline hoar frost. This ethereal display is the last of the garden’s expression until spring.
On a macro structural level, the Perennial Meadow has been designed in an open border layout. What is most evident about this meadow-like planting technique is that the depth of the border in places is often as deep as it is long. What this allows for is a much greater layering of plants with larger clumps used in repetition, such as one sees in a meadow (or in our case here in Maine, a hay field or pasture). Furthermore, this depth of planting area allows for one to walk into the planting whereby gaining a significantly different perspective as they progress along a designated path. The effect of being within a planting is considerably more intimate and inspiring then looking at a planting from the outside. Here plants and insect life can be examined close-up.
Culturally, this garden is dealt with in a similar manner to the Deschampsia meadow, and for similar reasons, though it is left standing longer for the early winter display described above. Using shears, the dead top growth of plants is incrementally chopped and left lying as fertilizer and mulch at the base of the plant (this as opposed to removing and composting the material in a specific location). There is the added benefit, with our heavy clay loam soils, in which this debris mulch allows one to walk among the plants in early spring without tracking the sticky soil. And even more importantly, it greatly reduces the heaving of plants from repeated freezing and thawing.
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Coming this winter.