Gardening with Nature: Wildflower Gardening

Most flower gardens are dominated by bold and colorful blooms – geraniums, zinnias, roses and tulips. But wildflowers, their less flashy ancestors, have a casual beauty all their own. Wildflowers are also easy to grow, with a natural resistance to pests, disease and tough climates. There are wildflowers that will thrive in clay soil, sandy soil, nutrient poor soil and practically no soil at all. Over time, they have adapted to survive on their own, without weeding, watering, pruning or primping.

I love the sophisticated blooms of cultivated flowers, but I also make room for wildflowers. I appreciate the naturalistic look they bring to my yard and garden.

Plant a mixture of species

If you’d like to try your hand at growing wildflowers, I suggest planting a wildflower mix that contains a wide variety of species, including annuals and perennials. This gives you the opportunity to see what kinds of wildflowers will do best on your site. Maybe it will be lupines and daisies; maybe coreopsis and flax, whatever it is, you’ll see within a year or two which plants are thriving.

I love watching the succession of blooms at the gardens. In early spring I see oxeye daisy, lupines and dame’s rocket; then lanceleaf coreopsis and plains coreopsis. They make way for brown-eyed Susan and gloriosa daisy; then purple coneflower, Queen Anne’s lace and yarrow. Finally, the fall is resplendent with New England aster, goldenrod and wild sunflower.

Each site is so different. It usually takes a little experimenting to find the ideal balance of wildflowers for your yard.

Intersperse perennials and annuals in the planting

When you plant a mixture of annuals and perennials, expect the first year to be dominated by annuals. The second year you’ll see the perennials starting to really do their thing.

It requires a lot less work! In New England, if you don’t mow your lawn, it will grow up into raspberry canes, saplings, and eventually a forest. Wildflowers are a great alternative. They require so much less maintenance than a manicured lawn. And you will also attract birds, butterflies and bees. Instead of a sterile green lawn… you have a diverse and visually interesting landscape.

If you want annuals after that first year, you’ll need to replant them. Just spreading the seed won’t work, because now the perennials are established and the tiny annual seedlings won’t be able to compete for light, moisture and nutrients. Each spring, I spot till a few islands or borders where I plant annuals to compliment the perennials. Annuals are luscious but if you grow them in the same spot year after year they get weedy. Rotate annuals with grass. Create an annual border, or an island bed of annuals. In a year or two, when it starts getting weedy, till the bed and seed it to grass. A couple of years later, re-till it and seed it to annuals again.

Easy-Care Favorites for Home Gardeners

The following varieties are widely adapted, reliable performers that are not terribly fussy about soil type. All require at least a half day of sun:

  • Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
  • Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus)
  • Lance Leaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata)
  • Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria)
  • Catchfly (Silene armeria)
  • Annual Baby’s Breath (Gypsophilia elegans)
  • Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus)
  • Gloriosa Daisy (Rudbeckia hirta Gloriosa)
  • Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  • Toadflax (Linaria maroccana)
  • Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
  • Rocket Larkspur (Delphinium ajacis)
  • Shasta Daisy (Chrysanthemum leu. Maximum)