A visitor to Crozet needs no more evidence of our love of nature than the beautiful wildflower meadows lining Jarman’s Gap Road, from Old Trail west to Grayrock, as well as the Old Trail Drive traffic circles. Clearly, this welcome streetscape enhancement and support for wildlife did not happen by accident. How did the meadow project come about, and what is its future?
It all started in 2013, when the Homeowner’s Associations (HOAs) of Old Trail, Bargamin Park, and Wayland’s Grant came together to hire freelance landscape architect Jessica Mauzy, Crozet Trails Crew Founder and then member of the Crozet Community Advisory Association (CCAC), to develop a solution for a unified streetscape along Jarman’s Gap Road. Their goal was to create a cohesive corridor to unite the various neighborhood entrances along this important road. Mauzy developed a comprehensive conceptual plan with various options, which she presented at a Sept. 19, 2013 meeting at the Old Trail Golf Club.
The original idea to line the roadway with trees was precluded by the requirement that trees be planted 10’ away from water or sewer lines, which took up the usable space within the VDOT right-of-way. After a series of meetings open to all community members and discussions with neighborhood representatives, a consensus was reached to plant wide swaths of wildflowers and ornamental grasses along Jarman’s Gap Road. Using VDOT roadway plans to determine the areas that could be planted and the required sight angles, Mauzy presented them with the Jarman’s Gap Road Conceptual Streetscape Planting Improvements report in April 2014, an illustrated proposal for the meadows that would “suggest continuity and uniformity” along the roadway while “the entryway features should convey neighborhood identity.” She explained that this solution would provide multiple benefits, including “visual continuity along the roadway, low maintenance/water once established, habitat for beneficial birds and insects, and the ability to change the appearance over time by self-seeding, over-seeding, and natural progression.”
J.W. Townsend Landscapes, a leading landscaping contractor in this area, was contracted to install and maintain the meadows in 2015. Geoff Shaw, project coordinator, participated in subsequent planning meetings, and educated the core group on the process of establishing and maintaining a meadow. The cost was shared by the three neighborhoods, with Ben Wilson, then of Real Property Management (now with Nest Realty) coordinating the project. Old Trail decided to add their roundabouts to the plan, and Bargamin Park came on board a year later, supported in part by a turf-to-meadow grant from the Virginia Conservation Assistance Program (VCAP) of the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District (TJSWCD)—which stipulates that the funded meadow be maintained for at least 10 years.
In the spring of 2015, the multi-year project got underway. First, they sprayed the area to kill the grass and weeds that were growing there already. They then planted a mix of annual and perennial wildflowers and multi-seasonal grasses, including cosmos, zinnia, rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), Shasta daisy, coreopsis, monarda (bee balm), Queen Anne’s lace, yarrow, echinacea (coneflower), gaillardia (blanket flower), little bluestem, and purple love grass (among others). A 24” height limit was established for aesthetics and to preserve sight lines, which eliminated tall natives such as milkweed, mullein, and Joe Pye weed. The first seed application was made in spring of 2015, and another three weeks later. The seeded areas were covered with biodegradable hay matting to prevent erosion, and Do Not Mow signs were erected to allow time for the meadow to become established. In her proposal, Mauzy also stipulated that “the meadow will need to be seeded and carefully maintained for the first few growing seasons.” The original contract with Townsend did include three follow up visits during the first year to maintain the meadows and remove weeds. This arrangement carried through to spring of 2016.
We are now in the second year of the meadow project. Already, due to last year’s June/July drought, the meadow in front of Bargamin Park had to be re-seeded this spring, at no additional cost. Coreopsis tinctoria, an annual that will probably re-seed to return next year, can be seen blooming now through the hay mat. The original meadows are suffering in the current mini-drought, but should bounce back next spring. Townsend has a basic, ongoing maintenance contract with the neighborhoods that automatically renews from year to year unless there is a problem. “Our maintenance involves weeding the areas, annual mowing, and re-seeding when necessary,” Shaw explains. However, “if the diversity fades or specific weeds become overly problematic, the meadow could be either redone completely or over-seeded with other species to increase diversity.”
Mauzy made some further recommendations, such as “a shrub border on the uphill edge of the meadows on the north side of Jarman’s Gap Road” to provide screening to the houses as well as color and interest in the winter when the meadow is not blooming. She also advised mowing every winter, both of which have been done. But one thing Mauzy recommended has not been followed through. “By regularly mowing the outside 2-3 feet of the meadow swaths, a ‘tidy’ edge is presented to the viewer,” her report states. “This also will keep the meadow plantings from infringing on sidewalks and private property.” This was not done along Jarman’s Gap, although the traffic circles in Old Trail do have a 5-foot mulch border. In addition to these “turf bands,” Mauzy said they discussed “a big overseeding every three years” to maintain diversity.
While we may notice that some of the meadows look brown and wilted in the current summer heat, some flowers will inevitably suffer during mini-droughts such as we are experiencing now. “This is not normally where you would have a meadow,” Mauzy points out. “The bees and butterflies are happy, but this is different than natural meadows where stronger species will become dominant. The purpose of these meadows is aesthetic; in order to be a top notch wildflower planting, they can’t just be left to do their thing.” The black-eyed Susans and blanket flower seem to be holding their own through this hot, dry spell, but other varieties have faded for now. As Shaw explained further, “Meadows are constantly evolving, and species that are dominant change from year to year.” Patience will be needed as the project develops over time. Any questions or concerns should be directed to the property managers, which are Real Property for Old Trail and Wayland’s Grant, and Nest Realty for Bargamin Park.
Lady Bird Johnson, who promoted the 1965 Highway Beautification Act that funded the planting of wildflowers along the nation’s highways, said, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” She would hold a lot of hope for Crozet! We all appreciate this investment in the beauty of our landscape, and hope it will continue to bloom and thrive.