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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An Ocean of Wildflowers

Painting with Wildflowers

A giant swath of Purple Coneflowers against a blue sky. Life is good.

A giant swath of Purple Coneflowers against a blue sky. Life is good.

I’ve been a flower junkie for more than a quarter of a century. I am a passionate garden designer, garden tourist and student of nature. I love it all.  But for me, nothing thrills more than large swaths of flowers in bloom en mass in a meadow or garden. I wouldn’t be surprised if you share my sentiment. Colorful oceans of blooms light up our brains and lift our spirits.

Swath with Abandon in the Garden

A swath of Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) in a rockery garden.

A swath of Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) in a rockery garden.

Plantings look more natural in odd numbered drifts so I always plant in odd numbers  ( 3, 5, 7, 9). When space allows I include a sizeable quantity of each species. What’s the right number of plants? That depends upon the size and dimensions of your garden, of course.  My rule has always been to force myself to plant at least 9 of most perennial wildflower species.  If possible I’ll plant 15 or more.  Planting in ones or twos of a species isn’t going to register visually as much as large groupings will. Go for the wow factor!  The eye is drawn to large masses of colour and form.  Of course, I am generalizing here. Certain wide, almost shrub like wildflowers such as Blue or White False Indigo (Baptisia australis and Baptisia alba, respectively ) I tend to plant more sparingly.

Swaths of Monarda or BeeBalm (Monarda fistulosa) in a Claybuster Meadow Mix

Swaths of Monarda or BeeBalm (Monarda fistulosa) in a Claybuster Meadow Mix

You and I both know that buying lots of plants gets expensive! The most convenient, economical and eco-friendly way to get that large swath look is to grow them yourself. Growing wildflowers from seed will give you the freedom to swath with abandon and it’s not hard to do!!!  Learn more.

A Swathing We Will Go

One of the great joys of living with a prairie or meadow is observing the ebb and flow of the wildflowers and native grasses from season to season and year to year. As meadows mature the plants decide for themselves where  they best like to grow. Over time large swaths of healthy looking plants will place themselves in beautiful, softly rounded configurations ; ovals, semi circles, swirls. You can speed up this process and at the same time personalize this natural process by swathing the wildflowers or native grasses of your choice.

Phase I – The Meadow Seeding

All meadows are a combination of wildflowers and native grasses. Once you’ve chosen the correct meadow mix for your conditions (amount of sunlight, moisture and kind of soil) you will have the amazing opportunity to paint with flowers. First, read up on choosing the correct meadow mix, site preparations, seeding your meadow and how to care for your meadow.

Phase 2: Choosing the Best Icing for Your Wildflower Cake

Now you are ready to choose the wildflowers and native grasses you wish to emphasise or “paint.”  Be sure to choose species that work in your soil, sunlight and moisture conditions.  Check out the Wildflower Farm Seed Selection Tool .

Which wildflowers to swath? That depend; Perhaps you are passionate about pollinators!

 

Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida )are pollinator attractors in the mid-summer meadow.

Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida )are pollinator attractors in the mid-summer meadow.

and  Bright Orange Butterfly Milkweed  (Asclepias tuberosa)

Bright orange Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) an essential plant for Monarch butterflies.

Bright orange Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) an essential plant for Monarch butterflies.

If you tend to vacation in August and adore Yellow Coneflowers you may wish to swath your vacation property meadow with the beautiful wildflower blooms of late summer.

Ratibida pinnata or Yellow Coneflowers add brightness to the summer landscape.

Ratibida pinnata or Yellow Coneflowers add brightness to the summer landscape.

 Or perhaps you are a birder and simply adore dramatically tall Cup Plants (Sylphium perfoliatum)

Cup Plants provide sustenance to Yellow Finches in the fall!

Cup Plants provide sustenance to Yellow Finches in the fall!

that produce seed gobbled up by Gold Finches in fall.

The amount of seed for each swath depends upon the dimensions of the area.  My partner in life and Wildflower Farm, Paul Jenkins, is a wiz at calculating exactly how much seed you’ll need for your swathing project.  Or if you wish, Paul can collaborate with you to create an entirely  custom meadow mix.

Ozark Coneflowers (Echinacea paradoxa) swathing up a yellow storm of summertime beauty.

Ozark Coneflowers (Echinacea paradoxa) swathing up a yellow storm of summertime beauty.

To swath or not to swath that is the question! Whether ‘tis nobler to paint with wildflowers and native grasses that sway softly in the breeze or to suffer the slings and arrows of a missed opportunity to add a personal touch to your wildflower experience! It’s entirely your choice, of course but why miss out on the fun? I say go for it!!!

 

 

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Curtis Prairie

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The Curtis Prairie Arboretum is located in Madison, Wisconsin. Curtis Prairie is the oldest prairie restoration project and its success hinged on the knowledge of a few conservationists and the hard-working attitudes of hundreds of workers.

For the second installment of meadow month, I thought I’d talk about one of the most famous meadows in North America.  Famous not only because it was such a successful restoration project but also because one of the most famous conservationists, Aldo Leopold, played a significant part in its creation and success.

Before the Prairie
Prior to the creation of Curtis Prairie, the area (a 25-hectare plot), located in Madison, Wisconsin, had a long history of agricultural use.   It was first farmed in 1836 and after running through eleven owners in twenty-four years, it was purchased by the Bartlett family who began to farm it regularly until 1920.  A rotation of corn, oats, and pasture were planted on two-thirds of the property where excessive moisture did not make plowing dangerous. One section was left as it was found and another mowed down regularly.

Between 1920 and 1926, the land was left untouched.  The Bartletts were finished with cultivation and it wasn’t until the land was sold to a veterinarian in ’26 that it was once again used.  This time, however, there was no farming: thirty-five horses used the entire 25 hectares as a pasture.

University of Wisconsin
In 1933, the land was sold to the University of Wisconsin and by 1936, the Curtis Prairie restoration project was underway, having recruited Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps to help with the labour.

The Civilian Conservation Corps dug, hauled, and planted many of the species that are currently living in Curtis Prairie. The severe droughts experienced during this era were a persuasive factor in Roosevelt’s support for the project as the importance of environmental health gained recognition.

And that’s where our good friend, Aldo Leopold, comes in.  He was part of the first planting which took place over four years from 1936 to 1940. As a supervisor, it was Leopold’s job to oversee the project in terms of best practices and make decisions about plant species.  During this first planting phase, clumps of prairie were dug up from railway right of ways and other areas destined for construction.

Between 1950 and 1957, a second major planting took place.  Seeds were planting using a variety of methods – everything from hand planting large seeds to broadcasting smaller seeds after a prescribed burn.

The Curtis Prairie is just one prairie restoration at the University’s arboretum…an arboretum that spans over 500 hectares.  Pretty impressive.

Learning Along the Way
The Curtis Prairie isn’t just the oldest restored prairie but a scientific research site.  Over the past 78 years, students and researchers from the University of Wisconsin have been studying how best to seed a prairie, restore farmland, burn a meadow, reduce alien species, prepare the soil, and reduce negative plant competition.

Burning the Curtis Prairie was a learning experience in the beginning. Today, the prairie is burned each spring to combat invasive weeds and encroaching trees and shrubs.

It is research that has been done at the Curtis Prairie that helps us at Wildflower Farm not only plant meadows here but help you with your meadows and meadow-style gardens.

If you have ten minutes, I encourage you to watch this stunning video with landscape architect Darrel Morrison.  He talks about Curtis Prairie, Aldo Leopold, and Jens Jensen and how the three have impacted his design work.  It really makes you look twice at a prairie or a meadow and think harder about growing your own.

How many native wildflower species can you identify in this video?  Let us know in the comments below!

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Meadow Month

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The late fall meadow is a vast expanse of drying grasses going or gone to seed and plenty of spent flowers dried and gone to seed. Some of the flowers stand tall, like these Echinacea seed heads and others go to seed beneath the protection of the grass.

 

Last week I introduced Meadow Month.  For this week and the next three, Miriam and I will be discussing concepts related to meadows: why they’re important, famous meadows, how to have (and personalize) your own,  and hopefully you’ll learn something new along the way.

Fall is a great time to get out, look at, and photograph meadows.  Of course, summer time meadows are filled with blooms, but the fall meadow is when the grasses really shine.  Take some time to search for a meadow in the next few months.  I encourage you to take a moment while you’re there just to listen to the birds and rustling grass stems.

 

 

Now…let’s get started…

What is a meadow?  Simply put, a meadow is an open area with no trees but filled with a dense combination of grasses and flowers.  Ideally, these are native grasses and flowers but often times, non-natives will sneak in.  Typically, grasses will outnumber flowers.

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A particularly floriferous section of a small meadow that sits at the edge of Wildflower Farm. Pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) and some non-native but naturalized Queen Anne’s lace.

What are they good for?  Ecologically speaking, meadows are extremely significant.  Not having trees and being open in terms of sunlight, meadows offer a different ecosystem than, say, a forest.  Having native flowers and grasses offers habitat, protection, and food for a distinct group of species that are radically different from those you would find in a beachy dune setting.

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Grasses and flowers grow together. Often, flowers will grow in clusters as one seed head will drop many seeds in close proximity to itself. The result is a natural swath – in this case, a swath of black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta).

The combination of grasses and flowers occupy different levels of the soil, holding it in place when rain and wind would easily move soil down the same hill if it were bare.

How does a meadow occur?  In nature, meadows are the result of recurring fires or other disaster.  The species that grow in a meadow are tolerant of these disasters and, often times, the disaster is how the meadow stays healthy.  A fire will rip through a dry meadow in the fall, burning away alien species that cannot withstand the temperatures and tree seedlings that would compete for resources.  The native species, however, may burn to the soil level, but will bounce right back in the spring.

What species are attracted to a meadow?  It will depend heavily on where you live but you can expect a wide variety of songbirds looking for nesting opportunities, seeds from grasses and flowers, and protection from predators.  The number of insect species attracted to a meadow is incredible as they look for food, shelter, and a place to lay eggs.  Some insect species have very specific relationships with certain plants (the classic monarch-milkweed example).  If the meadow is located in a more remote area, you can expect deer, rodents, owls, and sometimes large cats to use the space for food, protection, and sleep.

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The cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) will attract birds and plenty of insects. The birds are attracted to the seeds in the fall but throughout the year will use the water that collects in their cup-like leaves.

The benefits of a meadow landscape are huge in terms of ecosystem services.  They filter water, house numerous species, hold and protect soil, and keep out invasive species.  Aesthetically speaking, they are beautiful in their own right and even more so if you think about the benefit they bring to the natural landscape.

Your Meadow, Your Garden
You don’t need a vast expanse of land to grow a meadow.  Of course, if you have a large space, you should probably consider it.  For the rest of us, the meadow-style garden is a great way to create a stunning space with minimal work.  The close-knit community of grasses and flowers that is a true meadow keeps weeding to a minimum and watering once established to nothing.  Imagine, a garden that looked great and didn’t need more than 20 minutes a year of maintenance.

A meadow doesn’t have to be a huge expanse. But if you have one, wouldn’t you want it to look like this?

Like a large-scale meadow, a meadow-style garden is planted in the fall. The seeds need winter and winter (fall) sowing can be a fun experience.  One you can share with the younger generation to teach them the details of seed germination and patience.

If you are not too picky, we can offer you a predetermined mix chosen by you to match your soil conditions.  If you’d like certain species, you can use the seed selector tool to determine which species will work for your area.  You will need to know a little about your soil and the sunlight your area receives for both options.  Our meadow growing instructions should be able to point you in the right direction.

Start thinking about it now.  If you want to grow a large wildflower meadow, some planning is needed.  If you want to start introducing native plants into your garden and slowly convert it into a meadow-style garden, start your plants this winter for planting next year.

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Seed Science for the Non-Scientist

I’m not sure about the entire continent of North America, but here in Ontario, summer seems to just be getting started.  Looking at the forecast, though, it’s looking like it’s going to be a short one.  Don’t let this warm weather fool you, fall is here and soon it will be winter.

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This black-eyed Susan opened up a few days ago – seems this fly has found a comfy little resting place.

Exciting things happen in the winter: the weather cools (with varying degrees of intensity depending on where you live), birds migrate, and some stick around to gorge themselves at feeders and standing wildflower seed heads.  The seeds that don’t succumb to avian ingestion fall to the ground and are pushed into the soil by autumn rains and winter snows.

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The seeds from these spent black-eyed Susans will provide food for tiny birds and some will fall to the ground, waiting for spring to germinate. Even though black-eyed Susan seeds don’t need to go through winter, they can definitely handle it.

And here’s where it gets exciting.  As spring rolls around, the weather is, let’s just say, unpredictable.  Pleasantly warm days, freezing nights, rain, snow, freezing rain, and then sun.  Temperatures swing back and forth from February to the beginning of May where I live in Ontario. And while I may find it difficult to dress myself in the morning to ensure I’m neither overheating nor frozen, those tiny seeds that fell in the fall are taking it all in stride.

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The coating on a lupine seed.

You see, seeds are born with a hard coating that protects the precious internal organs.  A seed with an intact coat will not germinate, it simply cannot.  But then along comes the heave-ho of early spring.  This force of nature, when things freeze and thaw over and over again breaks down the coat, telling the seed it’s time to get growing.  Literally.

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Cutting into the lupine seed, you can see that the outer coating is its own separate entity, easily sliding off the actual soft seed. Cold, wet conditions facilitate the breaking down of the seed coat.

But enough of that – you have wildflower seeds to grow or maybe you want to have some to grow.  What’s the best way to get them started?

Step 1: Acquire seeds (Wildflower Farm has over 100 types of wildflower seeds and native grasses).  Use the Seed Selector Tool to pick the ones that will grow best in your area.

Step 2: Read package instructions.  Some wildflowers don’t need cold, moist stratification (the overwintering method above) and others need up to two years of it just to break down the seed coat.

Step 3: For those that need winter, and if you have winter (with snow or even a period of cold rains), plant the seeds in pots and set them outside.  Let the snow and rain fall on them; the warm and cold temperatures expand and contract the soil, deteriorating the shell.  If you don’t have winter, mix the seeds into moistened soil in a Ziploc bag.  Put the whole thing into the fridge for 6-8 weeks.

Step 4: Outdoor pots can remain as they are until you see the tiny green shoots start to poke through the soil surface (these are called cotyledons).  Let them grow until their first true leaves (the second set) have come in then transplant them to their own container.  For the seedlings in bags, after their 6-8 week stint in the fridge, dump the soil into a container (or containers) only a few inches deep so you are not burying the seeds beneath too much soil.

Step 5: Wait.  Some seeds take quite a while to germinate and others only a few weeks.  Don’t give up on them.  Place the containers where they can receive sun and rain. Water every few days if it does not rain.

Step 6: Once the plant has grown a decent root ball, it may be transplanted to the garden. Water it well for the first few weeks to help drive the roots downwards.

Step 7: Enjoy the foliage this year and the flowers, next.

Steps 4-7 will be spring-time events but I didn’t want to leave this as a cliff-hanger (it’s suspenseful, I know!).

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Coneflowers are still blooming here, too. And who doesn’t love seeing them in their glory?

 

Introducing Meadow Month

This post is the beginning of Meadow Month.  At Wildflower Farm, we create standard and custom seed mixes so that you can create your own meadow. The seeds need the winter process I described above so fall is the time to start planting.

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The fall meadow is a mixture of spent and new blooms, grasses and goldenrod, wind blowing through drying stems like music at the orchestra.

Not so fast, though.  Planning and prep is 90% of the work in creating a meadow and over the next few weeks, we will discuss how to go about planning for a meadow and why you should really think about starting one (even if it’s small).

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And the seasons they go round and round…..

miriam large(!)sept 18 018For reasons that really don’t matter, I was in a snitty stressful place this morning. Nonsensical mutterings and stressful sighs peppered my walk out to the flower fields. I first encountered some late blooming Black-Eyed Susans and straightaway cut them into my bucket, my spirits immediately lifting a rung. Then came an 80 foot row of Purple Coneflowers in various states of exquisite deterioration. large sept 18 015

 

 

 

 

I honed in on their giant orange coneheads, funky pink petals and even scored a goodly number in perfect states of bloom.

Perfect Purple Coneflowers in the seed production field at Wildflower Farm

Perfect Purple Coneflowers in the seed production field at Wildflower Farm

Once again in a matter of moments I was back in the zone; that heady cross between concentration and meditation that comes over me when I garden deeply . I never mean to lord it over you dear reader that I live in paradise. I just want you to understand the depth of my gratitude for this life; this beauty.large sept 18 005

Here then are late blooming wildflowers and native grasses gathered over the last few days. We are expecting our first frost tonight. Just as nature does, soon we’ll be seeding our wildflowers…..

Rough Blazingstars bloom in the fall.

Rough Blazingstars bloom in the fall.

 

Rattlesnake Master in the foreground and Showy Goldenrod in the background.

Rattlesnake Master in the foreground and Showy Goldenrod in the background.

Sky Blue Asters

Sky Blue Asters

 

Rudbeckia triloba or Brown Eyed Susans

Rudbeckia triloba or Brown Eyed Susans

New England Aster

New England Aster

Stiff Goldenrod with a soft blue background of Little Bluestem native grass.

Stiff Goldenrod with a soft blue background of Little Bluestem native grass.

Big Bluestem's blooms resemble turkey claws.

Big Bluestem’s blooms resemble turkey claws.

And the seasons they go round and round.

And the seasons they go round and round.

 

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