The Hills Are Alive (with a wildflower meadow in the middle of Red Hook)
Taking a short cut home after dropping off a screen to be repaired and picking up water softener crystals at Agway, I never imagined there would be much on Elizabeth Street in Red Hook to give me pause. Until the site of a field of wildflowers dominated by poppies drifting gently down a slope stopped me dead in my tracks earlier this season.It is hard to believe this floral meadow was on a back street in the middle of the village! From looking back sentimentally at our agrarian past, to the urge to twirl about in a dirndl or hike away from nazi domination singing in matching lederhosen, there is something that strikes a primal chord when seeing a meadow full of wildflowers. Providing a habitat for chirping birds and floating butterflies, they put us back in touch with our Disnesian natures. I always thought that such a field would make a low maintenance, “greener” alternative to a mowed lawn. That is until I tried it myself. I was renting a little cottage in Rhinecliff one year, and thought a sylvan floral meadow would set off the site perfectly as opposed to a boring suburban patch of grass. I had one of those “meadow in a can” products I had bought some years before, thinking it would be just the push I needed to leave Manhattan and my cramped apartment on Mott Street behind, buying a field somewhere. Though my life didn’t unfold quite as I expected, there I was, with some rented earth and a can of meadow waiting to be used. I dug up the lawn on one side of the house in the spring (much to my landlords consternation), sprinkled the magic out the can, began to think about which curtains I owned could be affectively adapted into VonTrappwear while I waited for my meadow to grow. And waited. And waited. Eventually a few things started to pop up and I became excited, but what were supposed to be lupines and edelweiss looked suspiciously like grass and dandelions. In the ‘meadow in a can” people’s defense, given my propensity to shop for bargains and keeping canned food decades past its expiration date, the can’s contents could well have been past their prime when planted. Maybe because I was only there on weekends, and I couldn’t water it enough. Maybe the birds got the seeds. Maybe it was the Nazis, not wanting me to know the path to freedom. In any case, by June not much was happening, this was not going to lure butterflies, hummingbirds, or singing von Trapps, (although, to my credit, it probably would have attracted the errant lonely goat). Before long, the whole thing looked like an unkept lawn with some buttercups in it. I started mowing the edges, to at least keep the thing contained, and looking deliberate. Some of the hardier flowers did manage to grow. I made the patch smaller and smaller until it did resemble something like a floral strewn rectangle (albeit choked with weeds). Frustrated, and having the sneaking suspicion that twirling around singing in this 4 foot by 6 patch of scraggly meadow (even without a dirndl) might have me wind me up in a 4 by 6 padded cell somewhere, I eventually mowed over the whole thing. All concerned were happy, and I learned a valuable lesson. Making things look as nature (or mgm, or disney) intended can take a lot of work, and is never as easy as it seems (just ask the folks at Olana). So it is not only with great pleasure, but with great respect that I slowed down to look in wonder at the floral display stretching out in front of this neat wooden house. Driving back from picking up the repaired screen a few weeks later, the poppies were fading, but the blue flowers rising in their place gave a whole new look and feel to the meadow.Elizabeth Street wildflower meadow in MayElizabeth Street wildflower meadow in June I wanted to meet the owner/gardener, congratulate him on his success and ask him his secret - was his meadow newly planted, or established? Was it from a seed packet, or a can? No one was home, but with any luck, the next time I put my foot through a screen door, or need to get more water softener crystals, they will be in residence.