“We knew there had to be something better we could do than maintain a lawn,” Gilliard added.
But the couple didn’t know what that should look like. Other than caring for a small patch of grass and a few boxwood shrubs at their former home in Long Island, they’d had no experience gardening or landscaping.
The couple mentioned to one of their neighbors, Hadley Mueller, that they were planning to look into some new landscaping ideas. Mueller happened to work for American Meadows, a Vermont-based seed company.
“Wildflowers,” she told them. “I thought they had the perfect spot for a beautiful meadow.”
Yacko, 36, and Gilliard, 34, were immediately onboard. They started by ripping out an acre’s worth of grass, then they ordered a 50-pound bag of seed that would grow 27 varieties of native northeast wildflowers, both perennials and annuals.
They plowed, ran a rake over it, and put seeds down.
He and Gilliard are among a growing group of homeowners who are sick of lawns and made a change with their own yards.
“We had no idea what we’d be looking at after we first planted the meadow, but that was part of the fun,” Yacko said.
The first pops of color began to appear in spring 2021.
“We’d been wondering whether it would work, and suddenly we were seeing these little white flowers called baby’s breath,” said Gilliard. “That was an exciting time for us.”
The baby’s breath was soon followed by yellow coreopsis, orange cosmos, red poppies, purple foxgloves and blue forget-me-nots, she said. Their colorful new field also attracted songbirds and bees.
Over the next several months in 2021, she and Yacko said people they’d never met started dropping by. Neighbors and strangers thanked them for planting the meadow. Many of them brought baked goods, left thank you notes and even small bouquets, Gilliard said.
“The meadow became this wonderful way to develop new friendships and feel like we belonged to something and were part of a community,” she said. “A lot of people drove by during the pandemic and told us the flowers made them happy and gave them a boost.”
The people didn’t stop coming.
“Seeing what new flowers had popped up each day brought a lot of joy,” Gilliard said.
Neighbors Jenna Baird and her partner Jacob Powsner were so inspired by the field of flowers that they decided this year to plant a patch of wildflowers on their own property across the hill, where they run a maple syrup farm.
“What Natalie and Jonathan did was so spectacular — we wanted to create a similar habitat for all of the wild pollinators,” said Baird, 32.
“It definitely beats grass, and I was convinced we should do the same after the first glimpse of Jonathan and Natalie’s meadow,” Powsner added.
After he’d planted three-quarters of an acre, he took his tiller down the hill to help Yacko expand his meadow by another acre or so.
“We’re now looking at about 2¼ acres of wildflowers,” said Gilliard, “and we’re planning to do more.”
She and Yacko had spent most of their lives on Long Island, where they had fast-paced careers and little time for gardening or yard care, she said. Yacko was busy as an engineering manager, while Gilliard worked for a New York utility company.
They decided to move to Vermont in 2019 in search of a slower-paced life and a sense of community, Yacko said, adding that he and Gilliard found it difficult to make new friendships in New York.
He now works remotely for the same New York company, while Gilliard switched careers and is now a special-education teacher.
Now that they own a popular wildflower meadow, they’ve developed a new appreciation for low maintenance landscaping.
Except for watering the seed for the first several months to help with germination, “it’s pretty much plant it and forget it,” Yacko said. Instead of firing up a lawn mower every few weeks, he now mows the meadow once every spring to help the flowers to come back in abundance.
Mueller recommends that homeowners leave wildflower meadows alone in the winter as a food source for birds and other wildlife.
“A wildflower meadow has transformative power: It’s good for you, it’s good for the environment and it’s good for the world,” Mueller said. “Natalie and Jonathan are living that story, and now their meadow is buzzing with life.”
Once the blooms have faded this fall, Yacko and Gilliard said the anticipation of seeing the first sprouts of green in the spring will help get them through the winter.
“We started this as not wanting to mow grass, never expecting it would become what it has,” Yacko said. “Now we’re helping the bees, we’re adding beauty to the landscape and we’re making the community happy.”
“It’s nice to be able to give that back to everyone,” he said.