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A Pollinator Meadow Inspires Wild Gardens

by Amanda

wild gardens - perennial garden
Geranium, Catmint, Echinacea, Verbena, and Grasses invite pollinators to the perennial garden at the front of Lisa's home.

When Lisa and her family purchased land to build their home in Huntington, Vermont, they knew they wanted to preserve the established wildflower meadow that spanned a large portion of their sunny property. Lisa also set out to make the property her own, establishing a low-maintenance, pollinator-friendly perennial garden at the front of the home and dotting the pristine land with charming birdhouses, a raised vegetable garden, and annual wildflowers. The result is a fantastic balance of planned and wild gardens that invite an abundance of wildlife in, which brings her whole family joy.

Wild Gardens: The Meadow 

wild gardens - milkweed
Giant patches of Milkweed fill the wild meadow, which overlooks fantastic green mountains.

As we sit on adirondack chairs on the back porch of the home, overlooking the vast and Vermont's Green Mountains, Lisa tells me about their work to preserve the meadow from the start. “We sited the house first, obviously, and then we decided that we wanted to keep the meadow as much as possible, which meant we would probably have to mow it every year,” she says. “But now we’re rethinking how much we’re going to mow.” Lisa explains that the Asters in late fall are important to local pollinators and birds and the grasses provide shelter for them in the winter. “We’re thinking of mowing only part of the field and leaving the grasses and everything else up in the rest of it for the birds and other wildlife.”

wild gardens - daisies and clover
In midsummer, the meadow is filled with Clover, Daisies, Milkweed, and Grasses.

But there can sometimes be a catch to leaving a wild meadow up, Lisa explains, and she wants to make sure to preserve the broad diversity of species that currently visit. “We don’t want all of this to become goldenrod,” she says. “Right now there’s such a huge diversity with milkweed, goldenrod, thistle, grasses, ferns, vetch, clover, and daisies.

Lisa says one of the most fun parts of keeping the meadow is watching all of the wildlife. “The birds are amazing the way that they fly in and out, we also have lightning bugs, toads, and we think that the deer bed down here sometimes,” she describes. “I’ve never had such an appreciation for a meadow.”

wild gardens - daisies and clover
Wide grass lanes divide the wild meadows, leaving plenty of space for humans to walk, run and play.

They mowed two distinct paths in the meadow: one that leads down to a stream and circles back up, and another that goes to a sitting area. They placed a bench and planted flowers underneath a large Maple tree for a place to reflect and take in the meadow. Willa, Lisa’s three-year-old daughter, loves walking through the meadow. “She loves all of the wildlife … we go out to the bench a lot and she loves hanging out outside. She enjoys seeing all of the toads and birds and understands the different animals that live in the space,” says Lisa.  

wild gardens - daisies and clover
I enjoyed seeing hundreds of bees and several Monarchs in the meadow.

As you walk down the paths in the meadow, a loud, familiar buzz of bees, toads, and cicadas creates a soundtrack that enhances all of the native plants. The large swaths of milkweed are dotted with bees and monarchs, quickly moving from bloom to bloom. As I sat on the bench underneath the maple tree, taking in the sweeping Vermont views and wildlife all around me, it was obvious why Lisa and her family have worked to preserve the meadow in its original form.

wild gardens - black eyed susan
A painted lady butterfly on native Black Eyed Susan.

An Easy, Pollinator-Friendly Perennial Garden

In her time at the property, Lisa has worked to establish several (perennial) wild gardens to help attract pollinators and frame the new build. The garden at the front of the home is the first thing you see when you pull up, and it’s breathtaking.

wild gardens - garden
Lisa's wonderfully purple perennial garden from the front.

Lisa says while designing the wild gardens, she knew she wanted to use plants that were hardy enough to survive in her zone 4 climate with wind and sub-par soil. “I wanted it to be successful; I didn’t want plants dying, I didn’t want to experiment,” she says. “I wanted to use plants that I knew would work.” She focused on low-maintenance varieties that attract pollinators and would give color and interest at different times of the year. “I took a more 'massing' approach instead of using single plants; I tried to do drifts of plants as much as I could,” she explains. She planted 3-9 plants of each variety in the garden and it really does make a difference. The garden is only in its second season and is extremely full -- no mulch necessary.

wild gardens - catmint
Grasses and Catmint add cool tones to the perennial garden.

The garden evolves throughout the seasons well. They enjoy spring color from Geranium, Miss Kim Lilacs, and Catmint blooming in early June. The summer garden bursts with Joe Pye Weed, Echinacea, Catmint and Geranium. The fall garden lights up with Rudbeckia, Aster, and Ornamental Grasses. She keeps the grasses up through the winter and they’ve placed stones throughout the bed to create additional winter interest.

wild gardens - geranium
Geranium and Echinacea just about to open up.

Lisa rounds out the garden each year with annuals, which she likes because they add a consistent source of color throughout the season. “My favorite are Verbena. It gets really tall and from a distance look sort of airy. The pollinators really like it too,” she says.

wild gardens - hummingbird and verbena
As soon as we started chatting at the front of the house, a hummingbird came to the Verbena and I was lucky enough to grab a shot.

A Small Vegetable Garden With 'Just The Basics'

At the front of the home, just to the left of the perennial garden is a small raised bed bursting with tomatoes, lettuce, and more. The frame around it, which they use to trellis the plants, acts as a picture frame for the mountains in the background. Lisa says her husband Aaron built the bed. “We just have the basics, we didn’t go too crazy. We have a ton of deer so we have to be careful,” she says. “In a lot of ways I really like supporting the local farmers and doing just a small garden here.”

wild gardens - vegetable garden
This small raised bed acts as a picture frame for the view behind.
wild gardens - bird houses
Lisa has scattered birdhouses all around the property.
wild gardens - bouquet
Another shot of the hummingbird on Verbena.

Adding Wildflowers to the Wild Gardens on the Property

wild gardens - wildflowers
Cosmos, Bachelor Buttons and Baby's Breath in bloom.

After Lisa and Aaron burned brush in an area at the front of their property, they were left with bare soil and plenty of opportunities. Lisa decided to plant wildflowers in that area and she chose three different mixtures: All Annual Mixture, Northeast Pollinator Mixture, and Partial Shade Mixture for the areas that had more tree cover. She says the heavy spring rains washed some of the seed away, but the annuals are starting to come up and it’s looking colorful with Baby’s Breath, Bachelor Buttons, and Cosmos. The wildflower mixtures she planted have plenty of perennials in them so she won’t have to plant again -- which goes perfectly with her low-maintenance property.

wild gardens - hummingbird and verbena
The planted wildflowers abut a natural wildflower meadow which makes for a fun contrast.

What’s Next?

Lisa says they would love to add edible trees and berries to their property, but are a little wary to do so because of the deer. She also talked about the idea of getting a small flock of chickens -- she thinks her daughter would love that. 

In the three short years Lisa and her family have been at their property in Huntington, they’ve managed to maintain a wonderful stewardship of their land. From preserving the wild meadow that local wildlife depend on, to creating new pockets of pollinator-friendly wild gardens, the natural balance they’ve struck on the property is ever present and speaks volumes to the Vermont family.