PECO CEO Denis O’Brien, receiving the LEED Awards for lawn-to-meadow Corporate Campus conversions installed by Native Return®, LLC

Meadow Lawns. You might think this is an oxymoronic trick word-pairing, given that the definition of a lawn is “a stretch of open, grass-covered land, especially one closely mowed.”  As we know, meadows aren’t normally mowed.  It might work, however, if you consider that the word “especially” is not “only” which gives meadows a fighting chance, for a meadow is indeed “a stretch of open, grass-covered land.”  And that, dear reader, is the the topic of our discussion. Today, I am going to examine the virtues of meadows-as-lawns, (which gets a Ten), vs. traditional-lawns-as-lawns, (which gets a big fat Zero). Read on.

In a few words, this is an entreaty to those in charge of their residential lawn maintenance to reconsider this unreasonable chore.  The closest comparison I can make is trimming your hair or paring your toenails; these however are required by  necessity lest we morph into shaggy, clawed creatures, while lawn paring  is a self-imposed punishment.

There is a better way. As you may have guessed, it is by conversion of lawn to meadow, hereinafter called a meadow lawn, which will have many, many very positive outcomes which will benefit you, the land, and the wild animals who create the balance of nature required to sustain it.

Path through meadow lawn

What are some of these advantages? Just to get your attention, I’ll first mention that meadows are nesting-places of many species of songbirds, some of whom, (the bobolink and meadowlark, for example) you may not have heard for lo these many years, due to meadow conversion to farming, forest encroachment, and development of suburban land. By creating a meadow lawn you can do a big part in restoring this fragile habitat and its songbirds.

But let’s  move along.  What comprises a meadow? I don’t want to scare you on this one, but in a word, Weeds. Now, we must define weeds to properly appreciate the meadow lawn concept. Going back to definitions:  a Weed can be defined as “any valueless, undesirable or troublesome plant, especially one that grows profusely where it is not wanted.”  This is a perfect definition of alien plants, those which have been introduced from other ecosystems for any number of reasons, which usually do not provide any food source for insects, reptiles and animals, or ground support given the local topography.

We can now define weeds as alien plants which do not serve the local environment.  Think of your traditional groomed lawn as a huge conglomeration of nasty weeds.

We continue.  Creating a meadow is a way to replace the alien plant species that comprise your traditional lawn with plants that are native to your specific locality.  By doing so, it will become self-sustaining and flourish naturally, as native seeds are either introduced in the replacement seed mix, occur naturally in the soil, are carried in by animals, or blown in on the wind.  Your maintenance consists of weeding out the alien species (small learning curve here) and weed-whacking or mowing it down once a year.

Installed meadow lawn

Wonderful things will begin to happen when your meadow lawn is introduced.  Meadows serve as windbreaks, and moderate  temperatures.  They provide visual movement pleasing to the eye as small birds sing, nest and feed on its seeds.  Native plant species have root systems which have evolved to suit the meteorology (the atmospheric conditions and weather) of an area. Your meadow lawn will send down deep roots–some as deep as 20 feet–which infiltrate large quantities of storm water, reduce runoff, and recharge our aquifers.  Believe me when I tell you that traditional lawn grass, with its shallow root sytems, does little more than asphalt parking lots or roadways to reduce flooding from storm water runoff.

The native plant species in your meadow lawn have been bred to tolerate periods of drought in the areas in which they evolved. They live and prosper in dry periods during which your traditional lawn will die without the sprinkler in place. With a meadow lawn you can throw away the hose; Mother Nature is in charge.

For lack of space I’ll add just one additional major advantage of the meadow lawn, not the least for being last, in fact perhaps it’s the most important.  I suggested this in my reference to the songbirds at the very beginning.   The native flora in your meadow lawn benefit all our native fauna:  insects,  birds, reptiles, amphibians,and mammals (and that includes us!).  An important and sometimes overlooked building block to the system are the insects; native flora must be introduced to sustain native insects to sustain native insect-eating birds, and so on up the food chain through the panoply of  species.  Alien species don’t attract the necessary bottom-up system which produces  songster bobolinks.

We have limited land.  We must innovate as we relearn how to both live with, and protect, our environment.   Imagine if there were housing developments which apportioned a percentage of each homeowner’s yard space to a living meadow lawn, creating cost savings, providing exploration space for youngsters and connecting natural wildlife corridors, in addition to providing the benefits I’ve discussed above.

Christina Kobland’s Native Return® meadow lawn (photo by Fay Kobland)

Creating meadows/meadow lawns is a specialty of Native Return®, LLC, whose service team is ready to create  them for those who endorse the concept but are unable to effect it without our help.  Our work has included projects for Northeast Philadelphia Airport (PNE) and several PECO (Philadelphia Electric Co.) corporate campuses and Rights-of-Way Transmission Line Corridors, where we recently added in bluebird and kestrel boxes and are monitoring the new species attracted to these valuable wildlife corridors. PECO”s efforts are now recognized by the Wildlife Habitat Council.

Meadows can be created on any public or private outlying land presently requiring grass maintenance, saving money on mowing, equipment emissions, and labor.  Schools, churches, universities, corporate campuses, airfields, parks, roadsides, rights of way, all can profit by meadow conversion.

We invite your comments and questions,  and encourage you to consider the ways that you can improve your personal place in the biosphere. My goal is to integrate innovative solutions into mainstream land management to build beautiful and functional wildlife gardens and corridors protective of our native wildlife.

© 2012, Christina Kobland. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    Christina I love my meadow and although it does have some invasive plants we continue to eradicate, it is coming into its own…I would love to replace my lawn but unfortunately there is a covenant…I will be extending planting beds out and perhaps I might utilize a low grow type of grass in the back…thx for the ideas
    Donna@ Gardens Eye View recently posted..Gardens Eye Journal-April 2012

  2. says

    Actually, I think “meadow” and “lawn” are fairly compatible terms; isn’t the word “meadow” related to the word “mow”? Meadows are the places cut for hay, which is why “the sheep in the meadow” is as serious a problem for Little Boy Blue as “the cows are in the corn.”

    But anything that encourages meadows and prairie-patches in place of lawns is ok by me. I wish more people knew how easy it is the grow their own bird-food simply by encouraging a little wildness.
    Caroline recently posted..Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Back Yards, by Sara Stein

    • says

      I’m not sure about the word origins, but your comments are interesting. I stopped feeding the wildlife as they have plenty of seedheads, fruits, flowers, and other natural food sources at Native Return.


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