Saturday, November 6, 2010

Book Review: Urban and Suburban Meadows by Catherine Zimmerman

Urban and Suburban Meadows: Bringing Meadowscaping to Big and Small Spaces by Catherine Zimmerman

This is an excellent book on the topic of installing a meadow or prairie in urban and suburban locations. I found it to be a simple and quick read. Catherine has a quick and to the point manner or writing. A lot of the chapters read as instructional "how to" guides. This is contrasted with loads of beautiful photos, many of which showcase the works of professional landscape designers who have installed meadows and prairies.

Though the words meadow and prairie are used interchangeable throughout the book, Catherine does make the distinction. Meadows are more common in the eastern North America and are the result of fires clearing holes in forests so that meadow plants take over and establish for a few years. If left to itself the forest would eventually close in and reclaim this land. Prairies, despite being the French word for Meadow, tend to be more set in stone. They occur in areas that get so little rainfall or soil conditions are so poor that few if any woody trees and shrubs can grow there. The look and feel for both though can be the same or so similar that it's not worth making the destination.

Catherine gives a brief summary of why we should only use native plants and allow natural processes to occur. She doesn't go into to much detail other than to say it's to fight weeds and nonnatives take more energy to use. Doug Tallamy's Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded goes into way more detail on this topic but his writing style is completely different, and Doug doesn't explain how to install a meadow either.

The book goes over everything from site preparation, species selection, design ascetic, long term costs, and even how to biannually set fire to your meadow to control weeds. Fighting weeds is a reoccurring theme in the book. Different methods have to be used depending on weather you planted seeds, plugs, or full grown perennials. They vary from annual mowing, mulching, to burning. When it does come to burning it's really only worth the effort if your meadow is more than an acer or so, otherwise mowing in the early spring is usually all that's required. She also stresses that controlled burns should always be done by professionals and to check with local authorities on obtaining permits before hand.

Planting guides are listed but I found her keys to be less than ideal. America is broken up into several sections, which is nice. But this is fallowed with a long plant list and colored boxes represent the regions. This is okay but breaking the country down this way demands almost every plant to have "minus: this state, this state, and this state" next to it. 

Thankfully there are extensive lists of resources, plant nurseries, and natural areas, for every state, except for Alaska and Hawaii.

All and all I found this book to be an easy read, it only took 2 days for me to get through all 271 pages. There are loads of fantastic photos to stress the points in each chapter. I found it highly informative and inspirational. I'm even looking at potential spots to install one a pocket prairie of my own.

Here is a video I found to be relevant to the topics found in this book.