An Interview with Richard Schipul – Creating a Meadow

An interview with APLD CT member, Richard Schipul of Designing Eden in New Milford about a 2-acre meadow he recently installed in Kent, CT…before you read about Richard’s experiences take a look at some before/after photos of the project.

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Undoubtedly, many of our clients have seen “meadow in a bag” next to the checkout counter at the local nursery. For $14.00 they think they can have a grand meadow by tossing a bag of seed out on the earth.

Since you’ve recently installed a 2-acre meadow for a client, we’d love to have you share some of the issues that you encountered that make meadow design, construction and maintenance so much more complex than the average homeowner realizes.

In your blog post, you mention that you had to figure out how to prepare the site and remove the existing vegetation with minimal disturbance. What method did you ultimately use?

The key to meadow establishment and bed prep is to minimize the amount of soil disturbance so weed seeds are kept to a minimum.  The future meadow area had been seeded for erosion control by the site contractor.  It was a mixture of weeds and thin turf.  To accomplish vegetation removal we used a york rake as well as a section of chain link fence with cinder blocks pulled behind a tractor.  After multiple passes, we were able to remove a majority of the vegetation.  Whatever was left was spot sprayed with Roundup, and then scalped with a string trimmer .

What type of seed mix did you use for the meadow? Did you supplement the seed with any plus or container plants?

The establishment of the meadow was seeded.  There were no plugs or container plants used.  We chose to seed in the fall with a combination of annuals for first season color and perennials.  We chose equal parts of two different seed mixes, a Northeast mix that consisted mostly of summer flowering perennials and annuals and a fall mix.

Are you maintaining the meadow?  If so, what kind of on-going maintenance is needed to keep the meadow healthy and productive?

We do not maintain the meadow.  I advise the property manager who scouts for weeds a couple of times a year mostly in the spring.  The meadow then gets cut late in the fall.  I’ll be interested to see how long this meadow remains sustainable and what, if any species become dominant.  I’m hoping that if invasive plants are kept at bay, the meadow continues to self seed and acts as a cohesive whole for years to come.

How did you manage your client’s expectations for this meadow?

There really weren’t any expectations. I had free reign in regards to turning the idea of a meadow into a reality. I was hired by the property manager and have only met the owners once.  I made it clear to the property manager that meadows take time to establish.  The show of annuals the first season was a pleasant surprise for all and the second season meadow continues to impress with its month by month transformation.

In your blog post, you mention there are things you’d do differently next time. Can you share a few of them with us?

The main thing would be how to spread the seed.  Wildflower seed is so fine that you need to cut it with something else to get it to spread evenly.  It was suggested by the seed company to cut the seed with sand in a cement mixer.  The sand ended up being too heavy and continually clogged the spreaders.  Next time, I would experiment with lighter materials.  Also, I would probably look into hydroseeding the next meadow.  If you could get the seed to spread evenly, it would be more efficient to combine the seeding and mulch into one process.

Something I would definitely do again is to apply more seed than the suggested seeding rate. The cost of seed is relatively cheap compared to the cost of having to reseed due to poor germination.

Facts:

Approx. 2 acres

94 lbs. of seed used (American Meadows)

Seeded October 2009

Summer 2010 annuals

2011 flower sequence: Mid May-Mid June= Blue Lupine and Daisies.  Mid to late June, July and beyond= Different varieties of Rudbeckia.

Fall = Color and species yet to be determined, most likely asters, maybe more.

2 thoughts on “An Interview with Richard Schipul – Creating a Meadow

  1. Very interesting to hear actual details of a meadow creation project. This information is hard to come by. I found the method of vegetation removal especially curious, and I’d like to know how Richard hit upon it. It seems to me that chain link fence and cinder blocks dragged behind a tractor would cause significant soil disturbance, but perhaps this is in comparison to other methods considered. In any case, more please!

  2. Amy, thanks for commenting. How does anyone remove 2 acres of vegetation without any soil disturbance? Well that’s easy, Roundup the whole property and scalp it with a string trimmer or lawn mower. The problem is it wouldn’t be the most environmentally friendly approach. The answer I was looking for was how I was going to remove the vegetation with the least environmental impact and soil disturbance. If you look at a york rake, it’ s basically a large fork. I figured if we could run the york rake at grade we would grab a lot of vegetation along the way without much disturbance. If you aren’t willing to broadcast Roundup, at some point you will disturb soil. The chain link fence came through our own New England heritage. Farmers have used similar contraptions over the years for various farm projects. Depending on the task, cinder blocks were added or removed to adjust grading depth. I wasn’t sure if it would work but it was something we have used before for grading and I was willing to try again. Not to be overlooked, the budget allowed for man hours to scout and remove weeds on an annual basis. There have been plenty of weeds that have infiltrated the space that needed to be dealt with.

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