Growing Wildflowers at Home
by: Bruce and Mary Partridge

For those wildflower enthusiasts who also garden, or for those who can't always get away to enjoy native plants in their native habitats, it is surprisingly easy to cultivate wildflowers around the home.  I would venture to say that most native s pecies adapt happily to cultivation.  Many, in fact, respond with more luxuriant growth than usually found in the wild.  Wild plants may often succeed in problem areas around the home, such as deep shade, wet spots, or poor, gravelly ground where common perennials fail.  Above all , wildflowers grace the home grounds with God-given beauty and balance of flower and form those things that have largely been lost and ignored in cultivated hybrids.

Wildflowers are, of course, found in every situation in nature.  Wildflower cultivation depends largely upon planting in locations similar to those where plants might be found in the wild.  For simplicity, we will group wildflower species in to three categories those that grow in the woods, those that grow in wetlands, and those that grow in fields or meadows.

Wildflowers that grow in the woods include well-known species such as trillium, bloodroot, Solomon-Seal, bunchberry, and false lily-of-the-valley.  Many ferns are also included in this group.  These plants flourish in the loose, rich, woodsy soil found beneath mature hardwood forests.  They are often adapted to bloo m and make most of their growth during that brief period in spring between when the ground thaws and when the leaves come out on the trees that period when sun can penetrate to the forest floor.  After this they may survive in almost total shade.& nbsp; This makes these plants useful at home in shady areas under shrubs, hedges, or trees, or behind buildings.  Soil should be enriched with organic matter and fluffed up into raised beds if the drainage is poor or the soil compacted.

Wetland wildflowers occur mostly in sunny bogs and marshes and include many of our more spectacular bloomers like blue-flag iris, marsh marigold, turtlehead, swamp milkweed and Joe-Pye weed.  Many grasses, sedges, and ferns also flourish i n wetlands.  Some of these plants can survive complete immersions for long periods of time.  When planting in a wet spot at home, however, it is best to plant in raised up areas within this area or around the edges in order to give the small p lants a better chance to get started.

Wildflowers that grow in the meadow are often those that pop into the mind's eye at the mention of the word.  They include such well-known species as black-eyed susan, red clover, ox-eye daisy, pasture rose, and wild asters.  Clump-forming grasses such as timothy and tall fescue are an integral part of the wildflower meadow.  ; Sod formers like couch grass or Kentucky bluegrass choke out wildflowers and should be discouraged.  Run-out lawns and hayfields in the Maritimes become beautiful wildflower meadows all on their own when properly managed.  The secret of maintaining a wildflower meadow is to mow only once a year, just to keep down woody plants and overly aggressive tall species.  Desirable wildflowers will generally establish on their own over a period of a few years.  Additional plants may be introduced to speed thin gs up or add new species.  Seeding in an existing meadow usually is not effective.  Most commercial wildflower mixes are not true wildflowers in this part of the country, and do not give long-lasting results.

Obviously, many desirable wildflowers, though easy to cultivate, will not fit exactly into these three categories.  Plants such as harebell, the violets, Canada anemone, and native lilies may be found in more than one type of habitat, but a suit able spot can almost certainly be found around any home.  Most of the plants I have mentioned in this article, and many more, will grow perfectly in conventional flowerbeds, as long as they receive the right amount of sunlight, more or less.  Wetland plants appreciate watering in dry weather if the spot is not particularly damp.

Try growing some wildflowers in your garden.  You'll be surprised how easy it is.  Seeds may be obtained through the New England and the Canadian Wildflower Societies as well as from many commercial sources.  Wildflower plants, however, are often difficult to start from seed.  Better results are usually obtained using started plants, which may be purchased from commercial nurseries such as our own. 


NSWFS members who would like a copy of our wildflower catalogue and planting guide can write to Borealis Wildflowers, R.R. 2, Heatherton, NS  B0H 1R0.  We also would enjoy showing members around our place, if they would only phone ahead to m ake arrangements.  Our phone number is (902) 386-2952.  Mid-May to mid-June is a good time to see some interesting things, though there is something blooming almost any time.

Nova Scotia Wild Flora Society