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Wild Ones: Editing a Meadow

Old fields, derelict orchards, abandoned pastures. So many properties in Door County are no longer used for growing food, but fortunately for all of us, many landowners have opted to forgo extensive turf-grass plantings and have instead let their land go a bit wild.

We tend to believe that before European settlement, Door County was shore-to-shore forest, but according to Dan Collins and Nancy Aten of Landscapes of Place, that wasn’t the case.

“Historically, a significant number of prairie and savanna species were present in Door County,” Collins said. “Our meadows were openings created naturally by windfall, tree fall, exposed bedrock and happenstance of topography. When people cleared and farmed Door County and then stopped farming, old field conditions were left.”

Theoretically, old fields eventually become forests. But we have come to value the meadows for aesthetic reasons and also because they can improve the ecological value of land by increasing species and seasonal diversity. Research has shown that farms and orchards have better yields if they’re adjacent to land that’s rich in native wildflowers and/or native shrubs and trees.

Consequently, some people have made a concerted effort to plant native wildflowers, and others have just let nature take its course. In either case, even though maintenance is not as labor intensive as mowing, fertilizing and chemically treating the monocultures called lawns, colorful meadows don’t seem to endure. 

In an article in the Wild Ones Handbook, Wendy Walcott wrote, “The promise of maintenance-free and ecologically sound beauty often does not become reality, and the disappointed sower may cut it down and go back to grass – this time for good.

“The truth is, creating a little piece of self-sustaining ecosystem is not easy. After all, it has taken many years and millions of dollars in mowing machines, earthmovers, herbicides and public-works salaries to eliminate almost all the native habitat from roads, fields and suburbs. Why should all of that diversity come back overnight, at low cost?”

Understand that restoration is an ongoing process. Invasive weeds must be removed. Appropriate plants should be added. And sometimes, like children, a meadow is “just going through a phase” and will grow out of it. Restoring – or editing – a meadow can be done with time and some knowledge of the local environment, but alas, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to land restoration.

Crossroads at Big Creek is involved in a multiyear restoration project. The Ecological Restoration Plan developed by Landscapes of Place states: “Meadows at Crossroads vary in quality and diversity. Low-diversity areas will be enhanced with native, deep-root meadow species that can provide better resilience by diversity, as well as increased carbon sequestration in the soil provided.”

On Dec. 11, 2 pm, Wild Ones of the Door Peninsula will hold its annual meeting at Crossroads, 2041 Michigan St. in Sturgeon Bay, starting with a lecture titled “Restoring/Diversifying Door County Meadows,” presented by Nancy Aten and Dan Collins. The public is invited – in person or online – and the business meeting for Wild Ones members will follow the lecture.

Anyone who works the land knows that winter is a time for dreaming and planning. Any piece of land, no matter the size, will benefit from native plantings. Use this time of dormancy to learn how to preserve the Earth, one meadow at a time.

Coggin Heeringa is president of Wild Ones of the Door Peninsula and the interpretive naturalist at Crossroads at Big Creek.

“Restoring/Diversifying Door County Meadows”

Saturday, Dec. 11, 2 pm

Crossroads at Big Creek, Collins Learning Center, 2041 Michigan St. in Sturgeon Bay

During a free lecture, Nancy Aten and Dan Collins of Landscapes of Place will discuss the meadow-restoration project at Crossroads and how plant choices are made. To watch online, request a Zoom invitation by emailing Coggin Heeringa at [email protected]