James Partridge is not only the highly acclaimed, hardworking executive producer of the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, he is also a diligent nature lover.
Partridge and his wife were motivated to turn a portion of their backyard into a beautiful flower garden – with results filled with wonder and environmental benefits.
“I got involved in the meadows project shortly after we moved into this house in 2014,” explained Partridge. “Our home sits on about an acre and a half, but the former owner left more than half of the lot in its natural, meadow-like state. However, over the years, the meadow had become overgrown with a variety of invasive species that were not only unattractive, but choked out the native plants and wildflowers. I started exploring ways to plant native plants, colorful wildflowers, and otherwise reclaim that part of the property.”
According to Partridge, around the same time his Homeowners’ Association sought ways to reclaim the meadows in the Association’s common areas and help restore them to native wildflower gardens.
The gardens are not only beautiful to look at, but helpful to the critters.
“Keeping the land natural is good for the environment in a number of ways. It creates habitat for so much wildlife, especially pollinators like bees and butterflies, which is important now more than ever,” explained Partridge. “It provides food and shelter for rabbits, turtles, deer, fox, mice, birds and countless other creatures.”
Additionally, there are even more ecological benefits.
“It’s also good for the environment for the things it doesn’t contribute,” described Partridge. “What I mean by that is it doesn’t add much in the way of chemical fertilizers. It’s got a smaller carbon footprint than a lawn, since it doesn’t need to be mowed often. Because we don’t have to irrigate it artificially, it doesn’t add to our water or electric bills.”
Also beneficial is that the meadow is now aesthetically pleasing, and Partridge’s appreciation of its beauty is poetic.
“To me, the biggest ‘other’ benefit is that it’s beautiful,” confessed Partridge. “I work from home and my office is over the garage, overlooking the meadow. I absolutely love looking out my window and watching the flowers bloom and the colors change throughout the season. I love seeing the different species of birds that we get now, and I love watching the butterflies and the goldfinches flit around. At night, the glow of lightning bugs over the meadow is almost ethereal—nothing short of spectacular.”
However, the initial work to get it the way it is now was substantial.
“At the outset, we did a controlled burn of the Association’s common areas and our meadow. Once the burn was complete and before we planted any new seed, we had to work to control the reemergence of the invasive weeds,” explained Partridge. “To do that, we applied herbicide to the weeds as they grew in. This is a long and slow process, because it’s crucial to make sure that the invasive plants aren’t going to come back and crowd out the ‘good’ plants you’re trying to help establish a foothold.”
Once Partridge was satisfied that most of the weeds were gone, they had to cultivate the soil. In the fall, they rented a Bobcat with a soil conditioner attachment that helped turn over the top layer of soil and prepare it.
“To plant, I sowed a variety of wildflower seeds in the empty meadow bed,” detailed Partridge. “We selected a mixture of annuals and perennials and chose varieties that would blossom at different times throughout the year, so we’d always have at least one portion of the meadow blooming. Most of what I sowed was native to the Midwest though, I confess I bought a few wildflowers not necessarily native because I liked their color. We also planted a large section of giant sunflowers.”
Partridge states that after all the hard work, upkeep is relatively simple.
“In the fall, we’ll either mow the meadow down and harvest as many sunflower seeds as we can or, if we’re planning a burn in the spring— we’re told to plan to do a controlled burn every three to four years or so—then we’ll leave the meadow uncut in the winter. In the spring, we’ll reseed with some new annual seeds and let the perennials do their thing,” according to Partridge.
Partridge said others in the neighborhood have been motivated to engage in similar endeavors. And he has some advice for those also thinking about such gardening.
“Be patient. The meadow didn’t get overrun with natives overnight, or even in a season and even with a very aggressive plan, it will take more than one season to reclaim the land,” explained Partridge. “Also, you’ve got to be prepared for the land to look barren and ugly for a while. For two summers, our meadow looked like a lunar landscape while we worked to control the weeds and prevent their reemergence. Also, don’t expect brilliant color in the first growing season, especially if you’ve chosen to plant a lot of perennials, because they take a full year or two before they get fully established. But your patience will be rewarded.”
Partridge also said that some investigative work on the subject can also help.
“Before we dove into this project, we did a lot of research and our Association retained expert consultants,” he said. “While I don’t think it’s necessary to engage professional consultants in every instance, it is important to do your homework. There are a lot of good resources available on the web that can help guide you through the process. I don’t necessarily want to endorse any one source or company, but I found American Meadows (www.americanmeadows.com) and Michigan Wildflower Farm (www.michiganwildflowerfarm.com) especially useful.”