Portlanders, remember that football-field-sized black tarp covering a field in the center of Franklin Street, between Congress and Cumberland? It was unveiled today and the City’s horticulture staff will begin a transformation from lawn to urban meadow that Portlanders can watch grow literally from the ground up.
Portland Parks and Recreation and Maine Audubon, with support from Portland Pollinators, are partnering to create a meadow full of native plants that will benefit birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. The plan is to lay out 300 plants, grown from seed or collected by Maine Audubon over the last two years specifically for this project. After these plants are in place, the area will also be supplemented with seed later in the fall. The established plants will ensure there will be some degree of color next year, since wildflower seed establishment usually takes a few years with only small blooms in the first year.
Maine Audubon has selected and grown roughly 15 species of native wildflowers, grasses, and groundcovers including milkweeds, Black-eyed Susan, Beebalms, Mountain Mint, Little Bluestem, and Groundsel. Each plant is a naturally-propagated New England native with specific benefits for wildlife, yet also well-suited for the growing conditions and aesthetic preferences of such a public planting.
City arborist Jeff Tarling says, “After a year of waiting, we are getting ready to pull off the shade tarp and begin the transformation from lawn to urban meadow on Franklin Street.” The 300′ x 50′ meadow is located between Congress Street and Cumberland Avenue between the divided roadway. Tarling says, “The shade tarps were placed last fall as a method to reduce the existing grass and weed growth without using herbicides. No question it has been a challenge to maintain the shade tarp in place during those heavy wind storms, but the tarp has worked well to ‘cook’ the existing lawn.”
Why native plants? “By growing more native plants in our gardens, yards, and neighborhoods, we can restore the ecology and other values that make Maine landscapes so special for birds and other wildlife,” says Maine Audubon’s Director of Education, Eric Topper. “We are thrilled to work with Portland across the city to restore habitat, beautify landscapes, and demonstrate our shared values in prominent locations for residents and visitors.” Topper leads Maine Audubon’s “Bringing Nature Home” project, an initiative inspired by and named after the bestselling book of that title by Doug Tallamy, whose aim is to engage communities in restoring native plants. The project is made possible by the generous support of Jim & Ann Hancock.