Lawn to Meadow, Part 1

 

Last year, an unbearable number of Canada geese decided they liked our big lawn. We didn’t like them, or what they left behind. Shouting didn’t make them go away, running at them was  a joke. But we knew that if our lawn was to be usable, the geese had to go.

I asked anyone I could for advice and learned that nothing much seemed to work. A spray used by golf courses did the job for a while but it smelled so bad that no one wanted to outside, which defeated the purpose. Plus it was expensive and had to be applied after every rain. I did discover, though, that Canada geese don’t like long grass. So we decided on the simplest solution. Let the grass grow and hope for the best.

My husband saw this as a cheap and practical solution to a problem. I saw it as an opportunity. Converting a long-established lawn into a country meadow appealed to me, particularly since I believed it could be beneficial ecologically. But would it work? Everything I read suggested that creating a meadow was a long and difficult process. But since letting the grass grow and seeing what happened meant leaving nature in charge,  it seemed worth a try.

Early this spring, we cut the lawn once, to mulch the leaves that had stayed there all winter. Since then, we’ve mown only a walking path. The change is startling. From a smooth lawn that looked like this ….

 

 

This was the view from the house out onto the big lawn in May 2015. The path in the grass was the result of heavy equipment crossing the lawn earlier in the spring.
This was the view from the house out onto the big lawn in May 2015. The path in the grass was the result of heavy equipment crossing the lawn earlier in the spring.

 

we’ve gone to a lawn that could soon be called a field.

 

The mown path provides contrast as well as a place to walk. Once the foliage of the muscari planted under the linden tree has died back, we will cut a circle around the tree to give it pride of place.
The mown path provides contrast as well as a place to walk. Once the foliage of the muscari planted under the linden tree dies back, we will mow a circle around the tree to give it pride of place.

 

This weekend I returned to North Hatley for the first time since early May. After being gone for a month, I knew that the grass would be taller. Even so, coming around the bend on the driveway I expected to see a variation of this familiar scene.

 

Nine years ago I was using a little point and shoot camera. This image shows clearly that a better camera takes a better picture. And perhaps after nine years of constant photo-taking, I've actually become better.
This photo is from August 2007. It’s not a very good photo but nine years ago I was using a little point and shoot camera. This image tells me that a better camera takes a better picture. And perhaps after nine years of regular photo-taking, I’ve actually learned a thing or two.

 

What I saw was a shaggy lawn that made me question whether we were doing the right thing.

 

The sculpture in the distance is in the same place, as are the railings on the drive. The trees have grown -- but not as much as the grass.
The sculpture in the distance is in the same place as in the previous photo, as are the railings on the drive. The trees have grown — but not as much as the grass.

 

A few days of looking has convinced me that we are. I’m amazed at the treasures that were hiding in the lawn, never able to show off their beauty. Like this mix of ragged robin, buttercups and forget-me-nots.

 

This photo and most of the others in this blog post were taken by my granddaughter. Thank you, Vivienne!
This photo and most of the others in this blog post were taken by my granddaughter. Thank you, Vivienne!

 

Or this grass, for instance.

 

I'm sure someone can identify this grass. Whatever its name, the purple tones are stunning.
I’m sure someone can identify the grass. Whatever its name, the purple tones are stunning.

 

Or this lovely little white flower, which many would call a weed.

 

I think this is Galium palustrum. Please let me know if I'm wrong.
I think this is Galium palustrum. Please let me know if I’m wrong.

 

The most startling change is the patch of red growing in one or two sections of lawn. It was the first thing I noticed, and the first thing I went out to investigate.

 

The fence in the distance is to prevent the Canada geese from coming onto the lawn with their babies.
The fence in the distance is to prevent the Canada geese from coming onto the lawn with their babies.

 

It’s growing in a clearly defined area where, I suppose, the soil suits it perfectly.

 

The sculpture in the distance is called Récolte. It is by local sculptors Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito.
The sculpture in the distance is called Récolte. It is by local sculptors Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito.

 

Will it spread to cover the lawn/field with a red haze? And what is it?  This photo taken by my granddaughter shows that regardless of its name, it is beautiful.

 

Hazy red is not what I'd expected to see on the lawn, but I like it.
Hazy red is not what I’d expected to see on the lawn, but I like it.

 

A close-up allowed us to identify it — red dock, or sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella). Last week I saw it growing in England, in gardens and along the roadside, and I was delighted to find it thriving here at Glen Villa.

 

Red dock, or sheep sorrel are the common names.
Red dock, or sheep sorrel are the common names.

 

Other more familiar flowers appeared mixed in with the long grass. There was orange hawkweed, or the devil’s paintbrush as some people call it. (Pilosella aurantiaca)

 

Growing around a birch tree and mixed with a variety of grasses, orange hawkweed offers a nice contrast in colour and texture.
Growing around a birch tree and mixed with a variety of grasses, orange hawkweed offers a nice contrast in colour and texture.

 

There were great spreads of ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) and forget-me-nots (Myosotis)…

 

Will the dock be more vigorous than the ragged robin and forget-me-nots, or will they live happily side by side?
Will the dock be more vigorous than the ragged robin and forget-me-nots, or will they live happily side by side?

 

…patches of sunny-topped dandelions (Taraxacum)

 

Who says dandelions should be dug out of lawns? Not me.
Who says dandelions should be dug out of lawns? Not me.

 

… and grasses that were lovely on their own.

 

Another nice composition by Vivienne.
Another nice composition by Vivienne.

 

 

Surprises appeared. Some were good surprises, like this white flower that I have’t managed to identify.

 

I think Vivienne's photos are stunning. Do you agree? Or am I only a proud grandmother?
I think Vivienne’s photos are stunning. Do you agree? Or am I only a proud grandmother?

 

Others were not. Because it turns out that Canada geese can recognize a path when they see one. And that’s where they are choosing to walk.

 

Do I need to identify this?
Do I need to identify this?

 

I’m told there were 50 or more of them one day while I was away, but since I returned, I’ve seen only what they left behind. We may have to spray the path, or leave it to grow as well. Based on what I saw over the weekend, and what Vivienne photographed, a field with no paths wouldn’t be a bad thing.

 

An almost 8 year-old granddaughter, photographed by her cousin 14 yr old Vivienne Webster. ()r 14 1/2, as she insists on saying.)
An almost 8 year-old granddaughter, photographed by her cousin, 14 yr old Vivienne Webster. (Or 14 1/2, as she insists on mentioning.)

 

This first year of the conversion from lawn to meadow is going as well as I could hope. I plan to post monthly up-dates as the summer progresses. I also hope to introduce selected wildflowers that I’m starting from seed. If you have ideas or suggestions for any aspect of this project, please share them. It’s an experiment and since I can’t predict what will happen, I welcome your input.