Diver-seed-y

First off, I apologize for the title.  I’ve been thinking of a way to work this word into some part of my life for the past week. Unfortunately, you were the recipients but there is method to this madness. Read on.

We hear about species becoming threatened, endangered, or, even worse, extinct.  Much of the time, the focus is on the charismatic megafauna, like the panda, tiger, and rhino (a hot topic in the news these days). The fact is, plants go extinct, too. We just don’t hear about it quite as often.

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I’m not saying we shouldn’t work to protect these beautiful creatures; I’m saying we need to see the smaller, less noticed species that need just as much attention.

As a species (whether plant or animal) becomes extinct, our overall global diversity is reduced.  And there are consequences. The diversity of our plant life (diver-seed-y) is just as important as the charismatic megafauna plastered all over social media.

Check out a couple of the North American species that are in trouble to varying degrees but, with the help of wildflower lovers throughout the continent, we can keep them going.

Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia)
This spring bloomer is on the endangered species list in Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.  You’ll be hard-pressed to find it in any of its other native locations either as it’s quite rare.

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Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium)
One of Miriam’s favourites for the garden and as a cut flower (particularly great for wedding bouquets), wild quinine is endangered in Maryland and Minnesota; extirpated in Pennsylvania; and threatened in Wisconsin.

Ozark Coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa)
Native to the Ozark region of the US (Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma) and Texas, this flower is threatened in Arkansas where it only exists in a few of the northernmost counties.

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Bush’s Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe bushii)
You won’t find this plant naturally outside a handful of US states (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas). That doesn’t mean it won’t do well in other places, though.  An excellent addition to any North American rock garden or space with dry soil.

Tennessee Coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis)
Native to Tennessee (and Tennessee only), it is also endangered there.  This coneflower is unique with its horizontal flower petals (where the rest have sagging petals). Although it’s native to Tennessee, it grows well in Ontario on the farm and will overwinter just like any other coneflower we grow here.

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Detailed growing information can be found by clicking on each species link.  Or searching directly from the website. There you will find bloom time (to maximize your garden’s flower potential throughout the season), special characteristics (cut flower worthy, insect and bird species it attracts, and deer resistance), and where in your garden it will do the best.

If you have the space, give these rare and endangered species a chance to repopulate throughout the country.  If you don’t have space of your own, share the message with someone who does – you can even offer to help them with the gardening! Win-win all around!

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A Bug-Deprived Blogger

flowers

Top left: bergamot; top right: black-eyed Susan; bottom left: evening primrose; bottom right: white yarrow.
All of these are North American native wildflowers that don’t need winter to germinate.

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote about the sow and grow wildflowers that we offer at Wildflower Farm. Unlike last year though, the snow is still melting and the bulbs I put in the ground in the fall are starting to sprout. The squirrels are still eating my bird seed…

If you know anything about native North American wildflowers, you will know that the majority of them require “cold-moist stratification” or, in layman’s terms, winter sowing. Without this (or the fake version of this), you’ll have a hard time getting them to sprout.

Fortunately, there is still time to start your flowers in the fridge. And for the rest of us who aren’t as motivated or don’t have fridge space, there are seeds for you as well.  Last year I gave you a list of the seeds we offer that don’t need this special treatment.  They are, just like many of the annual non-natives, easy to grow. But, with the added bonus of being perennials.  That’s right, these beauties will come back every year.

This year, because I have been a little bug deprived, I thought I’d focus on the great benefits certain “speed dial” wildflowers can bring where the insect community is concerned.

Evening Primrose and Moths

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A laurel sphinx moth. The evening primrose provides nourishment during the evening hours.

 

As its name suggests, the evening primrose opens at night.  Conveniently, many moth species become active when the sun goes down (it’s like nature has something figured out).  Two moth species come to mind when I think of evening primrose: hawk moths (also known as sphinx moths and hummingbird moths) and the cleverly named primrose moth.

Before last summer, I had never seen a hawk moth.  A laurel sphinx moth showed up after our motion sensor light was stuck on all night. I was floored by its beauty.  The colours, its sheer size, and its interesting shape.  If you’ve never seen one in action, you MUST see this video (or any other hawk moth video for that matter).  There’s a reason they’re also called hummingbird moths.

The primrose moths are stunners as well.  Can’t say I’ve ever seen one (yet) but I will be keeping an eye out this summer.

 

 

Black-eyed Susan and Syrphid Flies

While not an exclusive interaction by any means (none of these are), the syrphid fly does like to spend its summer days chowing down on the pollen and nectar provided by the black-eyed Susan. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to take a decent photo of a syrphid fly yet – they are skiddish and unbelievably quick.

Syrphid flies have to be one of my favourite pollinators.  While they are incredibly cute little insects, they are interesting pollinators as well – so very detailed while picking up pollen.

As beneficial insects go, the syrphid fly should get more recognition. Not only is it a great pollinator as an adult, its larvae are excellent aphid predators. Now, I will warn you, if you’re not into insects, this video might not be for you.  The videography is truly incredible though.

 

Bergamot and Beetles

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Definitely not on a bergamot plant, but this banded long-horned beetle is a frequent visitor to the bergamot plants around Wildflower Farm.

Bergamot is a workhorse in the garden. Beyond the myriad of bee pollinators it attracts, you can expect to see a whole host of butterfly and moth species as well. But that’s not why we’re here today.  Bees, butterflies and moths are great, but sometimes I think we neglect to see past the usual pollinators and recognize other insects that are playing such integral parts in the ecosystem.

Beetles, for example, never really get the credit they deserve. Bergamot, being the incredible sow-and-grow flower that it is, also attracts a few beetles:  the soldier beetle, which I’m sure many of you have seen poking around the garden, and the banded long-horned beetle.  Not to be confused with the Asian long-horned beetle which has become a bit of a pain in North America, the banded long-horned beetle (Typocerus velutinus) is a native.

 

Last year, I was fortunate enough to see a few enjoying the Queen-Anne’s lace that grows in the scrubby area by my house. Bergamot, however, is a favourite for this beetle. And this beetle plays an important part in the woodland ecosystem: its larvae feed on decaying wood, enabling the much needed decomposition process.

Final Words
Every one of these sow-and-grow wildflowers is a perennial.  Every one will add a different look to the garden.  And every one will bring in variety of insects that may or may not be pollinators but definitely provide some service to the ecosystem.

Consider adding a few to your garden.  You still have time.

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The Gospel of Grass

Ah... An idyllic afternoon mowing the lawn!

Ah… An idyllic afternoon mowing the lawn!

      Lately, it’s impossible to get away from news about droughts, water bans, carcinogenic pesticides and studies claiming none of us have any leisure time.

      It makes me wonder why on earth anyone would want a lawn.

      Lawns take up valuable space better used to grow food, guzzle shameful amounts of water, are addicted to harmful chemical fertilizers and need mowing all the frigging time.

      North America has over 50 million acres of residential & commercial grass lawns. Over 100 Million North American households have a yard or garden.

Levittown N.Y. was the first residential development built after WWII.

Levittown N.Y. was the first residential development built after WWII.

Traditional lawns demand about 200 gallons of potable water per person per day.

The EPA estimates lawn mowers emit 11 times more air pollution than new car for every hour of operation; that’s up to 5% of smog in some areas of this continent.

Each summer North Americans spill over 17,000,000 gallons of gasoline when refueling mowers and other garden equipment.

45 million homeowners apply chemicals to their lawn. spraying chemicals

Many of these chemicals have known health risks, destroy natural habitat for pollinators, kill pollinators and seep into our homes and drinking water.

 

Why DO we have lawns anyway?

Originally wealthy European lords possessed vast expanses of lawns for grazing livestock. In order to keep livestock fed, these grazing lawns were made up of grasses that grew very quickly. These same fast growing grasses were brought by immigrants to North America to feed their livestock – Bermuda grass from Africa and Kentucky Blue from the Middle East. These fast growing grasses are still the predominant components of much of the grass grown throughout North America.

Hello there! I LOVE fast growing grass!!!

Hello there! I LOVE fast growing grass!!!

      Traditional lawns just love mild, moist English weather and as you know much of North America certainly does not enjoy mild, moist English weather! A typical lawn doesn’t function well unless you spend lots of money on it.

After World War II marketing companies successfully glamourized lawns and lawn care equipment, convincing" home owners that great lawns can only be achieved through the use of chemical fertilizers and expensive lawn care products.

After World War II marketing companies successfully glamourized lawns and lawn care equipment,
convincing” home owners that great lawns can only be achieved through the use of chemical fertilizers and expensive lawn care products.

      A typical lawn can’t cope with shade or sandy soil; it struggles in compacted  or nutrient depleted soil; it demands frequent mowing; turns brown during drought and often attracts cinch bugs, grubs and other pests.

Traditional lawns require constant attention.

MOW! WATER! AERATE! FERTILIZE!... MOW! WATER! AERATE! FERTILIZE....

MOW! WATER! AERATE! FERTILIZE!… MOW! WATER! AERATE! FERTILIZE….

As with all relationships, it’s complicated….                    

All this lawn slamming begs the question – why on earth would a company devoted to restoring the natural balance of our planet have anything to do with the walking ecological disaster known as “lawn?”

 

 

 

 

Funny you should ask.

About 20 years ago a simple walk in the forest gave us an idea. What if those clumps of rich green grass growing in the deep shade of the northern woods could be used as natural grass pathways for our wildflower meadows? Trial and error led to the development of Wildflower Farm’s drought-tolerant, low maintenance turf grass, Eco-Lawn.

False modesty aside, we’re pretty stoked that tens of thousands of homeowners, businesses, governments and municipalities enjoy Eco-Lawn’s many benefits. Who wouldn’t enjoy mowing and watering less and eliminating the use of dangerous lawn chemicals. Studies of Eco-Lawn demonstrate its ability to crowd out weeds, grow in deep shade and even thrive under pine trees.

We invite, nay, ENCOURAGE your skepticism.

Visit http://www.eco-lawn.com . Email us: info@wildflowerfarm.com. Or, if you prefer, phone: 1 866 476 9453. Likely an actual person will answer the phone.

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s SOW Not Too Late to Seed Wildflowers!!

 

Whooo Hoo! Still time to sow wildflower seeds like this gorgeous Purple Coneflower!

Whooo Hoo! Still time to sow wildflower seeds like this gorgeous Tennessee Coneflower!

Each and every spring folks tend to panic. Our office is flooded with frantic phone calls and emails. ”Am I too late? ” they ask. “Will I be wasting my time and money starting wildflowers now?”  Our answer???  “It’s SOW not too late to sow wildflowers!

All the North American wildflowers we offer are perennials. Some require cold moist stratification or winter sowing in order to wake up and begin to grow. Cold moist stratification or winter sowing is nature’s way of breaking down the hard seed coating found on some wildflowers. Other wildflowers need no pre-treatment what so ever so you can start growing them immediately in a sunny window or under grow lights.

We make it simple to figure out which wildflower needs what. On the Wildflower Farm website (www.wildflowerfarm.com) every species page  says whether it needs winter sowing or requires no pre-treatment and gives the step by step instructions to grow them. We also print  these instructions on the back of every seed pack!

Here’s an example of germination instructions for Gallardia or Blanket Flower.

Easy sowing instructions on the back of Blanket Flower seed pack.

Easy sowing instructions on the back of Blanket Flower seed pack.

No pre-treatment required.

Blanket Flower, Gallardia aristata is easy to grow from seed.

Blanket Flower, Gallardia aristata is easy to grow from seed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s an example of Common Milkweed or Asclepias syriaca that requires winter sowing.

Simple winter sowing instructions for Common Milkweed on the back of the seed back.

Simple winter sowing instructions for Common Milkweed on the back of the seed back.

 

Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca is an essential plant for Monarch butterflies - and very easy to grow from seed.

Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca is an essential plant for Monarch butterflies – and very easy to grow from seed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super Simple Winter Sowing Techniques

Hum along as you learn winter sowing basics in this video….

 

Or check out How to Winter Sow Milkweed and Other Wildflowers…

 

If you live somewhere that is still below freezing at night but warms up during the day time you still have time to plant your seeds in pots and put them outside! That’s because it’s not the freezing temperatures of winter but rather the freeze/thaw action of early spring that breaks down the seed shells and serves as a catalyst for germination to occur.

It's not the snow and freezing temperatures that make winter sowing so effective. It's the freeze / thaw of late winter and early Spring that breaks down thick shell coating.

It’s not the snow and freezing temperatures that make winter sowing so effective. It’s the freeze / thaw of late winter and early Spring that breaks down thick shell coating.

Or….Winter Sow in the Fridge

Fake out your wildflower seeds. Plant them in the fridge for a few weeks.

Fake out your wildflower seeds. Plant them in the fridge for a few weeks.

If you live in a warm climate where freezing temperatures don’t occur at all or winter conditions are finished you – or you just prefer to winter sow inside rather than outside just place your wildflower seeds in pots with moistened soil in the refrigerator for  a day or two, then to the freezer for a day or two. Go back and forth between fridge and freezer for a week or so and you will have duplicated the freeze-thaw cycle that breaks down seed shells outside. Then, start growing your wildflowers in a sunny window or under grow lights..

Growing On Your Wildflower Plants:

Be sure to give your wildflower plants ample time (at least 8 weeks) to form a big healthy root ball. Don’t be impatient! Very young plants do not do well when planted outside in stressful, hot summer conditions. Once you do transplant them into your garden, make sure to water them in well and keep them watered for the first growing season. By the fall you’ll never need to water them again!

And remember! You still have LOTS of time to make wildflower babies!!!

Not sure what to grow? You’re sure to succeed with our handy Seed Selector Tool. Just plug in your soil type, sunlight and moisture conditions, the color, height and bloom time – even your state or province and you’ll find a complete list of wildflowers perfect for this Spring’s seeding project.

Happy Seeding!

 

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Milkweed and Mimicry

There are certain issues that need to be talked about, shared, and really drilled into people’s minds.  I, however, am getting tired of addressing this issue.  Not because it’s not important, but because it’s so important that everyone should know, but they don’t.  If everyone knew, I’d be able to spend my time writing blogs about other important topics (of which there are plenty).

But, I digress.  We must broach the topic once again.  So here we go.

Monarchs need milkweed.  This is not new information, nor is it the first time I’ve said it.  And, sadly, it won’t be the last.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to nurture every part of their life cycle: from egg to egg-producing adult.

I thought this time I would make something a little more photogenic that you can share with your friends to really get the word out.

monarch2 (2850x2482)The relationship between monarchs and milkweed is well-known. Many believe, however, that milkweed is the only plant they need.  Adults, when looking for a place to lay eggs, will seek out milkweed but to build up energy for reproduction, they need nectar from other plants.  I give a few of the more popular examples above but most any native plant will do.

The most important thing to remember is that monarchs have several generations in one year resulting in a need for nectar-providing plants all season long.

Why Milkweed?

There is a very good reason why monarch caterpillars need milkweed and it has to do with personal safety.  The “milk” that runs through the milkweed plant tastes awful…to most…  with the exception of a few species (monarchs being one of them).

As the monarch caterpillar digests the leafy goodness that is a milkweed plant, it also takes on those nasty flavours that are well-known in the animal kindgom.  As the caterpillar goes through life it will encounter predators at every stage (mostly birds).  Due to its bright colours, a bird can learn to identify them with a bad taste and they will move along.

Mimicry

The bad taste that the monarch leaves on a bird’s palate is one that other species have evolved to take advantage of.  This is called mimicry and two species come to mind right away: the viceroy and the queen. These two species as adult butterflies look similar to the monarch.  The caterpillar of the queen butterfly looks quite similar to that of the monarch caterpillar as well.

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Can you tell which one is which? Insect species will often mimic each other for protection.

 

Batesian or Müllerian Mimicry?

Before 1991 it was thought that the viceroy was mimicking the monarch for protection because it did not taste bad itself.  This would be Batesian Mimicry: where one harmless species copies another harmful species solely for its own benefit.  In 1991, however, a study was published that refutes this claim.

Viceroy caterpillars get their bad taste from their food as well: willows, populars, and cottonwoods (all in the Salicaceae family).  While monarchs are eating the cardenolides from the milkweed, viceroys are eating salicylic acid.  They would (I assume) taste unpleasant in a similar way that monarchs do. *Full disclosure, I’ve never taste tested this theory*.  The scientists who published this study had a largely more scientific testing method. Similarly, queens taste just as awful.

This type of mimicry is called Müllerian: where two or more species are harmful but work together to mimic each other. The benefit being that the predator only needs to try one of the mimics to learn that they are dangerous or unpalatable.  It is a simple case of strength in numbers.

Back to Monarchs

Swinging this right back around, I’d like to remind you that even though these mimics exist, pesticides do not discriminate.  Nor do the wildflowers. Plant milkweed for the monarchs and, while you’re at it, plant a few other nectar-producing beauties. You’ll attract monarchs, yes, but look closely next time: is it a monarch or a viceroy?

IMG_0329 (1024x768)PS – the above photo shows a monarch, queen, and viceroy.  Did you get it right?

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Mr. and Mrs. Wildflower’s Urban Adventure

The Parklane Garden was pilled high with Wild Columbines, Smooth Penstemon, Black-Eyed Susans and Prairie Smoke

Here at Wildflower Farm we’re still contending with a foot of snow. We’d both been invited to speak in Toronto so we braved the highways and journeyed to Toronto, or as we Ontarians call it, “The Big Smoke.”

Paul and I needed a colour fix!!!! We'd been living in the land of eternal snow for far too long. Time to head to Toronto and do some talking!!

Paul and I needed a colour fix!!!! We’d been living in the land of eternal snow for far too long. Time to head to Toronto and do some talking!! Here’s the Vandermeer Nursery’s lush daffodil walkway.

I spoke at Canada Blooms about Taming Wildflowers and Paul spoke about Eco-Lawn, Wildflower Farm’s low maintenance turf grass at Holland Park Garden Centre  in Burlington., Ontario. You mean you haven’t heard about our amazing Eco-Lawn yet? Check it out. If you’d prefer a low-maintenance drought tolerant lawn you mow just once a month or less, you’re in for a treat!

      Now in its 19th year, Canada Blooms offers Canadian gardeners flowers, shrubs and trees in bloom in mid-March. This is no mean feat! It’s extraordinarily expensive and difficult to force plants to bloom in late winter. That being said, I’m sad to see fewer and fewer beautiful plants and gardens and more and more interlocking brick and inanimate structures at the show.  It’s a 10 day show so you still have a chance to see the gardens. You can learn a lot from this stellar lineup of garden speakers.

The Parklane Garden was pilled high with Wild Columbines, Smooth Penstemon, Black-Eyed Susans and Prairie Smoke

The Parklane Garden was pilled high with Wild Columbines, Smooth Penstemon, Black-Eyed Susans and Prairie Smoke

The  Fairy Frolic Garden by Vandermeer Nurseries features some charming fairy garden vignettes

The Fairy Frolic Garden by Vandermeer Nurseries features some charming fairy garden vignettes

Under Horticultural Director, Paul Zammit's direction, the Toronto Botanical Garden's containers never disappoint.

Under Horticultural Director, Paul Zammit’s direction, the Toronto Botanical Garden’s containers never disappoint.

The Adam Bienenstock playground featured a giant greenhouse, ancient repurposed trees to climb over, under and through, but was oddly lacking in plant material.

The Adam Bienenstock playground featured a giant tree house and ancient repurposed trees to climb over, under and through, but was oddly lacking in plant material.

Pic – One of the lush gardens of Shawn Gallagher’s Otium Garden. Shawn specializes is gardens designed to integrate boot camp style exercises that are performed in the landscape to strengthen ones’ health, well-being, and connection to nature.

One of the lush gardens of Shawn Gallagher’s Otium Garden. Shawn specializes is gardens designed to integrate boot camp style exercises that are performed in the landscape to strengthen ones’ health, well-being, and connection to nature.

But garden’s aside I must tell you that the highlight of Canada Blooms for me this year was discovering Steven Bigg’s new book, “Grow Gardeners. Kid-Tested Gardening with Children: a Four Step Approach.

author Stephen Biggs has devoted his life to empower gardeners, large and small with fun, practical No-Guff gardening advice.

Author Stephen Biggs devotes his life to empowering gardeners, large and small with fun, practical No-Guff gardening advice.

     Co-authored with his 9 year old daughter, Emma, this self-published delight hunkers down in the mud and gives parents a plentitude of inspiring ways to instill in children a visceral and profound love for gardening. Emma and Steve celebrate the playful and joyful experiences of childhood and heighten our awareness that these profound connections with self are what bring satisfaction and joy in our adult lives. I can’t recommend this book highly enough! Order it directly from www.stevenbiggs.ca or the book’s website, up and running by April 1, www.GrowGardeners.com. I love that the book’s website is also a collaborate effort of this dynamic Father/Daughter team.

Alert! Last chance to register for my upcoming Wildflower Webinar!

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This Friday, March 20 at 2:00 EST

 Can’t attend? No worries. Just register and  you will receive the webinar via email.

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