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RAPID ASSESSMENT

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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Stafford Hospital’s urban meadow is now putting on a show

The wildflowers are in bloom at Stafford Hospital.

With the coreopsis and oxeye daisies now on display, Stafford Hospital’s experiment in natural landscaping has finally bloomed.

It’s been two years since hospital officials planted the grounds in a mix of hardy grasses and wildflowers. Few hospitals had attempted to cultivate a large, wild meadow outside their patient rooms. But officials said they hoped to create a place of respite for patients, visitors and staff and save on mowing, watering and fertilizing. The alternative was a traditional, manicured lawn.

But the native plants were predictably slow to appear, leading some to question the decision.

“It had some bare spots during the first year or two,” said Allen Bryan, administrative director for facilities development and construction for Mary Washington Healthcare, the owner of the hospital.

Officials posted signs outside the main entrance, almost apologizing for the appearance of the grounds and asking for patience.

“You may have noticed that from a distance the landscape around the hospital road and pond is not lush and green,” the sign says. “Yet if you look closer, you will see flowers and grasses emerging from the ground.”

Officials also asked Beate Jensen, buildings and grounds preservation supervisor for Belmont, the Gari Melchers home and studio in Stafford, to take a look. Jensen said she walked the grounds last year and tried to reassure hospital officials that even though their meadow was spotty, everything was growing as planned.

Sure enough, in this the start of the third growing season, the grasses and flowers have become a showy mix.

The splashes of color change with the season. Last week the stormwater detention pond on the north side of the building was surrounded by flowers of white, yellow and purple.

The pond and 2.5-acre hillside are important design elements for the hospital, visible from the main entrance, cafeteria and many of the patient rooms. Now the sidewalk that wanders through them to a nature trail across the street is bordered in color.

Jensen revisited the hospital last week to check on the meadow. She spotted patches of kudzu and recommended spot applications of a herbicide. “If they don’t take care of the kudzu, by the end of the summer, half the field will be kudzu,” she said.

But overall, she was pleased with what she saw. “What a beautiful setting for those patients,” she said.

(Jensen has written about the creation of two other urban meadows at Belmont. Her article, here, appeared last summer in Magnolia, the publication of the Southern Garden History Society.)

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