The Meadow Garden's habitats—pond, stream, wetland, forest edge, grassland, and mixed meadow—provide food, water, nesting areas, and shelter for many species of wildlife.
As you wander through the Meadow Garden, take time to slow down. Look around. Listen. If you're lucky, you might chance upon some interesting visitors.
Like you, some are passing through this corridor of natural land, taking advantage of its bounty. Still others call this Meadow home.
Hourglass Lake & Wetlands
Be on the lookout for dragonflies, turtles, ducks, egrets, and herons. Listen for a chorus of spring peepers. Or watch for the plunge of a kingfisher as it dives headfirst into the lake for a meal.
Fish and other residents of water and wetlands benefit from the long root systems of warm-season meadow grasses. At eight to ten feet deep, they act as a sponge to soak up rain and snowmelt. Without them, stormwater runoff would carry sediment into the lake, choking the eggs of aquatic species. In contrast, the roots of our non-native cool-season lawn grasses, at less than one foot deep, are unable to prevent the rapid stormwater runoff that washes roadway pollutants and excess nutrients from fertilizers into our streams and water supplies.
Longwood has collected over 30 years of bird and nest box inventory. More than 170 young bluebirds fledge every year, along with numerous tree swallows, chickadees, and wrens.
The biodiversity of the Meadow Garden sustains healthy bird populations by providing a variety of insects, seeds, and fruit for them to eat. The large biomass of insects supported by the Meadow is especially critical, since most terrestrial baby birds eat nothing but insects, which provide the protein necessary for their rapid growth.
A good balance and diversity of animal species is one sign of a healthy habitat. This is especially true among stream invertebrates, which are important markers of water quality. The presence of stoneflies and mayflies suggest clean, cold water with a high oxygen content. Midges, on the other hand, can survive in less optimal conditions, while caddisflies fall on the mid to upper scale of water quality. Since insects are so critical to the healthy ecology of the Meadow Garden, no insecticides are ever used.
Beavers, Meadows, Man
In the past, beavers were the makers of wet meadows. Beaver dams across streams created ponds and marshes, which would gradually fill with silt and turn to meadows when the beavers moved on. These wet meadows eventually turned to swamp, but beavers would build more dams elsewhere and the cycle of natural succession would continue. Similarly, without our thoughtful interventions the Meadow Garden we created would turn to forest. We use mowing and prescribed burning to maintain our Meadow Garden. The doubling of Longwood's Meadow Garden from 40 to 86 acres allows us to carry out this maintenance process in stages, minimizing the short-term disruption of wildlife habitat.
The vital connection between plants and animals is highlighted by the process of pollination, which provides fertilization for flowering plants and offers most pollinators the food they need to survive. Research increasingly emphasizes the importance of native insects and plants, which tend to evolve together in terms of color, shape, odor, and timing. Our management of this Meadow is tailored to support populations of both native plants and pollinators. Many meadow-adapted species, such as the Monarch and Eastern swallowtail butterflies, also benefit from the larger block of habitat provided by the new Meadow Garden.
Another key connection of life in the Meadow is that of predator and prey, as each individual seeks food for survival. Larger predators are attracted by smaller animals, such as birds, mice, and voles. At Hawk Point you can learn to identify the silhouettes of Accipiters, Buteos, and Harriers soaring overhead. Red foxes hunt on the ground primarily at dawn and dusk but can be seen throughout the day, especially in the spring when they are feeding their young. Wild turkeys and White-tailed deer have also been spotted.
“The newly expanded Meadow Garden at Longwood Gardens is a wonderful example of dynamic land conservation practices using native plants to create a beautiful natural environment. An exemplary model of land stewardship, the meadow is an extraordinary asset to the community for its scenic value, the habitat it provides to our native wildlife, and for the opportunity it provides people to be inspired and engage with nature.”
Virginia A. Logan, Executive Director Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art