With attention paid to the plight of diminishing wildlife, especially populations of pollinators such as native bees and butterflies, people have responded with an interest in ways they can help keep what pollinators are left and even help increase populations.
This has resulted in a heavy interest in native plants as alternative choices in landscapes, and has changed much of the approaches we take when designing landscapes, as to make benefitting wildlife a priority in design. Ultimately, creating gardens and landscapes that resemble a healthy, established native ecosystem is the ultimate goal, but doing so takes a lot of space, money, and time. So what's the typical eco-conscious gardener living in the urban jungle to do?
Many gardeners are falling in love with the ideas of mini-meadows. While it's not acres of native restored prairie gardens, it's still a beautiful way to enjoy wonderful, healthy plants in the landscape while helping out the bees and butterflies (and birds and a plethora of other native wildlife).
Native prairie plants have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years in tough climate conditions. They can handle a wide range of weather - from heavy rain, to drought conditions, to heavy wind and high humidity. Prairie gardens do well covered in feet of snow, or in dry cold with no protective snow at all in the winter. In a varied prairie plant community, plants are blooming and going to seed throughout the entire year, so something interesting is always happening. And, animals that depend on the food and cover these plant communities provide can rely on a season-long home, which makes them extremely important.
In this prairie garden design by Julie Farris, you can see how beautiful pairing formal lines and modern materials with the informal plantings of native prairie plants can look beautiful together. Mixing flowering plants (often referred to as "forbs" when talking about prairie and meadow settings) and grasses makes for a very beautiful and natural backbone for your perennial plant choices. Best of all, once established, these plants are all absolutely care free if you start with good soil and mulch each fall with natural mulch materials that feed the soil. Every 3-4 years, some division of perennials might be necessary, but sharing divisions with friends is a fun thing to do! Consider adding shrubs and trees, such as spice bush, Princeton Elm, Cottonless Cottonwood and small trees like native dogwoods, like red twig and white flowering, if you have the space.
Some specific plants that are ideal for starting the mini-meadow or small prairie planting include the Cheyenne Sky Panicum Grass, Prairie Dropseed Grass, Little Bunny Pennisetum Grass, Northwind Panicum, Echinaceas, Goldenrod, Yarrow, Asters, Blue False Indigo, Agastache, Monarda, and Heliopsis.
And, of course, there are many, many more! Plus there are seed blends for a fast easy meadows.