JoAnne Skelly: Landscaping technique has intriguing history
I was reading a Martha Grimes book and I learned a new landscape term — “enameled mead.” I had never heard of this and couldn’t imagine what it meant.
I found out it was a landscaping technique that goes back to the 1500s. It involves planting low-growing perennial flowers in mowed grass. It’s also called the “flowery mead” or the “medieval mead.” The perennials aren’t planted randomly, instead, they’re spaced with great regularity and the grass is kept low around the flowers, most likely with hand shears. It was called enameled because the overall effect gave the mead the look of enameled jewelry.
A mead then is what we call a lawn today. The mead was often surrounded by hedges within a walled garden. Benches were placed strategically around the mead so a garden stroller could sit and contemplate nature’s beauty. In medieval times to start a mead, your gardener went to a meadow (mead – o?) and cut pieces of sod with native wildflowers growing in it to take back to the estate.
A perennial mead sounds like quite a bit of work, but what an interesting effect it might make. Once I tried something similar in our yard, letting some areas of lawn grow long and mowing short designed areas in and around it, similar to the rough along a fairway. I had some flowers, but they were there merely by accident. My husband, the mow-man of the family, really disliked this arrangement. Mowing was more time-consuming and the unmowed areas looked wild and ragged. When we decided that experiment wasn’t working, it was a challenge to mow down knee-high grass.
In a perennial mead, like a wildflower garden, how do you keep out the aggressive plants that want to take over the more delicate ones? You have to be diligent, persistently removing some seedlings and leaving others. In addition, imagine cutting back the dead stems of the wildflowers at various times of year. One of the main challenges is keeping the grass within the mead and among the flowers short without mowing down the perennials. Although I know I would like how a mead could look, I can’t imagine being down on my knees with shears cutting the grass around the flowers week after week! Not this lazy gardener …
For more information and lists of flowers that work in a mead, go to https://gardenwalkgardentalk.com/2015/04/26/grass-alternative-the-medieval-mead/.
JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.