I sowed a meadow about 20 years ago and fell in love with it. There was no question that I would. After I met Chris Woods, when Chanticleer was still a private garden, and asked him to help me turn my conventional front yard into a perennial garden (another story), I also told him that I wanted a meadow. No problem he told me. We first planted the area with over 1000 daffodils, followed by a mixture of wildflower seeds for the Northeast.
The area that I’m talking about is a piece of land abutting my home (where I no longer live) on a cul de sac. When the neighborhood was built, the developers had to allocate a certain amount of land to stay open, with no construction on it, in order to get approval from the township. The homeowners association, to which we all paid dues, was responsible for the maintenance of it. Practically all of us who lived next to open spaces planted trees, shrubs and perennials, cleaned out overgrown woodland areas, and made pathways. In other words, we upgraded these areas.
From time to time, there was some griping about us breaking the rules, but that’s to be expected when you get a group of 44 homeowners living in an upper middle class development. It’s all about ownership, protecting one’s own turf, using ChemLawn without fail, having lawns mowed weekly (even during dry summers) and watering lawns without any sense of moderation. The mentality was one of ‘to the manner born’, to put it mildly.
OK, so now you’ve got the drift. Overall, this was not a fun loving, creative, community oriented group.
Enter me. Fran Sorin. A free spirit who just happened to end up building a home and living in this neighborhood (yet another story). I thought that planting a drift of narcissus followed by a wildflower meadow, filled with lush red poppies, cerise blue bachelor buttons, daisies, gaillardias and yarrow was a no brainer. To bring beauty into our community, free of charge no less, was my pleasure. It felt like an offering. To be able to share the magnificence of nature with others; it just doesn’t get much better than that
Before you start thinking that I was consciously making the leap from replacing grass with a meadow for ecological reasons, I need to ‘fess up. This was not the case. I was one of those kids who grew up watching ‘The Wizard of Oz’; each year when it was aired, I was mesmerized by the field of red poppies that Dorothy fell asleep in. Fast forward to two decades later; I was the mother of an infant and toddler who was rushing home from the plaza on the expressway and just happened, out of the corner of my eye, to grab a glance of hundreds of red poppies shaking and shimmering in the midland strip. I was the passionate gardener (OK…obsessed) who a few weeks later, with a trowel and plastic bags returned to the same area, parked my car on the side of the road and pretending like I was looking for something lost, quickly dug up a few poppies to bring back to my garden. Five years later, I was a gardener at a DuPont Garden in the Brandywine Valley who was totally blown away when each spring a large track of bare land would transform itself by Memorial Day weekend into a carpet of wildflowers, every year with a different mix. One time, Jock Christie, the head gardener, created a palette of pink and red poppies with small white daisies. Oh, he kept me guessing in the spring. When I asked him what the mix was, he would just get a twinkle in his eyes and say ‘Fran, wait, you’ll see’. He never disappointed. Talk about a magic carpet ride.
My motivation for wanting a wildflower meadow was pure and simple; uninhibited, natural, beauty.
OK…so back to the story line. The meadow happened. It was in full bloom. I fell in love with it. When driving around the cul-de-sac, cars would stop or slow down and gaze. Walkers would stop and marvel at it. A wonderful gardening pal who was also an artist would bring her oils and easel and spend hours painting it. Once the wildflowers died out, yarrows, echinaceas and rudbeckias would take center stage. The butterflies and bees hovering around were having a blast.
By the end of the summer, the meadow did begin to look a bit colorless, even one could argue, scraggly. For me, it was like a garden in winter….beauty, redefined. Eventually, by mid-summer, the guys who mowed the lawn would tell me that the neighbors had asked for them to mow it down. Some years they mowed it down without asking me first. It broke my heart.
You already know the ending to this story, don’t you? Over the next couple of years, the whisper campaign became stronger. It got back to me that neighbors were saying that I had no right to plant anything on the open space. I was taken aback. After experiencing a range of emotions, I gave it up. My dream of ‘meadowizing’ the neighborhood came to a halt. I decided not to sow another meadow, to let the daffodils continue to naturalize and once they had bloomed and the foliage turned yellow, know that those huge commercial lawn mowers would rumble through the area chopping up anything in sight.
I could go on and on and milk this story for what it’s worth. After the area returned to its earlier look, neighbors who used to grimace and turn their backs on me started to address me with perfunctory greetings. Such was my reward for no longer being a neighborhood renegade.
What did I learn from all of this? That when I’m surrounded by beauty and nature in its most natural form, my heart opens up; I feel expansive and full of joy. Twenty years later, I don’t need to look at the photos that are in stored in boxes somewhere in Philadelphia. In my mind’s eye, I can see the meadow perfectly. That’s all that matters.
****Photos Taken At Chanticleer