The Meadow at Great Falls Library

Our original plan was to install a rain garden in the large, storm water retention area in front of the Great Falls Library. Such a garden would absorb some of the water before it enters the drains and filter it slowly into the ground, rather than letting large quantities of water simply gush through the two drains and into local streams and ponds. We also wanted to beautify the site and ideally hide the two unsightly cement drains.

Creation of a rain garden would entail removing a foot or more of earth and installing various sub-base materials to encourage drainage, then planting appropriate plants that could tolerate wet roots. Because this area is a storm water retention pond however, we discovered that we were not allowed to disturb the earth, plant trees or shrubs, or put boulders within the boundary of the pond.

So, on to Plan B. We met with Ron Tuttle, Fairfax County landscape architect and Chris Mueller, ecologist in charge of maintenance, on site, to discuss the alternative option of installing a wildflower and native grass meadow. Both were very excited about the prospect of a meadow. In fact, Ron has been helping churches and public buildings install them around the County with great success. He devised a seed mixture that works well in these environments, gave us resources for approved organic compost and installation companies, and gave us contacts at several seed companies that could prepare a custom mix. Chris showed us the exact boundaries of the retention pond and put us in touch with folks at the County maintenance division so that the meadow could be placed on the official plats. Ron also put us in touch with folks at a church in Oakton that had planted a similar meadow in an identical site so we could learn from their experience and see the results firsthand.

After talking with the Oakton folks and visiting their meadow, we decided to proceed with installation of a wildflower and native grass meadow because it met the same goals as a rain garden:
1. Looks beautiful and makes a nice entrance to our town
2. Hides ugly cement troughs and two large drains most of the year
3. Absorbs and slows down rain water so less goes directly into streams; acts as a filter for contaminants
4. Is very low maintenance – crews contracted by the County will cut it once each year, late winter
5. Is more affordable than a rain garden of the same size
6. Supports lots of wildlife, pollinators, birds
7. Can serve an educational purpose for local schools and residents
8. Replaces lawn with useful, more environmentally sound plants
9. Uses all native flowers and grasses
10. On a more esoteric level, it will be good for the community too, building community pride and community spirit.

As it turned out, a 10,000 SF meadow would cost more than the Garden Club had allotted for the project, so we approached numerous community organizations to see if they would be interested in helping support the project. To our delight, the following organizations said yes: Great Falls Business and Professional Association, Great Falls Citizens Association, Great Falls Women’s Club, Great Falls Friends and Newcomers of Great Falls. With the funds in hand, we made the necessary arrangements with the County, signed the necessary contracts and started work on what was to become the library meadow. Little did we know that a supposed low maintenance project would take so much hard work to get established!

If you would like to see photos of the meadow in progress and learn more about the trials and tribulations that eventually resulted in the gorgeous meadow/wildlife habitat that now graces the front yard of the library, please check out our Great Falls Garden Club Blog. Please click on GreatFallsGardenClub.wordpress.com. If you would like seasonal updates, please subscribe there as well. (Please note that the postings are chronological, with the most current one appearing first. To read the story from the beginning, you will have to click on May 2011 and scroll down to the first post.)

Below is a list of plants that are in the meadow as of 2016.  If new plants are added, the list will be updated.  Be sure to check out the Meadow Reference Section in the Great Falls Library.  We have included pictures and detailed information for each meadow plant.

Meadow Plants and Grasses

We hope you enjoy the story and the end results as much as we do.

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