Olbrich's Meadow Garden

Olbrich's Meadow Garden

Part of Ep. 901 Personal Spaces, Public Spaces

Tour Olbrich Botanical Garden's meadow garden with Jeff Epping. It's fashioned after the meadows in England and is not only beautiful, but easy to maintain.

Premiere date: Mar 03, 2001

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Something new is growing at Olbrich Gardens in Madison. It's not a prairie, and it's not a lawn. It's something halfway in between. This is a meadow garden. And like a prairie, it's low maintenance: no fertilizing, no water and great for poor soils. We're with the Director of Horticulture here, Jeff Epping. Jeff, tell me about this, it's really beautiful.

Jeff:
Well, it's a lot of fun, it's something new for us. I went to England a couple years ago, saw the meadows there, and just fell in love with them for just the free flowing, natural beauty of them.

Shelley:
Very softness to them.

Jeff:
It really is. And it adds some color with bulbs in the spring, and toward the summer months. So, we thought, "Well, let's try it." You know, there's not a lot of people doing it. It gives us a great alternative to bluegrass lawns, which people tire of, I think, more and more these days, with less time than everybody has.

Shelley:
Minimal mowing, too. Well, what kind of grasses do we have? Tell me how it started, how did you put this in?

Jeff:
Last spring, we had just traditional, again, blue grass turf. We came in and sprayed it with Roundup, or Glyphosate. We got rid of it, waited, sprayed, spot-sprayed again, made sure we got rid of things like quack grass, dandelions-- all those things that will come back to haunt you. Then, we came in and seeded with fescues. We have Hard Fescue, Sheep's Fescue, Chewings Fescue. And those make up the backbone of the garden.

Shelley:
Those are the grasses.

Jeff:
So, we came in, tilled lightly, seeded, put marsh hay over the top and then watered on a regular basis to get them strong and established. And that whole first season, we just let the grasses get thick and strong. Then, in the fall, we came in with about 15,000 bulbs, minor bulbs they're called, the small flowering bulb.

Shelley:
So, everything in here is going to be very short compared to a prairie.

Jeff:
Exactly. The goal is no higher than 18 inches, hopefully about 12 inches, if we can do so. We had species tulips, species crocus, species daffodils, again all smaller, delicate bulbs. And a real neat little bulb that you don't see very often called Snakeshead Fritillary.

Shelley:
That's the one with little checks, almost a plaid pattern on the bottom.

Jeff:
Exactly. Something that doesn't jump out at you, but in mass and with a nice dark background, it's a great plant.

Shelley:
And these are all bulbs that spread on their own too, aren't they?

Jeff:
That's right. The idea is to let them go to seed, and then mow it back down to get rid of the seed heads and such. And then, don't mow again the rest of the season. At least that's the goal, we'll see how it works out.

Shelley:
I like that. Okay, the bulbs are done blooming, what happens next to keep this interesting?

Jeff:
Right, what we did this season then, is came in and plugged about 1,000 different perennials, which will come back year after year. Things, again, that are drought tolerant, low-growing that will give us color during the summer months. So, things like Penstemon, which is naturally drought tolerant, which a lot of people know, goldenrods, asters. And there's a little coneflower in here, called Tennessee Coneflower, which doesn't get real tall. Liatris, dwarf or small Liatris species...

Shelley:
And I saw a real short Allium in here, too. It's really beautiful.

Jeff:
Yeah, so a good variety, trying to stretch out all that color during the summer months.

Shelley:
So, again, hoping to have almost four seasons of interest with this.

Jeff:
Definitely. And in the fall, when they turn gold and such, and then all winter long, it's something of interest to look at.

Shelley:
Well, it's really beautiful. Thanks, Jeff.

Jeff:
Thanks.

Shelley:
The meadow garden, like the rest of Olbrich, is open to the public year round.

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