Friday, January 3, 2020

The Slope Meadow

I want a meadow. I do not have a meadow nor do I really have a good spot for one but I don't care. I want a meadow. What I do have is a hot, dry sunny slope with clay soil so a meadow it will become. I started working on this project in the fall of 2018, plugged away at it again last spring, and finally completed the project this fall.




The slope was covered in wild, weedy, seedy grass that had invaded my front garden. Carved into pockets were clumps of orange milkweed, liatris spicata, Bradbury's monarda, Tennessee coneflower, prairie dropseed grass, and rudbeckia hirta.  I needed plants that could survive off rainfall and those held up just fine. Fortunately, clay soil retains moisture, which is helpful.




Here's my plan:

Remove the plants I don't want. This was a massive undertaking because it involved removing all the grass. I started by pulling up the top growth in a search and rescue mission to uncover the perennials I'd planted previously. I then dug up the entire slope and sifted through the soil to remove every root and runner from the wild turf grass.



The driveway is my neighbor's property.


Every plant that doesn't support wildlife came out, including a large stand of orange day lilies and large black walnut tree seedlings. The shrub at the top of the slope is part of an evergreen Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) hedge separating my garden from the street. 

Add a drainage canal. I dug a trench between the slope and my neighbors driveway and filled it with pea gravel to help prevent rain from running downhill and washing into his garage, which is at the end of a downward sloping driveway. This also works to funnel water into the garden at the bottom of the slope.



The trench starts at the hedge by the street and runs the length of the slope. I covered it with soil.

Stabilize the slope. I added boulders and broken pots to the slope to prevent erosion and stabilize the slope. If the pot I wanted to use wasn't broken, I broke it. Little pots are super cheap and a pain in the butt to keep watered, so I sacrificed them to the project. I like the mosaic effect of the boulders and pottery.


The boulders are much larger than they look in the other pictures. They're partially buried in the soil to stabilize the slope. 


They were impossible for me to carry so I had to maneuver them into my wheelbarrow and dump them onto the slope. 


I enjoyed breaking these pots.

 Add the plants I do. It's hard to tell in these pictures, but the slope is now packed with plants. There are over 100 orange milkweed plants along the slope and my summer garden was full of monarchs. I had a nursery bed packed with milkweed that I started under lights last January that thrived this summer. Dozens more seedlings that I'd planted this spring and thought had been suffocated by the grass were discovered when I found the dormant roots while sifting through the soil to remove the grass runners. 



Monarch on a seed grown dahlia

I added 300 drumstick alliums along with coneflowers, native yarrow, more orange milkweed, rudbeckia hirta, and silene regia all grown from seed.* 



Seeds from the different coneflowers growing in the front garden were collected in a bag, tossed together and then sown in empty pots last fall. The seedlings were transferred into the meadow. I have no idea what they'll look like when they bloom!

Native grasses, goldenrod, penstemon, and asters were also added as were some dwarf perovskia and about two dozen curly parsley plants for the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. 


Build in steps so I can access the back of the garden and the top of the slope. One corner of the front garden was inaccessible this summer and I let it go simply because I wasn't able to bushwhack through the jungle to maintain it. The perennials survived but so did a lot of weeds.  


I bought several different varieties of California poppy seeds from Select Seeds

Scatter wildflower seeds over bare soil to fill in the gaps while I'm waiting for the milkweed, which is slow to emerge in the spring, to fill the slope. I scattered seeds for California poppies, a reminder of my home state, centranthus ruber (Jupiter's Beard) and native partridge pea. They're all easy to grow and the poppies will provide spring color. 




Soak in the tub with a drink once I'm done or as needed. 



I know the slope will fill with grass again next spring since removing all of it was impossible but at least there will be significantly less grass and more flowers.


'Miss Kim' lilacs grow next to the house and will be a beautiful green backdrop to the colorful meadow. Native violets were left since they provide larval food for frittilary butterflies.


* Growing native wildflowers from seed is effortless. In the fall/winter toss some seeds on the surface of a pot full of old soil left over from the summer and ignore them. Next spring, thin out the seedlings and water them all summer. That's it.

48 comments:

  1. Can't wait to see it in its full glory this summer!!

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  2. Can't wait to see how this space continues to grow. :-)

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  3. This is a perfect spot for a meadow. Your neighbor is going to love it too. Nice work, girl!!

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, he's much happier with the new view as opposed to the hill full of wild grass.

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  4. Great! It'll be wonderful and the bees and butterflies will love it.

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  5. Looks a great project. I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.

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  6. What a lot of work. I bet it feels good getting this ready for the new growing year. I can't wait to see it all grown up.

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    1. It was a ton of work but a fun project to work on. Growing 99% of the milkweed from seed saved me about $1000 since there are over 100 milkweed plants in the slope. I can hardly wait to see everything sprout!

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  7. Just reading the post was therapeutic! You must feel wonderful! Great job!

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    1. Breaking those pots and digging up all that grass was therapeutic! I am quite proud of myself!

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  8. I'm not sure what's going on with my account as i'm not usually "unknown"...above comment from Cat in ATX :)

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  9. This reminds me of my meadow project that I did last year, very similar, right down to it being between me and my neighbor's driveway, except my soil is sandy. Growing wildflowers from seed is the best. I'm working on redoing another bed that has been overcome with weeds in the same way.

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    1. Great minds think alike! I used to think growing from seed was difficult and sometimes it is but usually it isn't and it saves a ton of money. I saved about $1000 growing all that orange milkweed from seed.

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  10. You've done a great job, not that I'm at all surprised. I want a meadow too. (My brother has one, which I envy every year.) Before our rain started in December, I scattered wildflower and California poppy seeds down at the bottom of my back slope. LOTS of seeds have sprouted but I don't know yet if that's the result of what I scattered or simply a further proliferation of the Centranthus already running amok down there. I've got rock left over from deconstructing the funky indoor BBQ during our remodel which I plan to use in that area but they're so heavy I can only lug one stone at a time down our concrete stairs. I wish I could give you some of those - I'm afraid they're going to be occupying the area behind our garage for years...

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    1. Thanks! Centranthus is very unpredictable here and I have no idea if any of the seeds will sprout or thrive. I know the poppies will be awesome, though. Maybe you could hire some local kids to move those stones.

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  11. What an accomplishment! The wildlife will thank you for your efforts. Can't wait to see it all flowering. Lovely to hear from you, I've missed your posts. All the very best for 2020.xxx

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    1. Thanks! I didn't mean to take another break from blogging. Life just kept getting in the way and it didn't seem like I had much garden news to write about. You'll be hearing from me!!

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  12. You have been very busy, Tammy! You are so creative and persistent. Please share photos during spring, summer, and fall. Will you please come over to my house and help me figure out my slop project? ;-)

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, I am stubborn like a mule. I was determined to get this done and for it not to suck. I plan on torturing you all with loads of pics of it for the rest of my life. :o)

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  13. I look forward to seeing the fruits/flowers of your labors. It will be magnificent.

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  14. Glad to see you here in garden blog land Tammy ! I love the story of your slope and I know it will be beautiful. There's not much that is more satisfying than taking an area that looks like crap and transforming it. Always worth the effort and the rewards last longer than the ache and pains.

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    1. I work out a lot so the aches and pains were minimal but I do love the process of transforming a waste area into something beautiful.

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  15. I have never heard of orange milkweed - but I bet I am going to see lots of it in the spring. BTW, love the quote by eb white in your sidebar! I can also relate to your transporting methods.

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    1. The boulders are huge and heavy! There was a lot of grunting and shoving involved but I got everything where it needed to be. Google orange milkweed. It's an amazing plant for dry, sunny spots and a host plant for monarchs. It's tough as nails!

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  16. As always you are my role model. I can't wait for pictures. Really random question - don't you get aphids all over your milkweed?

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    1. I am?? Thanks! Yeah, I get aphids but unless the plant is in an area where I can easily wipe them off, I don't worry about them. The lady bugs will eat them. I have zero plans to interfere with anything happening on the slope. I want it to become its own little ecosystem and unless something really horrible happens that requires my help to keep everything alive, such as a drought or plant devouring space spiders, it's survival of the fittest and ultimately the good bugs will win.

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  17. You are working hard! I'm sure it will be glorious. Surprised that your butterflyweed does well in clay.

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    1. Thanks! Orange milkweed does really well in VA clay as long as it's well drained. I've never had any problems.

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  18. Wow. My hat is off to you. What cool project! I hope you blast us all with amazing vignette photos next year with all of those gorgeous blooms and butterflies. This is one of those stories about the big changes that just one person can do to support wildlife.

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    1. Thanks! 100 milkweed plants will be hard for any pollinator to resist, especially the monarchs. I can hardly wait to see it in bloom and full of life and activity. Stay tuned for a zillion pictures of my new baby!

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  19. So that's what you were up to this summer! It's a huge amount of work as it's such a large area but it's going to look spectacular! I can't believe you took all that grass out by hand! I hope it's now a doddle for you to keep on top of this season. I'm looking forward to loads of butterfly pictures!

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    1. I actually worked on this in the fall. It was labor intensive but I enjoyed it. I let my front garden go a bit wild this summer to see which plants would be fine, how much moisture the soil had, and which ones needed extra help. It was a glorious, vibrant life-filled jungle. I did some editing this fall and took out the weeds that had been too threaded into the other plants to be able to pull. I just didn't post about it but in retrospect, I should have.

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  20. You are a girl who likes a project. Well done, what a lot of work involved but it will be worth it. I look forward to seeing it in the summer. Nice to have you back.

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    1. Thanks, Chloris! All the work has already been worth it because the meadow will be glorious this summer and the grass is gone.

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  21. Some how I missed this post (I must have been drinking wine in the bath too ? LOL)
    All I can say is WOW ! .. You are one madwoman gardener to take this challenge on full steam .. how did you get that boulder in the front seat ? .. what a tremendous job Tammy .. it is going to pay of with gorgeous results.
    I was exhausted just reading it ... I can't imagine the size of the glass of wine(s) you must have had after days of that!
    Maybe you just went for the bottle ? LOL .. well done you !
    PS .. I was amazed with how many monarchs we had last year .. it was glorious !

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    1. I haven't been posting much so it's been easy to miss them. The teenager at the garden center loaded the rocks for me and then I dumped them into a wheelbarrow when I got home to move them where I needed them. They're huge and very heavy! I loved this project because I love transforming an area and I like the physicality of gardening. It's going to be stunning in full bloom. I can hardly wait!

      I was so glad to get rid of that rotten grass. It had invaded the entire front garden and was suffocating some of my plants. I was thrilled to create that little stairway so I can access the back of the garden near the hedge. Our planet is in such peril that I want to do everything I can to help so a new garden was the result!

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  22. Tammy .. I am serious as a heart attack when I say I truly feel this impact (climate change,overwhelming abuse of the planet and animals) in my gut .. I am also determined to do as much as I am capable of to help.
    You really have been doing an amazing job .. we never stop gardening do we .. no matter what goes on around us.

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  23. Wow! What an ambitious project! I eagerly await photos once things are up and growing. Your wildflower garden will be a visual delight to you, but you are also helping pollinators and other types of wild life; that is best of all. Well done!

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    1. Thanks! I'm excited to see how it all turns out as is my neighbor who gets to look at! His kitchen looks directly onto the slope.

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  24. I like your plan. I think we all get to that point in our gardening. Now everything is native. Put a damn meadow in. Make it happen. It's going to be fantastic. And the birds will love your for it. And you'll love seeing them PLUS all the other critters that will show up for sip. I need to do a post on my garden, but you and I are on the same page about things. I can't have a meadow so I'd like a pond but right now we have a nice fountain in our courtyard.

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    1. I'd like a pond, too, but don't see that happening, ever! We just have to do the best we can with what we have, instead, although I'd much rather have a magic wand so I could have what I want!

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  25. Hoping all is well with you. Stay safe! Hugs.xxx

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