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Couple's colorful meadows become a bright spot in a Vermont community

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have the story of a couple who moved from New York to Chittenden, Vt., in 2019 - just in time for the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, their yard became their refuge. But they hated all the mowing, so they plowed up big patches of grass and planted more than an acre's worth of wildflowers. Vermont Public's Nina Keck watched her neighbor's colorful meadows become a bright spot in the community.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS RUSTLING)

NINA KECK, BYLINE: Natalie Gilliard and Jonathan Yacko walk me past their house to what used to be a grassy hillside.

So this is where it all began?

NATALIE GILLIARD: Yes, this was the very first meadow that we started. This is year three. Am I right, three?

JONATHAN YACKO: Yep.

GILLIARD: Yes.

KECK: The lawn has been replaced by thousands of flowers, a lacy quilt of blues, pinks, purples and varying shades of orange shimmering with butterflies.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEES BUZZING)

GILLIARD: 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. And right here, there's just so many bright blue forget-me-nots. And then right behind them is all the yellow coreopsis. And it's just such a cool visual with all these colors right here.

KECK: And I can't believe how many bees I'm seeing.

GILLIARD: They're everywhere. It's amazing watching them. It's mostly honeybees and some bumblebees, but a lot more honeybees than I've ever seen in one place, which is so exciting for me (laughter). Oh, there's new stuff. I just noticed there's some sweet William coming up right here, this purple right here. It looks like little stars.

KECK: Oh, wow. It's beautiful.

YACKO: And it's always - you don't know exactly what's going to come up or when it's going to come up. And that's - part of the magic of it is that every couple of weeks, it looks totally different.

KECK: The other part of the magic is the way the wildflowers have helped Jonathan and Natalie become part of their new community. When they moved in, they didn't know anyone, and the pandemic was depressing. The flowers broke through all that.

YACKO: We had such an amazing reaction. People brought us bouquets that they had made. And 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. And they go like, oh, thank you for the meadow. We love driving by and seeing it - just like, oh, like, that's amazing.

GILLIARD: I also feel like just even when we're meeting new people, 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.

KECK: This summer, they planted an even larger meadow with their next-door neighbor on her property. A local farmer they've become friends with helped them till the soil.

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

KECK: What's really exciting? They say their wildflowers have begun to spread.

For NPR News, I'm Nina Keck in Chittenden, Vt.

(SOUNDBITE OF ACOUSTIC HEARTSTRINGS' "WILDFLOWERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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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