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The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn

By John Greenlee and Saxon Holt

Photographs by Saxon Holt

A beautifully produced, information-packed volume.

Alice Joyce, Booklist

If there's one lesson every homeowner must learn, it's this: The traditional lawn is a huge, time consuming, synthetic-chemical sucking mistake. The time has come to look for new ways to create friendly, livable spaces around our homes.

In The American Meadow Garden, ornamental grass expert John Greenlee creates a new model for homeowners and gardeners. For Greenlee, a meadow isn't a random assortment of messy, anonymous grasses. Rather, it is a shimmering mini-ecosystem, in which regionally appropriate grasses combine with colorful perennials to form a rich tapestry that is friendly to all life — with minimal input of water, time, and other scarce resources. Kids and pets can play in complete safety, and birds and butterflies flock there. A prairie style planting is a place you want to be.

With decades of experience as a nurseryman and designer, John Greenlee is the perfect guide. He details all the practicalities of site preparation, plant selection, and maintenance; particularly valuable are his explanations of how ornamental grasses perform in different climates and areas. Gorgeous photography by Saxon Holt visually illustrates the message with stunning examples of meadow gardens from across the country.

We've reached a stage where we can no longer follow past practices unthinkingly, particularly when those practices are wasteful and harmful to the environment. It's time to get rid of the old-fashioned lawn and embrace a sane and healthy future: the American meadow garden.

Awards for this book: Garden Writers Association Gold Award, Garden Writers Association Silver Award

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Media reviews

"With Holt's photographs, this is a large and colorful showcase of Greenlee's extensive knowledge and great passion for gardening. His enthusiasm [is] infectious. ... Gardeners will find this book extremely helpful and inspirational."

—Margaret Heller, Library Journal

"As you turn the pages you will start to imagine that you are sprawled out in the meadow of your dreams, the grasses swooshing over your head. ... It's not every book that lifts you from your reading nook and opens wide the vista of the heavens."

—Barbara Mahany, Chicago Tribune

"If you've ever thought of abandoning your lawn but haven't yet, The American Meadow Garden will surely inspire you to action. ... Take a long look at your lawn mower, and then go buy this book."

—Rick Darke, American Gardener

"In a book long awaited by green mavens and horticultural enthusiasts, Greenlee's dynamic garden designs are paired with Holt's splendid photographs in a beautifully produced, information-packed volume that looks at meadows in the context of garden spaces large or small."

—Alice Joyce, Booklist

"An invitation to experiment with regionally specific grasses in colors ranging from chartreuse, purple, and ocher to metallic blue."

Marin Independent Journal

"Photos of gorgeous meadows replete with tall grasses, butterflies and blooming wildflowers take a big step in convincing gardeners that their two-dimensional patch of lawn has become passe."

—Susan Smith-Durisek, Lexington Herald-Leader

"An exquisitely beautiful book on non-lawns. ... A winner."

—Amy Stewart, North Coast Journal

"Lays out a vision for the American yard that is so clearly superior that it will become the new standard. Read this book and find out how your neighborhood will look in about 10 years."

—Doug Bergstrom, Wenatchee World

"It's one thing to hear about the ecological benefits of replacing lawns with meadows. It's another thing to see it done effectively."

—Megan Sexton, Columbia (SC) State

"The meadow garden undoubtedly represents a different aesthetic in landscape design. ... Greenlee's book is a very good place to begin."

—Tom Karwin, Monterey County Herald

"Are you bold enough to try your hand at a meadow garden? The time for bringing back nature is now!"

—George Graine, Virginia Master Gardeners Association Report

"John Greenlee's opening lines ... open up the imagination to the practical and eye-pleasing alternatives to a monochromatic (and water-hogging) sea of turf."

—Debra Prinzing, Flower Magazine

"A paean to grassy, no-mow landscapes that shiver, shimmer and wave. ... Greenlee's easy prose welcomes all comers to aim higher than slabs of pool-table green."

—Ketzel Levine, NPR.org

"The gold standard when it comes to meadow gardening. ... I've read endless articles on meadow gardening, and none have given me the depth of information that made me feel confident that this would not be a maintenance nightmare."

—Nancy Szerlag, Detroit News

"You'll be rethinking labor-and-resource-intensive lawns after a couple of minutes with The American Meadow Garden."

—Kym Pokorny, Oregonian

"This is the rare species of garden book with a continental-wide scope from a West Coast point of view."

—Joe Eaton and Ron Sullivan, San Francisco Chronicle

"Full of inspiring ideas, Greenlee explores how to combine a spectacular variety of grasses with other plants to make the most of their natural forms, fragrance, leaf, and bloom."

—Valerie Easton, Seattle Times

"Here is an entirely new approach to garden-making. It’s enticing and informative, and it’s presented with polish and pizazz."

—Bob Hornback, Pacific Horticulture

"Greenlee brings inspiration and know-how together in this part coffee table book part how-to guide."

Chattanooga Times Free Press

"This revolutionary book of glorious meadows in harmony with nature will inspire you to begin your own lawn transformation."

—Jeanne Santangelo, Novato Advance

"This is not a book about how to create the purist's wildflower meadow, but breaks new ground in showing how garden plants can be used to create a meadow-like environment. Saxon Holt's photography is beautiful, and Greenlee's prose the right blend of informative and occasionally provocative."

—Matthew Wilson, Gardens Illustrated

"After you read this book, you'll wonder why you ever entertained the idea of a lawn."

—Jane Berger, Garden Design Online

"Finally, John Greenlee — who is part of America's trinity of Gramineous Gods — has mapped out his lifetime of experience creating successful meadows. I highly recommend this treasure trove of a book."

—Panayoti Kelaidis, Denver Botanic Gardens blog

"Although Greenlee believes every yard should be a meadow, he's also practical. Do the research. The result: less money spent on irrigation and chemicals, and more birds and butterflies in the garden. Not to mention the beauty of the natural meadow."

—Suzanne Sproul, San Bernadino County Sun

"John Greenlee knows his meadows like Babe Ruth knew baseball."

—Charles Poling, Su Casa

About the authors

John Greenlee

John Greenlee has been creating grass ecologies in gardens of all sizes all over the United States and Canada since 1984. He was named horticulturist of the year in 2002 by the Southern California Association of Horticulturists. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in ornamental horticulture from Cal Poly, Pomona, California.

Read more about John Greenlee

Saxon Holt

Saxon Holt is widely recognized as one of the top photographers in the world of garden photography. He has worked for magazines as diverse as Pacific Horticulture and Architectural Digest, and over the past 20 years he has won awards for his magazine work, calendars, books and his portfolio, including four awards from the Garden Writers of America.

Read more about Saxon Holt

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