The Gift of Wild

With the holidays all but upon us, I can guarantee there are some of you reading this who still haven’t finished their shopping.  Some of you haven’t started…am I right, Dad?

But, thanks to the miracle of technology, you last minute shoppers don’t even need to leave your house to find that perfect gift for the garden lover on your list.  Or maybe the one who’s always going on about pollinators, wildlife habitat, and native plants.  You needn’t go further than your computer to get these folks something they’ll love: a Wildflower Farm Gift Certificate.

For the Experienced Gardener

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The Pasque flower is an early spring bloomer attracting hungry pollinators who have been taking a break for the winter.

Even the most experienced gardener likes to try their green thumb at something new. For many gardeners, wildflowers ARE new! Most require a bit of patience but are well worth the wait. For something unique, suggest they look into the Pasque flower for a spring blooming beauty; Tennessee, Ozark or narrow-leaf coneflowers for a bit of a different Echinacea feel;  of course, if they’re looking for something showy to fill the garden with late fall colour, suggest they read a little more about Maximilian’s sunflower.

For the Novice

If you are an avid gardener looking to engage another who may not be quite as knowledgeable (yet!), suggest they read our blog outlining the easy-peasy “sow and grow” wildflowers.  They’re bound to find something that catches their eye.  Maybe make it a combo gift: a gift certificate and a helpful gardening hand from a professional (you).

Or, because we are quite knowledgeable on the subject of wildflowers, direct them to the blog, the website, or let them know about Taming Wildflowers.  That’s right, a book about growing and using wildflowers that will inspire and educate even the most novice of gardeners.  We have instructions and a great video to help them along.  There really is no excuse: I think we’ve covered all the bases here.

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The blanketflower is one of the easiest wildflowers to grow. It will provide a novice gardener a quick sense of satisfaction and a garden full of colourful blooms.

 

Sometimes gift cards are seen as impersonal.  Where’s the passion and love?  Wildflower Farm gift cards are so different though: we love what we do and after spending a bit of time browsing the site looking at all of the beautiful NATIVE flowers, we think you will, too. One pours their heart and soul into growing their own flowers and the results are stunning.

Gifting seeds is tough (we all have different growing conditions and floral preferences).  Gifting the opportunity to choose your own seeds, however, is easy.  Give the gift of wild this season: a unique gift for just about anybody.

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It’s a lot harder to gift someone seeds than it is to gift them the opportunity to choose their own. Or maybe they want a book…or grass seed…or native ornamental grasses…think of the possibilities!

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Californians! Christmas time is Eco-Lawn Seeding Time!

Santa's Reindeer Celebrate Rainy Season in Burbank!!!

Santa’s Reindeer Celebrate Rainy Season in Burbank!!!

A long time ago I lived in Burbank, California. Built by mid-westerners who wanted their new homes to resemble the towns they’d left behind, Burbank is like a 1950’s movie set, with block after block of cozy little houses and lush lawns.

For me the hardest part about living in LA was the winter holiday season. Overcast, rainy weather combined with twinkly lights on palm trees, Christmas music and tinsel just made me sad.

Thus began my education about how very disconnected we humans are to our environment. December and January in LA is the rainy season, the natural cycle of weather when seeds fall to the ground and receive the ample moisture required to awaken the seed and create new life.

Californians - Christmas time is Eco-Lawn seeding time!

Californians – Christmas time is Eco-Lawn seeding time!

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The Perfect Time to seed an Eco-Lawn in California is during this rainy season!!!

Seeding in rainy season gives a young Eco-Lawn time to mature sufficiently – with additional watering – to withstand its first brutally hot California summer. Many Californians make the mistake of starting their Eco-Lawn in springtime. December and January in California (and other hot climates) are PERFECTLY RAINY and COOL.

That Crucial Head Start

It takes Eco-Lawn nine months to a year to develop the 9” to 14” roots that make it so delightfully drought tolerant. When Californians seed Eco-Lawn in December or January, Eco-Lawn gets the crucial head start required to withstand its first hot California summer.

Taking Care of Your Adolescent Lawn

During its first summer, when it’s not fully mature, nurture your adolescent Eco-Lawn with extra watering. By the fall that Eco-Lawn will be mature! You may wish to do a bit of overseeding in the rainy season.

Drastic Watering Reduction!

The next summer and thereafter your California grown Eco-Lawn will enjoy a drastic reduction in watering requirements – between 50% – 80% – depending upon your conditions.

Here’s a glittering gallery of lush California Eco-Lawns to inspire rainy seasoners to take full advantage of this cool, wet weather and SEED YOUR ECO-LAWN!!

Eco-Lawn in Sacramento

Eco-Lawn in Sacramento

Eco-Lawn in Stockton

Eco-Lawn in Stockton

Eco-Lawn in Novato

Eco-Lawn in Novato

Eco-Lawn in Santa Barbara

Eco-Lawn in Santa Barbara

So, hot climate dwellers, let the rainy season work for you! Give yourself the gift of reduced watering, mowing and fertilizing and a soft, green oasis for your tootsies.

Happy Seeding and Merry Eco-Lawn to all!

Recommended by the trusted editors of Sunset Magazine  - Eco-Lawn offers Californians a Drought Tolerant, Low-Maintenance and Lush Lawn Lifestyle !!!

Recommended by the trusted editors of Sunset Magazine – Eco-Lawn offers Californians a Drought Tolerant, Low-Maintenance and Lush Lawn Lifestyle !!!

 

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A Bug-Lover’s Surprise

This past summer I grew a vegetable garden.  And when I say vegetable garden, I mean a vegetable-milkweed garden.  You see, the milkweed just started growing and I’ve done nothing but plant my veggies around it.

I don’t know what made me turn my head towards the garden as I parked my car that day but as I did, I caught something ever so tiny in the corner of my eye.  Now, if you’re not a bug lover, as I am, this may sound strange to you:  my stomach did a turn and my jaw dropped a little.  I hadn’t even confirmed what I had seen and I was already more excited than you can imagine.

I jumped out of my car, didn’t even close the door, stepped into an empty patch between the vegetables and crouched down.  Sure enough, my suspicions were correct: it was the smallest monarch caterpillar resting on the milkweed.

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I pulled the camera from my pocket (something I carry around me at all times for amazing moments like this) and snapped a photo.  After putting away the groceries, I ventured back out to the garden to putter away.  My squirrel- and mole-deterring marigolds needed some dead-heading and I had some lettuce and spinach to pick for dinner.  All the while keeping an eye on that very tiny caterpillar.

Very tiny and very vulnerable.  The next day I revisited the garden only to find the caterpillar missing in action.  Needless to say, I was devastated.  I hadn’t seen a monarch caterpillar for over 10 years and it seemed that my garden visitor had either moved on or been scooped up by a hungry bird.  Nevertheless, I kept my eyes peeled.  Two days later, my guest had returned.  And she had grown!

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It was then that I decided to remove her from the garden.  It was a dangerous place, what with me in there every day gathering goods for dinner.  Not to mention the bird-filled neighbouring forest.  And even if they are an unpleasant  food option for birds, there is always the exception.

I filled a small terrarium with rocks, sticks, small plants, and, of course, milkweed leaves.  The caterpillar was added and that’s how it began.  Five caterpillars over a span of about a month were added to the tank.  As the last one was being added the first one had already flown off.  I watched and documented the entire process.

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I ended up releasing three females and two males (males distinguished by two black dots on their wings). Not only did I learn to tell the difference between males and females, I learned that pupation is a violent process.  If you have some patience, I encourage you to watch this video in its entirety.  Watch the caterpillar’s body, watch the antennae, watch the body appear to split in half.  Then watch the pupae flail with more force than you think its cremaster (hook that holds it vertically) can handle.

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This Year’s Numbers
This year, I’m happy to report that monarch population numbers were predicted to increase. If you’ve been following the monarch saga for the last few years, you’ll know that populations have been dwindling. The increase in awareness and drop in deforestation of Mexican forests have been attributed to the predicted increases.  Final numbers have yet to be released as monarchs were still arriving in Mexico well into November.

I’m hopeful that this year’s migration will reflect a steady rise in population numbers. As more people understand the important role that milkweed plays in the survival of the entire population, their chances of survival increase.

Planting for Monarchs
Monarchs need milkweed.  This is one of those facts we learn in grade school.  But what most of us don’t learn is that the adults need a healthy source of food as well.  And because there are multiple generations in one season, food needs to be available all season long.

While almost any native plant with a flower will do, some are better than others.  Here are a few favourites:

Echinacea
Liatris
Goldenrod

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The Call to Action
Where you plant it, they will come.  This could not be more true for monarchs and milkweed.  The adults, when searching for a place to lay eggs, will find the milkweed.  Adults looking to feed their bodies and get ready to mate or fly south will find the seasonal nectar-producing flowers.  All you have to do is give them something to eat.

And it’s not too late:  winter sowing is necessary for all of these species.  Of course, we have directions to help you along the way with that part of the process as well.  Start a butterfly garden this winter and support this predicted increase of this iconic species. You can’t go wrong!

PS – remember that Wildflower Farm offers gift certificates: the perfect gift for the flower, butterfly, pollinator, and nature lover on your gift list.

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Trash Talk on Aliens

Prairie Dropseed and Pale Purple Coneflower utilized in a formal walkway

Native grasses, like this prairie dropseed, mingle well with flowers for a stunning effect.

Invasive alien plants (a.k.a. aggressive plants from somewhere else) have been pillaging and plundering our landscape for a long time. Since humans began exploring new lands, plants have been traveling the world with them. Settlers would bring the plants they loved and were useful to them when they migrated.  And, of course, not every plant that comes from somewhere else becomes invasive.  Many of the annual and perennial plants sold at retailers in North America are not North American natives but plants from Europe and Asia.  And, in fact, the majority of the food you eat, the food you want to eat locally, is not native to North America.

 

Not all non-native plants become invasive.  The ones that do, though, have certain characteristics in common:

-     Few or no predators/diseases
-     Can reproduce quickly and through multiple methods
-     Easily out-competes native plants
-     Tolerates winter as a perennial plant or seeds can persist through freezing temperatures

I’m not going to get into naturalized plants or hybrid sterilized plants today.  Rather, I’d like to discuss a specific invasive plants that impacts our landscape both economically and environmentally and then provide some excellent native alternatives.

Phragmites (Phragmites australis)

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Phragmites is an attractive grass producing large billowy seed heads in the fall. It is very aggressive, though, and has taken over in many areas across North America.

 

You’ve seen the strikingly attractive plumes of this plant decorating wetlands along highways and bi-ways. Also known as European common reed, phragmites most likely came to North America in the early 1800s in ballast water from ships (a common form of transport for non-native species).  Spending its early days on the Atlantic coast, it has spread across North America in the last few hundred years.

North America does have its own native strain of phragmites (Phragmites australis americanus) but the non-native species has displaced many of the historical native stands.  And it’s expensive: about $4.6 million across North America every year for a five-year study period was spent on just managing the problem.

 

How You Can Help

Phragmites was not brought here to ensure settlers could feel more at home.  It was an accident and our native species are suffering great declines because of it.  And while most counties have a good handle on their phragmites population, you can do your part by reporting stands of the stuff to your local authority.  In Ontario we have the Invading Species Hotline, or you can submit a sighting online. Each region will have their own way of reporting such findings.

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On the left you can see the spread of the native phragmites (Phragmites australia americanus); on the right is the spread of Phragmites australis, the non-native, invasive species from Europe. These maps were created during a 2004 study. You can see how easily the non-native species can spread across the continent with no natural enemies.

 

How Wildflower Farm Can Help

logo_wildflower_farmWildflower Farm is here to offer you a native alternative to the plethora of non-native grasses available these days.  Non-native grasses are always a risky decision: they produce so many seeds that aren’t easily controlled and there’s a good chance your small, planned plot will spread further than you had hoped in less time than you thought possible.  Native ornamental grasses, on the other hand, are a great accent to any garden: they provide wildlife habitat, food for birds, and that winter interest us northern folk are always seeking.  Some are even tall enough to provide privacy screens.

Check out the twelve native grass species we have at the Farm.  I’m sure you’ll find one that will work for your space.  Here’s a quick reference guide to help get you started:

Short (1-2’): prairie dropseed, junegrass, sweetgrass

Medium (2-4’): sideoats grama, northern sea oats, bottlebrush grass, Virginia wild rye, switchgrass, little bluestem

Tall (4-8’): big bluestem, indiangrass, Canada wild rye

I’ve also created a sort of pseudo-matrix that combines height and soil type. Plants typically grow shorter in clay since their roots can’t penetrate quite as easily.  The following is just a guideline, however, and there are people who have big bluestem growing 7-8’ down in their clay soil.  So, take this with a grain of salt but it may help you get started. The numbers after each species represent the potential height that species will reach growing in each type of media.

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Finally, most native grasses, unlike many of the native flowers we sell, don’t need to experience winter to germinate.  They don’t need cold, moist stratification, and they will do well to be planted in the spring (with the exception of sweetgrass).

Consider adding some native grasses to your garden plot or even just to accent your humble abode.  They are stunning features and I’m glad I can see them still standing at Wildflower Farm despite the feet of snow we have already accumulated.

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Sow Wild ~~ So Easy!

 

Wild Lupine seedling (Lupinus perennis)

Wild Lupine seedling (Lupinus perennis)

Years ago –30 years, to be precise, I casually stumbled into an obsession that has since ruled my life. An impulse purchase of a pack of zinnia seeds was to blame. I took the seeds home, planted them in potting soil, covered them up, watered them and waited.  On the 7th day a tiny lime green cotyledon poked its nose up through the soil.

I was hooked. Multiple times a day found me counting exactly how many new seedlings had appeared that day, that hour! The dramatic growth and daily progress of these tiny beings drew me in and held me captive.

Baby Purple Coneflowers

Baby Purple Coneflowers

All these years later I stand before you, a humble horticulturalist with a simple message:

Growing wildflowers from seed is EASY.

It's ridiculously easy to grow your own wildflowers.

It’s ridiculously easy to grow your own wildflowers.

Thousands of dollars worth of wildflower plants can be yours.

It’s SO easy, once you try it you will laugh the hardy laugh of triumph!!! HA! You will say to yourself! If I’d known it was this easy to grow thousands of dollars’ worth of wildflower plants on the cheap I would have started YEARS ago!

Snow 'em and Grow 'em. Many wildflowers are programmed to experience winter before they will germinate.

Snow ‘em and Grow ‘em. Many wildflowers are programmed to experience winter before they will germinate.

Why am I talking about sowing wildflower seeds this time of year? Many people mistakenly assume springtime is the best time to start wildflowers. In fact, lots of wildflowers need 6-8 weeks of the freeze thaw action winter provides to soften up their tough outer shells before they’ll germinate. December, January and February are ideal times to start growing wildflowers outside.  Just plant the seeds in pots, leave them outside and winter handles the rest. This process is called winter sowing or cold, moist stratification. If you happen to be reading this blog in late winter, spring or the summertime, fear not!!!Just ready your wildflowers to germinate with the “The Pretend It’s Winter Process” in your fridge for 6-8 weeks and you’re off to the races!!!

Fake out your wildflower seeds. Plant them in the fridge for 6-8 weeks.

Fake out your wildflower seeds. Plant them in the fridge for 6-8 weeks.

After winter or the 6-8 weeks in the fridge it’s time to give your seedlings the warmth and moisture they require to germinate. For a healthy boost of powerful nutrients I often water my seedlings with manure tea.

My buddy Annie Haven produces nutrient-rich Moo Poo Manure Tea on her organic cattle farm. Perfect for wildflower seedlings!!!

My buddy Annie Haven produces nutrient-rich Moo Poo Manure Tea on her organic cattle farm. Perfect for wildflower seedlings!!!

So let’s get started.

You don't need many supplies to grow wildflower seeds.

You don’t need many supplies to grow wildflower seeds.

Enjoy music and visual learning?  Here’s an entertaining Animoto video on “Growing Wildflower Babies.”

https://animoto.com/play/hmX0MPJUj0BozbPtIAN1dQ

Here are straightforward DIY wildflower seeding instructions with corresponding photos

https://snapguide.com/guides/grow-your-own-wildflowers-from-seed/

Or, perhaps you’re an old fashioned learner? Here are super helpful written instructions from Wildflower Farm’s seed starting link: http://www.wildflowerfarm.com/index.php?route=product/category&path=88

For the most thorough, step by step version, check out chapter 5 in Taming Wildflowers .

Making Babies - Chapter 5 gives the straight goods on wintering wildflower seeds outside or wintering wildflower in the fridge.
Making Babies – Chapter 5 gives the straight goods on wintering wildflower seeds outside or wintering wildflower in the fridge.

 

Entitled,  “Making Babies,” this chapter offers twelve pages of detailed instructions on how to grow and care for wildflower seedlings. You’ll find critical information on getting started, purchasing the correct supplies and how and when to transplant your young plants into the garden. Check out Taming Wildflowers.

 

 

Which wildflowers shall I grow???Ok, so how do you know which wildflowers will grow best at your place? Just check out Wildflower Farm’s Seed Selector Tool.

Not only is growing wildflowers from seed INSANELY easy and inexpensive, it’s hugely gratifying.  In your very own home, without traveling anywhere, growing wildflowers from seed rewards you with a front row seat at Mother Nature’s perennially fabulous show – new  life unfolding before your very eyes.

Enjoy your winter wildflower journey!

You can grow Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) for the Monarch Butterflies.

You can grow Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) for the Monarch Butterflies.

 

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Pod Parade

The last blog for meadow month may seem strange to some.  Generally when one thinks of a meadow, the early spring greens and mid-summer colour pallet are what come to mind.  The fall meadow is, I believe, overlooked.

Fall is an important time for a meadow: songbirds are feasting away on seeds, insects are laying eggs in and on stems, and those last few straggler blooms are hanging in to provide pollen and nectar for those last few straggling pollinators.

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New England aster are still in bloom at the farm putting on an incredible show without much competition at the moment.

Beyond that, though, seeds from clustered seed heads and exploding seed pods are falling to the ground and making their way to the soil.  Over the next few blustery months, these seeds will work their way into the soil, succumb to the freezing and thawing that is winter, and germinate after all threat of freezing again has passed.

Seed Heads vs Seed Pods

There are two distinct ways that wildflowers hold their seeds: heads and pods.  The seeds on flowers with seed heads develop with individual coverings to protect the seeds.

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Purple coneflower seed heads are filled with spiky seeds that fall away or are eaten by birds.

The pods, on the other hand, provide protection for all of the seeds together as they are developing. They will break open once the pod has dried sufficiently, allowing all seeds to fall out or blow away in the wind.  There aren’t as many wildflowers that create pods, but let’s discuss a few.

Baptisia

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Blue false indigo seed pods are long and bulbous. White false indigo are more rounded but still work to the same effect.

Baptisia, a member of the legume family, develops pods as a snap pea would (other members of the legume family).  The seeds are round and each individual seed is attached in a row along the edges of the pod.  Baptisia pods are a multipurpose machine: protecting the seed and providing a visually and aurally pleasing piece for bouquets, weddings, or kids.  Shake a dried out baptisia pod and you get a little something like this:

 

Milkweed

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The milkweed pods burst open revealing a layered seed display.

Milkweed pods look like something from a sci-fi flick.  With their curved tube pod and the layers of seeds that lay within, I keep waiting for an alien baby to burst forth.  Unlike, baptisia seeds, the milkweed seeds are meant to travel a good distance from their parents.  While baptisia seeds are heavy, milkweed seeds are light with a tufty wisp of fluff attached to each one.

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Each seed is attached to its own individual first class flight. The seeds are light allowing them to be pushed around easily by the wind.

After the pod breaks open, the seeds begin to fall and are carried by the wind.  This creates less competition between the parent plant and its offspring once the seed germinates.

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The empty seed pod revealing the seeds’ method of attachment.

Wild Senna

The last pod producer I’ll show you is wild senna.  Another legume, this one develops pods that are more like a snow pea: where the pod encases the seeds more tightly as if it has been shrink wrapped.  Wild senna produces a yellow flower and a leaf structure that I find quite attractive.  The leaf stems produce multiple leaves that sit opposite one another.  They remind me of tiny rounded walnut leaves, actually.

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Wild senna pods are intriguing: one can’t help but look twice.

The pods, too, are stunning in the fall.  Turning a mix of deep brown, orange, and yellow, they certainly provide that winter interest we’re always seeking for our gardens.  I should mention that the plants can grow to about 2 meters (6 feet) in perfect conditions.  Most will grow to just over a meter (4 feet).

 

Two of these pod producers are members of the legume family meaning that they will return nitrogen to the soil: beneficial to a meadow and to a meadow-style garden.

They add colour, texture, and interest in the fall meadow or garden when the flowers have mostly died back.  Don’t be afraid to bring them indoors, either.  Use them in arrangements for something a little different.

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The bucket of baptisia pods used at Anne and Nick’s wedding. Natural maracas and a stunning display.

 

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