The Central Park Conservancy is creating a native wildflower meadow on the Dene Slope, a landscape in the southern part of the Park just north of the Central Park Zoo, along the Park’s east side between 66th and 69th Streets. The Dene (an English term meaning valley) is a sequence of grassy knolls with elevated rock outcrops that exemplify the pastoral feeling that the Park’s designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, intended to evoke. Currently in its first year of establishment, the meadow was seeded with native wildflowers this past spring, one of the first steps in the long process of establishing a wildflower meadow.
To begin the process last fall, Conservancy staff removed weeds and planted cover crops, like rye and wheat, to improve soil health and suppress the regrowth of weeds. This was followed, in May, by a close-cropped mowing and seeding with native grasses and wildflowers like black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), lavender (or anise) hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), hairy beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus), spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata), and a species of Baptisia. Some seeded grasses include sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), as well as a native grass mix. In July, plugs of purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis) — which turn purple in the fall — and calico aster (Aster lateriflorus), among other species, were put in by Conservancy staff and interns. Another interesting species planted in the meadow is eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa), a northeastern United States native cactus.
This first season of the wildflower meadow is often the weediest one, since the seeds we put in are competing with all the weeds that have lived in the soil for years preceding the meadow’s establishment. This summer was particularly favorable to weeds because it was exceptionally hot and dry. Fortunately, wildflowers are built for rougher conditions and those seeded and planted in the meadow have competed well. Also living in the soil beside potential weeds are plant volunteers or beneficial plants for the landscape. These include sunflower (Helianthus), Verbena, spiderwort (Tradescantia), and white wood aster (Eurybia divaricata), a native wildflower.
Through the fall, Conservancy staff will allow the meadow’s grasses and flowering plants to dry out without much intervention, collecting seeds to spread next season. In the spring, the entire meadow will be mowed short again, followed by a supplemental planting of native grasses and wildflowers. By the third year, weed pressure on the meadow will be significantly reduced and the Dene’s transformation will be notable. Come visit to see the meadow’s evolution in action.