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Planting a meadow and growing a community

Natalie Gilliard and Jonathan Yacko check out the latest blooms in their lawn-turned-meadow in Vermont
Nina Keck/Vermont Public
Natalie Gilliard and Jonathan Yacko check out the latest blooms in their lawn-turned-meadow in Vermont

Jonathan Yacko and his wife Natalie Gilliard grew up near New York City and moved to Chittenden, Vermont in 2019. They loved their big new yard, but hated all the mowing. So they planted wildflowers, more than an acre's worth.

"So we started, really, during COVID," says Yacko. "Nat was unemployed; she'd lost her job during that period, and my hours were cut in half. And so we had a lot more free time."

"We picked out all the rocks, dug up all the grass, planted all the seeds," adds Gilliard.

They weren't sure it would work. But Gilliard says they finally started seeing little sprouts come up. "We'd look out the window and be like 'they're coming, the flowers are coming!"

Wildflowers put on an ever-changing show in Chittenden, Vermont
/ Nina Keck/Vermont Public
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Nina Keck/Vermont Public
Wildflowers put on an ever-changing show in Chittenden, Vermont

She says it started with an explosion of tiny white flowers. "Gypsophila elegans," says Gilliard, double checking the name on her iPhone, "Yup, baby's breath."

Then came all the colors: red and yellow poppies, pink catchfly, bright orange cosmos, red columbine, and purple foxglove.

"So right over here, you can really kind of get into it without stepping on any of the flowers or worrying about disturbing any habitats," says Gilliard, stepping carefully onto a patch of dirt between flowers.

"There's just so many bright blue forget-me-nots," she says, bending down to take a closer look. "And right behind them is all the yellow coreopsis.

A bee collects pollen in a meadow of wildflowers that was once a lawn
/ Nina Keck/Vermont Public
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Nina Keck/Vermont Public
A bee collects pollen in a meadow of wildflowers that was once a lawn

It's a sea of blossoms shimmering with butterflies and the hum of bees.

"It's amazing watching them," says Gilliard with a grin. "It's mostly honeybees and some bumblebees, but a lot more honey bees than I've ever seen in one place, which is so exciting for me."

"And what's so cool is every couple of weeks the meadows look totally different," adds Yacko. "You don't know exactly what's gonna come up or when it's going to come up and that's part of the magic."

The other part of the magic is the way the wildflowers have helped the couple become part of their small town community. When they moved in they didn't know anyone and the pandemic was depressing.

The flowers broke through all that.

"We had such an amazing reaction!" says Yacko. "People brought us bouquets they had made. I've met so many people at the transfer station that have said, 'I've seen your meadow,' and I have no idea who they are. 'We love driving by and seeing it'...and I'm just like, 'oh that's amazing!'"

"When we're meeting new people," adds Gilliard. "We can just be like, 'Oh, yeah, we're the house with the wildflower meadow.' And people are like, 'Oh, I love that meadow! It's so cool! It made us so happy!'"

This summer, they planted an even larger patch of wild flowers with their next-door-neighbor. Another neighbor helped them till the soil.

"Having people that we've never even met stop by or send us cards thanking us for doing that," says Yacko, "It's such the community I want to live in."

"And it's nice to be able to give back some of the joy we've gotten since moving in," adds Gilliard.

Copyright 2023 Vermont Public

Nina has been reporting for VPR since 1996, primarily focusing on the Rutland area. An experienced journalist, Nina covered international and national news for seven years with the Voice of America, working in Washington, D.C., and Germany. While in Germany, she also worked as a stringer for Marketplace. Nina has been honored with two national Edward R. Murrow Awards: In 2006, she won for her investigative reporting on VPR and in 2009 she won for her use of sound. She began her career at Wisconsin Public Radio.
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