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Little Patch of Weeds: Transforming Lawn to Meadow

Georgina and Marvin Carley here! We have large vegetable/flower gardens, huge mowed lawns, and always grow organic, but...



Image of Georgina and Marvin Carley's barn with vegetable beds in the foreground.

barn and garden setup; photo: Georgina and Marvin Carley



Our management style was all wrong!

We mowed vast areas of grass, planted extensive non-native perennial gardens, burned over the fields (which we now know host native bees), raked and chopped the tree leaves, and raised European honeybees.


Over the years, I lost interest in gardening and had taken up oil painting, becoming engrossed in perfecting that skill. For 20 years, Marvin and I had heated discussions about how to manage one little 20’x50’ section of weeds. I cannot explain why, but every year I insisted we keep the space, sensing there must be value there that we could not see.


One day light finally dawned on the patch of weeds when I spotted a monarch caterpillar moving about, and I was ecstatic! I used to notice monarch butterflies every fall as they migrated south and hadn’t seen them in years, yet here they were using the “forgotten” section of our yard!



image of a monarch butterfly resting on hand

monarch resting on hand; photo: Georgina and Marvin Carley



A spark of curiosity

After finding this little one, I bought a cage and started looking for more ‘pillers, feeding them milkweed, and searching on the internet for instruction. That’s when I came across the works of Douglas Tallamy, gardener and entomologist. I picked up one of his books and our whole world turned around—first mine, then Marvin’s (he loved his lawn mower!).


But how were we supposed to start this transformation from lawn to diverse habitat? We wanted to create areas which provide food and shelter for insects, birds and rodents, while also managing the soil moisture. Considering a rain garden planting, I contacted the Cheshire County Conservation District (CCCD) in 2022 for a visit through their Conservation Opportunity Fund. Because of topography, they determined ours wasn’t the best candidate for a rain garden, but perhaps it could be a meadow or hedgerow. That’s when the ideas began to flow!


We were awarded a grant through CCCD’s Conservation Opportunity Fund, which provided us with funding to help establish two wildflower meadows, totaling almost a quarter acre! The first is in the front yard where passersby can notice the transformation, and another larger section in the back. The plan for this second area is to install paths, seating areas, and brush piles for native wildlife.




image of sileage smothering tactic

second image of sileage tarp smothering tactic

sileage tarps helping prepare the planting area; photos: Georgina and Marvin Carley



From intrigue to action

To prepare the spaces for seeding, we bought four 25 x 100 silage tarps from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and installed these in early spring of 2022. The grass was then removed in late fall and the native meadow seed planted shortly after.


Over this past winter, we sowed several native species in a small propagation house we have in the back of the property, including milkweed, lupine, different varieties of goldenrod, and lots of asters.


Over this next year, we’ll see removal of bittersweet, grapevine, and sumac from the previous perennial beds. We’ll also lay tarps to remove more lawn at the site of the former supposed rain garden to explore the feasibility of a pond/wetland area and to encourage more wildlife. This area could be supplied by a well on the property, though we are currently unsure if the well will be able to keep a pond stable.


We’re excited to see what comes up during this first growing season after the meadow seeds have been sown! Our intent for this space is to educate others, providing public hours to encourage people to plant native, and create a Facebook page where we can answer questions and pass on the knowledge we have accumulated!


 

Thank you to Georgina and Marvin for their passion in bringing biodiversity to their landscape and helping teach others how to do the same! Have a cool wildlife project but don’t have the funds to get it done?


Learn more about the Conservation Opportunity Fund and all our programs supporting agriculture, wildlife habitat and more by visiting our website: https://www.cheshireconservation.org/cof.


Happy spring!


Photo of a European skipper (Thymelicus lineola) feeding on a clover flower

European skipper (Thymelicus lineola) feeding on a clover flower; photo: Erik Kartis

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