Description

The Meadow Garden design evokes a grassy and lush natural area in a way that can provide a relaxed, simple, and beautiful garden that requires much less water and care than a traditional lawn.

It features a mix of larger and smaller ornamental grasses and grass-like plants to provide a sense of structure and adds in some simple flowering accents for beauty and diversity. People wanting something not much more complicated than a traditional lawn, but also desiring an informal feel and more visual interest may be interested in the Meadow Garden.

These plants require relatively low amounts of water, but can also tolerate higher amounts, making the Meadow Garden great for new designs, around existing medium and even high water use trees, and in "transition zones" between lawns and low water use landscapes.

People with larger yards may choose to feature a Meadow Garden in part of their yard, often with an area featuring a planting of Western Meadow Sedge as a place to take shoes off and enjoy the feeling of feet in the grass, in combination with one of the other plant palettes for other areas of the yard.

Note: highly botanically diverse meadow gardens can become very complex to maintain. For our Meadow Garden design and plant list, we chose a simple list of tough and easy to maintain plantings, achieving the essence of a naturalistic meadow garden look, while keeping care very simple.

This plant palette is available as an option for the Waterwise Community Center's Landscape Design Assistance Program. Visit cbwcd.org/desgin for more details.

Plant List

Grasses

Berkeley sedge

Botanical Name: Carex divulsa
Plant Type: Grass, Sedge
Water Needs: Low 2
Exposure: Morning sun, Moderate shade, All day sun
Height: 18 in.   Width: 18 in.

Canyon Prince Wild rye

Botanical Name: Leymus condensatus 'Canyon Prince'
Plant Type: Grass, Native
Water Needs: Low 1
Exposure: All day sun
Height: 4 ft. - 5 ft.   Width: 4 ft. - 5 ft.

Deer grass

Botanical Name: Muhlenbergia rigens
Plant Type: Grass, Native
Water Needs: Low 1
Exposure: All day sun
Height: 2 ft. - 5 ft.   Width: 3 ft. - 6 ft.

Western meadow sedge

Botanical Name: Carex praegracilis
Plant Type: Ground cover, Grass, Sedge, Native
Water Needs: Moderate 4
Exposure: Morning sun, Moderate shade, All day sun
Height: 12 in. - 15 in.   Width: 12 in. - 15 in.

Perennials

Common yarrow + cvs

Botanical Name: Achillea millefolium
Plant Type: Ground cover, Perennial, Native
Water Needs: Low 2
Exposure: Moderate shade, All day sun
Height: 18 in. - 30 in.   Width: 18 in. - 30 in.

Showy penstemon

Botanical Name: Penstemon spectabilis
Plant Type: Perennial, Native
Water Needs: Low 1
Exposure: All day sun
Height: 3 ft. - 5 ft.   Width: 2 ft. - 3 ft.

Small cape rush

Botanical Name: Chondropetalum tectorum
Plant Type: Perennial, Rush
Water Needs: Moderate 4
Exposure: Moderate shade, All day sun
Height: 3 ft. - 4 ft.   Width: 5 ft. - 6 ft.

Horticultural Preferences

The plants in the Meadow Garden palette are easy to grow. Most are adapted to a wide range of soils, from sand to clay, however a few require well-draining (usually anything but clay) soil, so if you have slowly draining clay soil, be sure to check the “soil adaptations” information for each plant you will include in your design.

The plants in this palette are easy to care for and generally do not require any cutting back more than once or twice per year to keep looking great in the garden, but it is important to do that at the right time of year for each plant. This is especially important for the larger grasses, which, if they are being cut back, must be done so right before their main growth season, which is different depending on the species of plant. Refer to the “maintenance” entry for each individual plant.

Some of the smaller plants in the palette, including Western Meadow Sedge and Common Yarrow spread from their roots. In a meadow planting, this is usually a good thing, because they will gradually fill in open spaces, providing the lush meadowy look, and occupying space to help prevent weeds from coming up. However, if you want to make sure these plants do not eventually spready beyond a certain boundary, you may choose to install some sort of root barrier to help keep them “in bounds.”

Note that while backyard meadows like this, once well established, are usually perfectly happy with light foot traffic and an occasional backyard campout, event, etc., they do not stand up to regular sports practice. For daily heavy use, traditional turf types are typically more durable.

Aesthetic Character

A meadow is simply one of the most pleasant places to be. Why not have one at home? The lower areas can be a place to take your shoes off or occasionally lay out a blanket and have a nap or a picnic. If you want to take out your lawn, but still have a nice place for an occasional back yard campout with the kids, consider the Meadow Garden for all or part of your backyard.

The contrasts of leaf color and plant form of the different grasses, grass-like plants, and accents provide a subtle but visually elegant look. This garden “comes alive” in the wind as the grasses gently sway. Accents provide pops of color. For more color, combine the Meadow Garden with plantings beyond the perimeter of the meadow (and on a separate irrigation schedule) from the Butterfly and Songbird Garden, Pollinator Garden, or California Native Color Garden if the area is sunny, or the Woodland Garden if the area is shady.

Moisture Needs

To have the best-looking meadow through our long-hot and dry late spring, summer, though early fall, Meadow Garden plantings will perform best if treated as the “wetter” end of a low water use planting. This is still low water use, and it requires far less water than a lawn. In most cases, for established plantings, this will be a twice-per-month deep irrigation in the hot and dry months. If you want an area of western meadow sedge to stay lushly green in the summer or yarrow to stay as perky looking as possible, you may want to water that specific area of the meadow more, in many cases a total of once per week. Additionally, placing western meadow sedge plantings in some shade, if that is an option will help keep it green with less water in the hot time of the year. In most soils, the plant will be perfectly healthy with a twice per month deep watering, but under these conditions is adapted to the summer heat by going partially dormant, which simple means that it will turn a bit yellow (western meadow sedge) or look somewhat wilted in the heat of the day (yarrow). This is not necessarily a terrible thing. In my home garden, in sandy loam soils, I choose to water the established western meadow sedge meadow about twice per month in the summer, and I am perfectly happy with the yellow color it takes on in the hot weather. It’s just one more of the seasonal changes that keeps the garden interesting throughout the year.

In most situations, recently installed plantings in their first year will want a deep watering of approximately one inch per week during dry weather, until they begin to become established, usually approximately one year after planting. Then, begin to increase the time between watering events, keeping an eye on how the plants are doing, until you reach your “established” irrigation schedule.

Sometimes mass plantings of the smaller plants in this palette will feature many plants installed at a relatively close spacing. Depending on the space and the design, this may apply to western meadow sedge, common yarrow, or Berkeley sedge. In these situations, both for efficiency of installation and cost savings, you may try to source these plants at a very small size, either 4” pots or trays of smaller plants called “plugs.” If you plant from these small sizes, depending on the weather and your soils, you will likely have to water these areas more than once-per-week, until the plants have grown in a bit. In fast draining soils and warm weather, small plug plantings may have to be watered every day (or even more than once per day in a heat wave) until they have rooted in some. However, the huge cost savings involved often makes this extra care and initial extra watering need well worth it, and plants usually begin growing and get past this stage relatively quickly.

The chart shown below provides a baseline guide to the monthly irrigation schedule and volume of supplemental water needed to maintain healthy growth. Several winter months noted by an asterisk (*) indicate when rains can provide sufficient moisture and irrigation is not needed. It is important to note that these plants can successfully grow within a range of supplemental moisture each month; the actual irrigation schedule should be adjusted to reflect specific soil, slope and exposure conditions to achieve best plant performance.

 

Irrigation Schedule and Graph

For more information on how to use this Irrigation Schedule and Graph, follow this link.

For information how to calculate your irrigation system’s schedule and precipitation rate, please follow this link.