Field Goods

By Lauren Johnson

For the past 20 years, Tama Matsuoka has worked as a corporate lawyer, living in Tokyo, New York, and Hong Kong. After living in some of the most urban places, she decided to move back to her home state of NJ to live in a more rural (and greener) environment, and re-discovered her appreciation of natural surroundings.

Really appreciate.

In addition to starting Meadows + More, an organization that seeks to educate the home gardener about the importance of reviving native species, Tama serves as a trustee on the board of Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, is an advisor to the Plant Stewardship index program, and recently joined the Conservation and Stewardship Committee of the New Jersey Audubon society. In 2007 she received the New Jersey Forest Stewardship Award from the New Jersey Forest Service in recognition of her work.

Her website, meadowsandmore.com, provides useful interactive tools such as a discussion board where users can submit photos of backyard plants and have them identified by expert botanists; a calendar of native plant-related events; and (currently in the works) a collection of recipes using native wild edibles.

How did this project start? What prompted you?
I found there was not a whole lot of information available that was easy to access on identifying native plants in NJ. I wanted to create a resource for people like me who wanted to know what was growing in my backyard, and which were native or invasive. It’s amazing to know what plants exist without knowing, and how easy it is to revive them. For example, I had a fairly barren field on the property I live on now, and simply mowing it rejuvenated what was there, and every year it has become more lush and beautiful.

Can anybody creative a native NJ meadow?
I think anybody could, however, if your land is very disturbed, compacted, and has been treated with heavy fertilizers in the past, it might take a while to come back. You might have to kick start it to life by planting plugs or seeding it. Some areas are easier than others to revive.

What is your goal for people to learn from your organization?
Oftentimes people will not know what they already have, and have a cookie cutter idea and approach of what a lawn or meadow should look like. People think that if they see tall plants in their back yard, that it looks weedy and ugly. I want people to cultivate an appreciation for what exists naturally. It’s easy, sustains itself, and environmentally speaking, is much better than just having a lawn.

What are the benefits?

One benefit is water – there’s a lot of run off from lawns since they have shallow roots. Run-off from roofs and pavement slides over it like a carpet and nutrients cannot be absorbed. Most of meadow plants have longer root systems — sometimes 5-6 feet long — which hold the soil together and helps bring organic material to the roots (plants die and come back every year, nourishing the soil). Some plants also help filter out heavy metals from the soil, which may prevent them from ending up in your drinking water. Another benefit is that it brings a variety of natural pollinators, like birds and insects.

Excerpt from Meadows on the Menu, recipes for creating a New Jersey Native Wildflower Meadow, by Tama Matsuoka Wong in conjunction with the New Jersey Audubon Society

1) Check to see what ingredients you have before you begin.
Sunlight: Poor soil, such as wet spots, drainage areas and areas with clay or acidic soils are a good place to begin. Native meadow plants and grasses often have a head start on the competition in plots with poorer soils.

Plants: Spend your first season learning what is already “stocked” in your kitchen. It is important to understand the history of your land. Are there any areas that may not have been extensively plowed or dug up for construction? Do not assume that because you can only see “grass” that this means your cupboard is bare. Even spotting one special plant or spring wildflowers at the forest edge are good signs that a meadow can be started in and around that area.

Water: Dry or wet? Pay close attention to where water runoff from your house, driveway, or slopes is collecting.

2) Purchasing additional ingredients: If after one season’s inventory, you find that your cupboard has unpalatable or has insufficient plants, you may need to selectively plant or seed. Keep it simple — don’t plan too many “courses” in small areas at the same time.

3) Taste each dish as it is cooking. Establishing a meadow is part art, part science. Just as you may need to thicken or add salt or sugar, you need to critically observe your meadow at different stages. Feel free to “correct the seasonings” to restore the balance of flavors. If a certain plant is becoming too aggressive, you may need to tame it down. Does a favored species need more room to thrive and regenerate? Cull any surrounding non-natives that may be crowding or shading it.

4) Start small & simple. As a beginner cook, you wouldn’t venture to serve a 5-course dinner for 10. In planning your first meadow menu, choose a small area that will most likely succeed. Expand from there over time.

5) Relax & enjoy yourself. Don’t expect perfection or expect your “dish” to turn out exactly like the photos. Your plot will change over time. Watch and be inspired by what is unique about your own piece of earth.
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