Adventures of a Transplated Gardener- Ginny Stibolt

Ginny Stibolt with a pile of mulch.  Typical!

Ginny Stibolt, a naturalist with a master's degree in plant taxonomy, moved from Maryland to Green Cove Springs in northern Florida in 2004.  These were her adventures in gardening, The Transplanted Gardener, but now you can find Ginny's adventures at The GreenGardeningMatters blog.

Ginny's Meadows, a supplement to the columns: Reducing the Lawn in Your LandscapeBackyard Habitat Certification , and Managing a Natural Meadow

Tiger Swallowtail on Golden Rod in our front meadow.  Photo by Stibolt
Tiger Swallowtail (Papilia glaucus) enjoying the 
Goldenrod (Solidago odora) in our front meadow.

When we moved into our house in June '04, we stopped mowing a number of areas on our 1.5-acre lot.  My husband and I have had a wonderful time watching a succession of plants and animals that create an amazing show in our new meadows.  As I write this, in October '05, it's been 16 months, and this page relates some of our meadow adventures.  I'll add new photos from time to time, as this is a continuing source of pleasure for us.

Magnolia fruits. Photo by Stibolt
Magnolia fruits provide food for birds and beauty for us.

The front meadow

We stopped mowing the area between the pond and the front fence to create the front meadow.  One of our earliest projects was moving two Magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) that the previous owner had planted in the middle of the front lawn out to this area. While I'm not fussy about lawns, the last thing I wanted was the constant upkeep as these otherwise wonderful trees continually drop their leathery leaves.  Now their leaves drop out at the edge of the meadow and we don't have to clean them up, but we (and the insects) still can enjoy their flowers, and the birds just love their bright red fruit.  This is the great advantage of meadows—very little upkeep.

Polk-a-dotted wasp moth on the dog Fennel in the front medow.  Photo by Stibolt
A Polka-dotted Wasp Moth (Syntomeida epilais) lands on the the tiny Dog Fennel flowers (Eupatorium capillifolium).

Lawn Orchid photo by Stibolt
Lawn Orchid 
(Zeuxine strateumatica

In the fall, some of the meadow plants are huge like this eight-foot tall, but very delicate, Dog Fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium), and the gracefully arching Goldenrods (Solidago odora), while the three-inch tall Lawn Orchid (Zeuxine strateumatica) is easy to miss. 

No matter how many still pictures I post, they don't begin to represent the beauty and buzzing busy-ness of the butterflies, bees, lizards, and birds.  The wonderful light scent of the Dog Fennel surprises me as its light flowers sway in the breeze.  

After this long without mowing, a number of woody plants have grown:  Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua),  Sand Pine (Pinus clausa), Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Groundsel Trees (Baccharis halimifolia), one of the very few trees in the composite or aster family, Southern Bayberry (Myrica cerifera), Water Oaks (Quercus nigra), and others.  To maintain the meadow feel, we will either transplant, dig up, or cut back some of the larger woody plants growing in the middle of the area   Once the herbaceous plants die back this winter, I'll decide which trees stay and which ones go.  More on this later.

~ ~ ~

Ladies Tresses
(Spiranthes praecox)

Wild Bachelor Button (Polygala nana)

In the spring, the front meadow was filled with a wonderful variety of wildflowers including the spiraling Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes praecox), Meadow Beauty (Rhexia mariana) and these small yellow Bachelor Buttons (Polygala nana) and their orange relatives (P.lutea).  They don't look like the blue cornflower bachelor buttons (Centaurea cyanus) we had in Maryland.

The spring activity was not as exuberant as the fall's, but maybe this next season will be different as plants will have had more time to develop.

The pond edge

The pond at the edge of the front meadow creates its own moist habitat that supports a different set of trees: Red Maple (Acer Rubrum), Water Tupelo (Nyssa aquatica), and Red Bay (Persea barbonia).  Several Buttonbushes (Cephalanthes occidentalis) and Carolina Willows (Salix carolinana) grow right in the water.

Ferns & Seedboxes line the pond
The Cinnamon Ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea) and Bushy Seedboxes (Ludwigia peruviana) make quite a show. We've especially enjoyed the array of horn worms that have eaten the seedbox leaves, but more leaves grow and then another group of worms emerges. 

The previous owner ran the sod right down the slope into the pond. It was impossible to mow, so I dug out the sod and planted ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea, Osmunda regalis, Woodwardia aerolata), and the White-Topped Sedge (Rhynchospora colorada).  Bushy Seedboxes (Ludwigia peruviana) various rushes. sedges, and other plants volunteered.

White topped Sedge lines the pond. Photo by Stibolt
White-topped Sedge 
(Rhynchospora colorada)

Monarch on milkweed.  Photo by Stibolt

Spice bush Swallowtail on scarlet milkweed.  Photo by Stibolt

The scarlet milkweed (Asclepias curassavica ) planted near the ferns are not only beautiful, but they attract a wide range of butterflies including their larvae.  The monarch on the left and the spicebush swallowtail on the right.  

Sunflowers grow on the mound.  Photo by Stibolt
Sunflowers facing east in the morning.

In addition to the Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), Marigolds (Tagetes spp), and Zinnias (Zinnia elegans) from the wildflower seed mix, plenty of plants have moved onto this area including a nice stand of Blackberries (Rubus spp.), Beggars Ticks (Bidens alba), Partridge Pea (Chamaechrista fasciculata) and a variety of grasses.

The elephant burial mound

We can only grow non-woody plants in the very sandy soil on top of our raised septic drainfield—that mound out back we call the elephant burial ground.  We sowed a wildflower mix with no soil preparation and saw some success, but I think the Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) would have grown there anyway.  We piled some pond & lake muck in two areas, and planted some heritage sunflowers (Helianthus annus) on one pile that made quite a show.  We planted Zucchinis (Cucurbita pepo) on the other mound that started out fine, but we were able to harvest only one fruit before the stem borers killed the plants. 

Bumble Bee is mesmerized by the spiraling flowers.  Photo by Stibolt
A Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa spp) works the mesmerizing
spirals of disk flowers of the Sunflower. 

Botanical Note: When you look at the close-up of the Sunflower, you can see that there are hundreds of small disk flowers in the center (head) where the bee is working. Each of these flowers will produce one sunflower seed if properly pollinated.  What look like the petals of the flower are the sterile, ray flowers.  This is the classic formation of the flowers in the largest plant family, Compositae or Asteraceae, with about 1,100 genera and more than 20,000 species.

Green anole keeps watch at the St.Peter's-Wort.  Photo by Stibolt
A Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) waits for lunch on the St. Peter's-Wort.

The shady triangle

Across from the elephant's mound, we stopped mowing a more or less triangular area backing up to the wooded section.  It includes a low spot, several Sweet Gums, and a large stand of green moss around the trees.  Needless to say, the St. Augustine grass hated it here.  We have plans for expanding this mini-meadow because there are still patches of poorly growing grass.  

This is the area where I planted some Ebony Spleenworts  (Asplenium platyneuron) in the stump of a tree we lost in the hurricanes last year. (Details on that project) I have plans to plant some more ferns under the trees, but for now, there has been a wide selection of plants growing out here.  In addition to those mentioned for the other meadows, there are Inkberries (Ilex glabra), Beautyberries (Callicarpa Americana), and St. Peter's-Wort (Hypericum tetrapetalum).

As you continue back toward the lake we've mowed only a narrow path leaving a good sized meadow on the right and the wooded area for the pond overflow on the left.   More on this area later.

After 18 moinths it was time for some maintenance.  Photo by Stibolt

Winter Maintenance

In February 2006, after eighteen months of not mowing the front meadow, it was time for some maintenance.  The tall grasses, Dog Fennel and Goldenrod needed trimming.  And there were hundreds of one, two, or three-year old pine seedlings that needed to be removed.  Some were easy to pull up, others required a shovel.  I also dug out a couple of highly fragrant Camphor Trees (Cinnamomum camphora), which I learned are invasive in this part of Florida.  I left the Groundsel Trees (Baccharis hammelifolia) and Southern Bayberries (Myrica cerifera) only around the edges of the meadow where we've decided to let the woody plants grow into thickets to provide more cover for the wildlife and privacy and sound barrier for us.  

The reason you need to remove the woody plants is that during the standard plant succession, the meadow would turn into a forest.  It would start as a pine forest and gradually mature into an oak forest.  But we want the meadow here, so the woody plants need to be removed.  You really only need to go through like this every other year or so.  In general, a meadow is very low maintenance.

Ready to dig out the pine tree seedlings.  Photo by Stibolt

I was going to cut back the meadow in the fall, but I kept seeing goldfinches and other little birds in the Dog Fennel, so I waited until late winter.  It was time to sow the wildflower seeds and I wanted the light to get to the soil, so it was time...

Tall white Fleabane in the foreground shows the meadow going to seed.  Photo by Stibolt

St. Peter's-wort bloomed all winter.  Near the fence, you can also see the Magnolia that we moved from the front yard area.  Photo by Stibolt

I chopped the grasses and many of the other herbaceous plants with a hand-powered weed-whacker—good exercise for my shoulders.  I used the long-handled loppers for the tougher stems.  

<< I left the St. Peter's-Wort, because it bloomed throughout the winter and on warm days bees and other insects visit its bright yellow flowers.  Then I took the hay and small trees and used them to line the path.  I extended the existing path into a complete circuit.  More fun to walk a loop than just in and out. 

After I'd done most of the trimming and was stomping down the plant materials into the new path areas, a Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) flew into the area and perched in a Red Maple (Acer rubrum) between the meadow and the pond. 

It didn't seemed concerned about my presence there.  (Don't you just love it when wildlife accepts you as part of the scenery while you're messing around in your gardens??)  I pulled out my camera and took a few shots before it swooped down into the newly cut area for lizard or salamander.

That's what this is all about!


Red Shouldered Hawk on a Red Maple after cutting back the growth.  Photo by Stibolt

Rhexia and bee

July 2006:  So after two whole years of not mowing the front meadow and nearly that long on the rest of the meadow areas, how are they doing?  Very well, thank you.  The front meadow has the most diversity.  This is probably due to a combination of factors including, more sun, less soil disturbance while building the house (4 years ago), and fewer invasives.  After the clearing and chopping in Feb., 
<< The meadow beauties (Rhexia Marianna) have doubled in the front meadow, but they've also increased in all the non-mowed areas.  Very pretty.  This bee was so heavy that the stems sagged when it landed.   Just look at how big the pollen sacks on the back legs are.

The dog fennels are probably twelve feet high this year--about two feet taller than last year.  I have chopped some of them out when they block other plants or the path.

I haven't even begun to identify all the various rushes, sedges, and grasses in the meadow.  I know that there is some St. Augustine grass out there, but there are probably seven or eight other grasses that tend to bunch like the ornamental grasses you can buy.  Then there are the rushes and sedges--so many of them.  It will be interesting to spend some time and figure out what they are.  I'm planning to do a column sometime in the future.

The elephant burial ground meadow with its path.  Photo by Stibolt.

The meadow on top of our drain field, affectionately known as the elephant burial ground, has all new (when the house was built) and very sandy soil.   On two sides of the mound there is a wooded area; on the other two sides it's mowed.  There is a great stand of blackberries that's volunteered on the back side of the top.  For several weeks we ate the fruit right off the stalks.  Tasty.  In the spring we also enjoyed watching the blue toadflax (Linaria canadensis),  the cranesbill (Geranium carolinanum), and other small flowers that grew on the side of the hill. 

Now that it's summer, I'm keeping the blackberries away from the edges of the hill where some black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta) are growing and where I've planted some cosmos and sunflowers.  Actually, I've put a path between the blackberries and the wildflower area.  I've chopped out some dog fennels, but they make a nice backdrop for the showy flowers.  Late this fall I'll start some lupine (Lupinus perennis) for the side of the mound.   Note: the mulch we used for this path was from a large batch of newly chopped trimmings from the tree guys clearing around the power lines in preparation for the hurricanes.  

From the path on the mound you can see the shady triangle meadow.  Photo by Stibolt.

The mound is clearly visible from the screened porch and the dining area in the house.  So having some wildflowers out there adds interest.  When we first moved into the house two years ago, this area looked like it had been scalped.  

<< This photo from the path on top of the mound looks through the flowers toward the shady triangle meadow.  The flat part that's mowed in-between the meadows is getting narrower and narrower. 



In May 2014 I posted From Lawn to Woods: a Retrospective on the group blog Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens.

Top of page

© Ginny Stibolt 2004 -2015


Website by