A Path Runs Through It —— and We Get to Mow It

Meadow. So soothing a word, it should be listed as a synonym for soothing. And while I’ve written in an earlier post that lawns are the meadows in our everyday landscapes, even I know they aren’t real meadows — those self-sustaining habitats jumping with insects, birds, and butterflies, where tall feathery grasses and colorful flowers dance in the wind.

The meadow sits along Jones Bridge Road at Woodend, Audubon Naturalist Society's Woodend Sanctuary. The deer exclosure is on the left.

The meadow, along Jones Bridge Road at Audubon Naturalist Society’s Woodend Sanctuary, was starting to green up when the path was first cut on April 27. Part of the deer exclosure is on the left.

The difference is clear when every ten days or so, we visit a real — albeit baby — meadow at Woodend, the Audubon Naturalist Society’s (ANS) 40-acre Sanctuary in Chevy Chase, MD, to mow the path meandering through it.

“Years ago, before the extreme pressure of deer and invasive plants, our meadows were chock full of a wide variety of plants and the birds, butterflies, and other insects that relied on them for food and shelter,” says Lisa Alexander, ANS’s executive director. “Today, as we work to increase the variety of native plant species in the meadow, we eagerly hope for the return of bird and insect diversity, too.”

When ANS decided to restore this meadow, they sought advice from Larry Weaner, a landscape architect who specializes in native plants, and Dr. Jennifer Murrow, a wildife biologist at the University of Maryland, because meadow-making is more than pulling up some weeds and throwing down some seed.

By our second cut on May 6, the meadow grasses on either side of the path were long and lush.

By our second mowing on May 6, the meadow grasses on either side of the path were long and lush.

“It was decided to use a mini bulldozer to lightly scrape off the top layer of soil and eliminate the dense root mats of invasive plants,” said Alexander. “We’re eager to see if anything sprouts from the seed bank below the layer we scraped off.”

In addition, volunteers, overseen by ANS’s Sanctuary Committee, planted more than 1,600 quart-size pots of grasses and flowers and more than 1,750 plugs (small, young plants). The group also erected a large temporary exclosure in a corner of the meadow, which will show how a meadow grows without deer browsing on it.

“A great deal of effort was devoted to finding plants not only native to our region but also grown from seed collected in our region,” said Marney Bruce, a volunteer on the Sanctuary Committee.

The funds for the project are from an anonymous donor; the soil is in the hands of dozens of (mostly) volunteers.

ANS chose Solar Mowing to mow the path because our machines are lightweight, quiet, and most important, non-polluting, and we are more than willing to help prevent the spread of weeds by wiping down the blade and underside of the mower and picking debris out of the wheel treads before we mow. (That I worked at ANS for eight years as Communications Director also may have had something to do with it. :))

What a treat to have a small part in this wonderful stewardship project. Watch for future posts on ANS’s meadow-making.

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