Book Review – ‘The American Meadow Garden’ by John Greenlee

Book Review – ‘The American Meadow Garden’ by John Greenlee

Grasses are sensual. You can smell them, and hear them, and watch them move. Meadows are sexy, just like lovers – they never stop changing, never cease to surprise.  –   John Greenlee

So begins ‘The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn’, written by John Greenlee, beautifully photographed by Saxon Holt, and published in 2009 by Timber press. With a description like that in the preface, I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in a subject I am in love with.

Grasses have captivated me as far back as I can remember. Images fill my mind from my own life’s experiences as well as from some of Hollywood’s biggest epics; Kevin Costner standing on the prairie in ‘Dances with Wolves’, his hands held just above the inflorescence of the tall grass, or Russell Crowe walking towards his estate in ‘Gladiator’,  his fingers awash in golden wheat. That, is the wonder of grasses, they call out to be touched and in turn enliven the senses. John Greenlee shares this passion for grasses, and his vision of a ‘Meadow Garden’ in his wonderful new book on the subject.

Equal parts theory, instruction, reference and display, The American Meadow Garden covers all the bases. In the early chapters of the book, Greenlee takes us on a tour of typical meadows found in many of the different regions throughout the country, and introduces us to the grass species found within each. He tells of his passion for meadow gardens and of their beneficial impact on the environment, and that reducing one’s lawn by converting all or portions of it to meadow, regardless of size, presents one with a chance to eliminate chemicals, reduce irrigation, and provide habitat and food for wildlife, all the while producing an ever-changing feast for the senses. In subsequent chapters, design concepts and the components for creating a meadow garden are detailed, along with a wide array of companion plants that can be used to accent the grasses. A beautiful portfolio of meadow gardens from across the country is included to provide the reader with inspiration before commencing with their project, along with a compendium of meadow grasses, listing species to be used with Greenlee’s notes to guide the reader through this vast array of plants. The final chapters include instructions for the reader to design, plant, and care for a meadow garden, a list of sources for plants, and provide excellent advice on the hiring of a landscape contractor, should one need help.

In all, The American Meadow Garden is a remarkable work from a man who has a deep passion for meadows, and the grasses that comprise them. And as you read this book, you will find yourself swept up in the romance of the meadow garden, and left with a desire to create just such a special place that enlivens the senses and captivates the imagination. And in this day and age, that is a garden space we could all use.

I’ll see you in the Meadow!


Note: With this endorsement of The American Meadow Garden, the reader should also be advised as to the following; some of the plants suggested in this book are known to be invasive species in different regions of the country. It is wise to research each species to determine its tendencies in your region before planting your meadow garden. Here in New England, two great resources are at your disposal; they are The Invasive Plant Atlas of New England (IPANE), and The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG). Nationally please consult The National Invasive Species Information Center (NISIC). Clicking on each of these titles will bring you to these valuable websites.