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Our Meadow Garden is a living landscape that has been shaped over time, reflecting the relationship between the human and natural worlds—from the eastern deciduous woodlands where the Lenni-Lenape lived, to the Webb Farm cow pastures of the 19th Century.

But as we now face the challenges of the landscapes we have changed, we realize that not only do we live on the land, we are an integral part of it.

The Meadow Garden is not an attempt to restore the land to what it once was. Rather, it utilizes design principles that support the ecology of the present space—the relationships among soil, sky, water, plants, animals, and humans that conservationist Aldo Leopold called the Community of the Land.

Ecological landscape design is a blend of horticulture and ecology that seeks integrated solutions to integrated problems. Human interventions in our Meadow include seeding of native species and control of invasives to promote native flora and fauna. Plug plantings increase plant diversity, to attract a wider variety of pollinators. The successional edge between field and forest illustrates the constantly evolving meadow landscape. Meanwhile, the bridges and pavilions throughout the meadow reflect local Brandywine Valley culture and craftsmanship.

A Sustainable Landscape

Ecological design implies a deep understanding of the structure, function, and relationships that exist within an ever-changing ecosystem. Utilizing a wide variety of native plants leads to increased biodiversity not only in plant species, but in the animal populations with which they are connected.

This diversity allows the entire community to become more resilient—able to tolerate stress and absorb the impact of a single sudden event or long-term trends, such as climate change. A resilient, sustainable landscape is flexible and adaptive, continually adjusting to the world within and around it. It is able to evolve and endure, but still may need a human hand to guide it.

Through interpretation and education, Longwood Gardens hopes to generate interest in  meadows and other natural designs as practical landscape choices, and to raise awareness about issues of local land management and stewardship.

Ecosystem Services

We are closely connected to the soil, sky, water, plants, and animals that surround us. As we become better stewards of the land, the living landscape provides us with such "ecosystem services" as cleaner air and water, healthy natural food, filtering of pollution and decomposition of waste. It also fulfills our need for recreation and beauty. As we nourish the earth, so it nourishes us.

What if, instead of depicting nature, we allowed nature in? What if, instead of building and maintaining artistic creations, we worked to develop and manage living systems? What could we learn . . . about how nature works? Could we create landscapes that were more efficient, more connected, more effective, and ultimately more valuable?

Travis Beck, Director of Horticulture Mt. Cuba Center

Taking Action

Not only does our Meadow Garden invite nature in, it invites us to take part in nature. To discover, each time we visit, something new about the living world around us. To recognize our place in this landscape and our role in shaping it.

The Meadow Garden invites us to see a different type of beauty. To take that beauty home and turn it into action. Perhaps memories of the Meadow will make us think about how we can better manage our stormwater by using rain barrels or planting rain gardens; how we can garden effectively with communities of native plants; how we can decrease our use of harmful chemicals.

Only then will Longwood's Meadow Garden make a difference. And we will make it together.

About the Designer 

Longwood's Meadow Garden was designed by Jonathan Alderson of Jonathan Alderson Landscape Architects of Wayne, PA. Alderson specializes in the use of native plantings and appropriate materials, combined with a strong regard for site and ecology in order to create sustainable places.

Learn more about the design of the Meadow Garden

Additional Resources

  • Beck, Travis. Principles of Ecological Landscape Design. Island Press, 2013.
  • Tallamy, Douglas W. Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. Timber Press, 2009.
  • Sustainable Sites Initiative
“For decades, Natural Lands Trust has preserved and restored meadow habitats because they are as essential to our region’s ecological health as forests, streams, and wetlands. With its new Meadow Garden, Longwood Gardens has created a compelling demonstration of the remarkable beauty and diversity of meadows. As a result, millions of visitors will learn about the myriad benefits that meadows offer to people and wildlife and perhaps be inspired to embrace a more natural approach to caring for their own property.”

Molly K. Morrison, President Natural Lands Trust