Updated: Sep 15
This picture was taken in my wildflower meadow on 9/11/2022. I planted these flowers last fall and despite everything - they are thriving. Last September, this was a barren hay field, now it is a meadow, alive with butterflies, bees and birds. If Monarchs are endangered, you can't tell it from my house. There are so many here flitting about as well as a host of other butterflies.
I did this and I am a gardening idiot. Many years ago, when I was young and foolish, I planted a climbing rose to adorn a trellis. Within a few days, it looked sickly and a week later, its leaves had been eaten by some unknown pest. I bought some pesticide and sprayed the poor thing. It visibly shriveled and died the next day. I felt awful. Although, I have long since given up using pesticides, most of the things I planted have suffered a similar if less dramatic fate . Still after years of practice, what I know about planting can be summed up as the following:
1) Dig a hole - a little bigger than the plant
2) Fertilizer? IDK
3) Peat moss? IDK
4) Put the plant in the hole and cover it up
5) Water the plant
I planted 300 native perennials from our overstock last October. Some of the plants had gone dormant and therefore had no plant at all -only roots. I put a lot of pots of dirt into the ground and I only followed steps 1 and 5. I skipped all the rest because I don't know anything about fertilizer or peat moss and I was too tired to water. I was pretty sure everything would die because that has been pretty much they way things had gone with non-native plants that I had planted. Here is the newly- planted meadow in Fall 2021:
Perhaps you are wondering - why is a gardening idiot running a native plant nursery? My husband is the grower. He was the kid who brought home spiders in his pockets, the man who walks through the woods and gets excited when he sees an unusual sedge. He has a lifetime experience of growing. I am the marketer, the web and concert T-shirt designer as well as plant schlepper and public speaker.
My anxiety about the collection of sticks I put in the ground turned into despair when during the winter, the snow slid off the hill abutting the wildflower garden and promptly froze into a rink, four inches deep. The ice remained for most of February into March.
In May however, bits of green started to stick up through the silage tarp (used because the field is full of aggressive invasives). In June, the garden was full of healthy plants ranging in size from 6 inches to 3 feet.
But it was July and August when things really went insane: And here it is now in September
Its no English garden but its colorful, beautiful and much more full of life. As far as planning - here was the entire plan:
I put short plants in the front
I put shade-loving plants near the tree-line
And that was the extent of it. And as simple as that plan was, I still messed it up. There are some shade loving plants that are more in the sun and some short ones in between some very tall plants.
What I have learned in my first venture is that I needed to add more native grass. Native wildflowers have spindly stems and are accustomed to being supported by native grasses. This is an issue I intend to correct in October . One of the grasses I intend to plant in between the wildflowers is Big Bluestem. We have a lot of it for sale. Its tall, stately, gorgeous in the fall, supports a ton of butterflies known as skippers. Predator insects recognize it as their hunting grounds. Before Americans began chopping up the landscape into sterile lawns, it grew across the United States. Pioneers would have crossed wild swathes of it journeying westward. Its roots are as deep as tall as the grass making it drought resistant. Here is a picture of some in our meadow:
But here is the important part of this saga: The 300 wildflowers I planted recieved:
A HOLE IN THE GROUND TO GROW IN
and that is all they got. Throughout the worse drought in living memory in my county they got:
NO WATER THAT DIDN'T FALL FROM THE SKY
NO PEST CONTROL
And still they grew tall, resplendently and abundantly.
Having spoken to many people now at Farmers' Markets and at our farm, I see a great deal of enthusiasm for planting natives but also a great deal of fear. People worry that they will do it wrong - they will design it wrong, plant it wrong and things will die and it will be their fault. We have been taught this by conventional gardening - keeping plants alive that don't naturally grow here requires a lot more work - the right fertilizer, the right light, the right ph. We need to be vigilant about protecting them from pests. And usually, we aren't. They die and we blame ourselves. Planting natives is completely different from conventional gardening.
Look at this:
This is a Cardinal flower. It is past its peak bloom time so its leaves are starting to yellow and its scarlet red stalk has lost most of its red but it's alive in a place it has no business living. Cardinal flowers like part-sun and moist to wet soil. This one is growing in full-sun in soil that due to the severe drought, resembles dust. I am not advocating that Cardinal flowers should be planted in these conditions. I am sure that if it had more water and less sun, it would have been taller and would have created more scarlet stalks. My point is that it lived because it, like most native plants are very adaptable to a range of conditions.
Many years ago, I bought an old cookbook at a garage sale called the I Hate To Cook Book. The author wrote in her introduction that she was sure her recipes would work because they were NOT created by anyone who had been to culinary school or studied with French chefs. They were not cooked in gleaming test kitchens but made by harried mothers who were trying to accomplish three other tasks while they threw the recipe together and they STILL WORKED. I am making the same argument. I am not the expert in this operation. These plants were stuck in the ground in a hurry, never watered, never fertilized with only a vague of idea of where they should go and they still grew into something a bit wild but very beautiful and very much appreciated by the thousands of small creatures who rely on them.
One more picture: This is a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar. He wants you to think he is a very scary snake. (They eyes are actually marks on his backside) He appeared on our first year spicebush. Listen to this gardening idiot: Yes, you can do this - they will grow and magic will happen.