Summer, prairie wildflowers in meadow at Crow-Hassan Park, Minnesota; Gray-headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), Bergamot or Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa)
Summer, prairie wildflowers in meadow at Crow-Hassan Park, Minnesota

A gardener visiting Minnesota in the summer discovers a climate that revels in big beautiful native perennials.  The influences of the northern prairie can be seen in local gardens, that do not need lawns as an excuse to wander out of doors.  Minnesotans are an outdoorsy lot and lawns are an insult to a stroll.  Meadows, no mow lawns, and habitat gardens are common – and they are all better than lawn for a walk in the wild.

Peggy and Wayne Willenberg say they have a stroll garden in the middle of their property, but in truth the garden is one big stroll, from prairie to pond and bog, across to woodland, and onto no-mow meadows with secret spots to sit and savor the summer.

There is a mowed lawn area but it is close to the back of the house and serves as a hub for the strolls to be had.  Most of the garden is a succession of garden rooms that mimic native habitats – where lawn is unknown.

For instance the prairie meadow at one end of the garden, where we start our stroll, is the anti-lawn, but has a wide path mown through it.

Wide mowed path through flowering meadow prairie garden, Willenberg garden
Wide mowed path through flowering meadow prairie garden, Willenberg garden

Meadows will occur anywhere that an old farm field is left unmowed; cutting a field is nearly the equivalent of a country lawn, as this wide path has become.  The “lawn” path is wide enough to invite a stroll and to avoid the ticks and chiggers that wait in taller grass.

Echinacea purpurea, purple cone flower native wildflower in Minnesota prairie meadow garden
Echinacea purpurea, purple cone flower native wildflower in Minnesota prairie meadow garden

The Willenberg meadow has been supplemented with perennial wildflowers to accompany the Big Bluestem grass, but it is as close to a native meadow habitat as a garden meadow can be.  We will find these native perennial wildflowers in the garden borders as we amble toward the house.

We leave the prairie habitat and stroll to a bog behind the classic transitional perennial, Joe Pye weed, Eutrochium purpureum.  I love that it grows tall and can separate the garden rooms.

Eutrochium purpureum (aka Eupatorium purpureum), Joe-Pye weed native perennial flowering by bog in Minnesota garden

Our walk leads across a stream created to feed the bog.

Boardwalk wooden bridge path over stream in naturalistic garden
Boardwalk wooden bridge path over stream in naturalistic garden

We come into the woodland garden where there would be no need for any type of lawn, just shady groundcovers and ferns.  Indeed, in heavily shaded gardens, lawns are nearly impossible anyway.

Shady groundcovers with ferns behind bench and stream in Minnesota garden
Shady groundcovers with ferns behind bench and stream in Willenberg garden.

Whenever I see a bench in a garden, I look for a way to use it as a focal point in the photograph.  They are often placed in sheltered areas and always seem to evoke quiet sitting and serene enjoyment of the garden.

This bench gave me the classic opportunity to employ a trick of the trade I have learned as a photojournalist: whenever you find a well framed view in a garden go the opposite side and look back.

Bench in shady woodland overlooking Minnesota pond and bog garden
Woodland bench overlooking pond with bog plants.

And as long as I am giving out garden photojournalist tips I will add this.  Whenever you find that well framed view, make both a horizontal and a vertical photo of the scene.

Bench in shady woodland overlooking Minnesota pond and bog garden

Verticals are tough to use in blog postings, but in traditional publishing,  pages are vertical and columns with-in a page are even more vertical.  Editors love having choices.

Lets keep strolling through the garden.  Ahhh, do I see a no-mow lawn as I come out of the woodland?

Lawn substitute, no mow fescue meadow with path leading to seating area past bird house, Minnesota garden
Lawn substitute, no mow fescue meadow with path leading to seating area.

In nature, meadows are most common as sunny openings in woodlands.  Gardeners often use the prairie as inspiration for meadows; with good reason since there are so many wonderful grasses and wildflowers native to the prairie, but the romantic view of a meadow is a lush opening in the woods – a perfect trope for a garden room.  And this room has seating.

Chairs by no mow lawn with fescue meadow grass mix in Minnesota garden
Chairs by no mow lawn with fescue meadow grass mix in Minnesota garden

A no-mow meadow is much better than a tortured, buzz cut lawn, but it still provides that open panel of green that fits into many garden designs.

This alternative lawn is a mix of various fescues that can take some shade that simply flop over in soft mounds rather than get tall and flower like bunch grasses.

The meadow lawn flows right up to the sitting area with a fire pit, which is the transition to the most formal part of the garden – the perennial beds.

Chairs around outdoor fireplace at edge of Minnesota garden

Turning from this “wild” outer edge of garden we look back toward the house and see the wonderful pergola, inviting us to sit in another garden room.

Free standing pergola over gravel patio with intimate dining area in Minnesota summer garden

This simple free standing structure is is own garden room, nestled under small trees and among the perennial borders that are at their exuberant best in mid summer.

Remember the photojournalist’s tip earlier ? “Whenever you find a well framed view in a garden go the opposite side and look back.”  This pergola offers so many views, from all sides.

Free standing pergola over gravel patio with intimate dining area in Minnesota summer garden

Now look right through the frame to the perennial border beyond.

View of summer perennial border garden with Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea), Bee Balm (Monarda), and Sedum seen through iron gates,  Willenberg garden

Ahhh, don’t you just wish you could be sitting in that pergola, looking out at the views ?

Perennial border with Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea) in Minnesota summer garden

And studying the flowers that surround your garden ?

Echinacea purpurea, Purple Cone Flower, native wildflower in Minnesota garden
Echinacea purpurea, Purple Cone Flower, native wildflower in Minnesota garden

Why have lawn when you can have flowers?

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