Soft Beauty of a Wildflower Bouquet

An invitation to mid-summer euphoria…

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My Mother had our local florist wrapped around her little finger. Each and every Friday afternoon the florist rang the doorbell of our Victorian home in Nutley, New Jersey, and carefully placed a newly crafted floral arrangement on the entrance table in our enclosed front porch. My Mother was VERY particular about the colour and style of these arrangements. In fact, she was quite particular about just about everything. Only earthy colours and textures were welcome in her lavishly decorated home filled with gracious antiques and fine art. Each week stunning arrangements of vibrant copper, mossy green, bright yellows, rich browns, red berries and funky twigs would arrive. I’d stare into these lush bouquets for hours. Many years later when my parents downsized to a light-filled condominium overlooking a forested hillside in Verona, New Jersey, my mother’s design palette softened into elegant linen fabrics and warm neutrals; likewise, the floral arrangements she art-directed emphasized understated creams and warm apricot pastels. Now a grown woman, I’d stare into the soft beauty of these bouquets and feel my heart open and my cares melt away. I have a feeling my Mother would have quite liked this softly-coloured wildflower bouquet I fashioned yesterday.

I began by filling my vase with blue and green glass stones.

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And now, allow me to introduce the 14 wildflowers and 1 native grass included in yesterday’s bouquet.

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Ozark Coneflower

Monarda - Also known as Bergamot or Bee-Balm

Monarda – Also known as Bergamot or Bee-Balm

Wild Quinune

Wild Quinine

Culver's Root

Culver’s Root

Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake Master

Ozark Coneflower, Monarda, Wild Quinine, Culver's Root and Rattle Snake Master

Ozark Coneflower, Monarda, Wild Quinine, Culver’s Root and Rattlesnake Master

Queen of Prairie - not yet in full bloom

Queen of Prairie – not yet in full bloom

Pale Purple Coneflower

Pale Purple Coneflower

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Yellow Coneflower with Culver’s Root

Syrphid fly sits atop a Purple Prairie Clover Bloom

Syrphid fly sits atop a Purple Prairie Clover Bloom

Blanketflower

Blanketflower

Purple Prairie Clover, Blanket Flower, Ozark Coneflower, Lead Plant, Wine Cups, Cup Plant Buds (in green bottom left)

Purple Prairie Clover, Blanket Flower, Ozark Coneflower, Lead Plant, Wine Cups, Cup Plant Buds (in green bottom left), Wild Quinine, Pale Purple Coneflower

Dotted Mint

Dotted Mint

Cohosh

Cohosh

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Rattlesnake Master, Bottlebrush grass, Wild Quinine, Cup Plant

 

Here they are: the final pieces, collected and ready to be put together.  Wildflower beauty, bounty, and splendor.

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Wildflower Kidnapping

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I go for numerous walks with my dog on the trails not far from my house.  I’m fortunate to be able to do this and while I go partly for my health (and that of my dog), from spring to fall, I go to look at what’s growing.  Early spring yields hepatica, trout lilies, and trilliums by the thousands.  As spring moves into summer, the ferns have shifted from alien-like growths to miniature prehistoric forests, the trees have leafed out and the full shade understory is home to wild raspberries, blackberries, lily-of-the-valley, jack-in-the-pulpit, wild ginger, columbines, and starflowers showing off their various blooms.

 

I observe these plants every year.  One particular fern community grew to an unbelievable five feet this spring, likely thanks to the rain we had early on.  I would love for my gardens to have five-foot ostrich ferns and borders of *native* lily-of-the-valley but, alas, my conditions would not be conducive to their healthy growth.  They are growing in the understory of this middle-age sugar maple forest community because it provides proper soil temperature, pH, nutrients, light, and shelter.

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The unmistakable seeds of the Solomon’s Seal.  While False Solomon’s Seal is much more abundant, I have observed an increasing number of “true” Solomon’s Seal.  There’s an important balance between the two species in this forest that must be allowed to progress at a natural pace.

Digging in the Wild
It’s important to realize that when you see a plant growing in the wild, it’s there for a reason.  Of the thousands of seeds that are transported each year from their mother to their new potential home, only a small percentage will actually germinate.  Of those that germinate, an even smaller percentage will make it to maturity.

This tiny milkweed won't flower this year and it may not even flower next year. Producing flowers is expensive for a plant. Native perennials need time to build stores in their roots and will flower only when it won't stress the plant.

This tiny milkweed won’t flower this year and it may not even flower next year.  Producing flowers is expensive for a plant.  Native perennials need time to build stores in their roots and will flower only when it won’t stress the plant.  Moving a plant causes stress by damaging tiny root hairs, tap roots, and exposing it to an entirely different environment.

When you take plants from their homes with the good intentions of providing them with similar or “better” conditions, know that it is nearly impossible to give a wild plant what it needs to survive.  Keep in mind too that you are removing it from an ecosystem that is functioning with it there.  Digging plants leaves holes in the ground – an open invitation for weeds which can disrupt an otherwise healthy system.  There is a delicate balance created among the wild plants we see around us.  It’s working well and doesn’t need us throwing it off course.

A Highly Specialized Interaction
Take orchids, for example.  The flowers in this group have developed highly specialized interactions within their ecosystem.  They require specific soil conditions and are extremely sensitive to changes.  These conditions are impossible to duplicate, no matter how much effort you put in.  Removing orchids from their ecosystem disrupts the system and in all likelihood, you will kill the plant in the process.

When Digging is OK
There are certain times when digging in the wild is OK.  We like to call this “rescue digging”.  If the property is to be demolished or dug up for construction purposes, digging prior to demo is OK.  Always dig wider than the roots will be and realize that if it’s a well-aged plant, the root system will likely travel pretty far down.  Don’t get lazy for this part as breaking the tap root can severely hurt its chances for survival.  A successful transplant is one where the plant doesn’t even know it’s been moved. Dig wide and deep, well beyond the roots.

If You Must Have Them…
Consider growing wildflowers and wild plants from seed or source them from a reputable grower who does not harvest from the wild.  They have a much better chance at survival and will enjoy living in your garden from day one.

Your other option is to take note of where these plants are and plant to return when they are going to seed.  Take a few, not all, and over time, you can harvest the seeds from your own garden.

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One of the sensitive fern colonies I keep an eye on.

Walking along forested paths, roadsides, or ditches should always be a window-shopping experience: you look, but you don’t touch.  That old expression, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints,” is one that should be ringing through your mind when you see plants growing in the wild.  They’re happier where they are and will never be as happy or healthy in your garden no matter how hard you try.  Best to keep their location in mind and revisit them year after year.

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A Mantis Story

A few months back while Miriam and Paul were on a casual stroll through the meadow as it was just greening up, Miriam found something interesting.  Knowing I would be more than intrigued, she brought it back and showed me the next day.  Putting my detective skills to work, I determined it was a praying mantis egg casing.  Not being an expert, I couldn’t tell which species was waiting inside.

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Unhatched (left) and hatched (right) mantis egg case. The only noteable differences are the colour and a slight ruffling of the centre crease of the egg case.

 

Sidenote: there are two species of non-native (and some would consider invasive) praying mantis in Canada: the European mantis and the Chinese mantis.  Both are larger and more aggressive than the only native mantis that exists here, capturing prey that our native mantids wouldn’t consider.  That one native mantis that exists in Canada (Litaneutria minor) – doesn’t come much more east the BC.  The closest thing to a native Ontario mantis would be the Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) but it doesn’t generally come further north than New York.

The native North American mantids (and non-native ones for that matter) are predators, strict carnivores, eating only food that is alive before being snatched up by the spiny scythes.  Out in the gardens at Wildflower Farm, they will eat most anything that moves, they’re not really picky.  One interesting fact: the newly hatched female Chinese mantis will sometimes ingest pollen if live prey is not available, thereby reducing the risk of early death.

Now back to our find.  The oblong cocoon was attached to a piece of dried Little Bluestem; I put the whole thing, grass and all, into a sealed bag on the windowsill.  And we waited.  I checked every day for signs of life or change of any kind.

On Thursday, June 26, they began to hatch.  Being away from work that day, I got a frantic phone call and a text saying the mantises had hatched and were crawling all over each other.  That night I built myself a little terrarium.  If the egg case couldn’t give me clues to its species, growing a few to adulthood probably could.  Outfitting it with soilless substrate, living plants, and dried sticks has given them places to climb and hide.

It has been quite the learning experience.  One that I will keep you updated with as the weeks progress and these (very) tiny mantids grow up.

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And by tiny, I mean TINY – at about 5mm long.

 

The Challenges

Building a home for 30 or so baby praying mantises wasn’t the difficult part.  When we put that cocoon into the bag, I didn’t really think too much about it; I honestly didn’t think anything was going to happen.  Once they emerged and I saw how small they were, my first thought was, “What am I going to feed them?”  After doing a little reading, I came upon a few options: let them eat each other (a natural cannibalistic approach to wean out the weak ones), feed them flightless fruit flies and springtails, or find equally small alternatives.

I chose a combination of option one and three and there are currently 17 or so baby mantids living in the terrarium with numerous aphids of different sizes that I found during my weeding efforts.

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The varying sizes of the aphid give the baby mantids options. If the large ones are TOO large, they can opt to eat the smaller ones.

 

Phase One of mantis identification is complete. And now we must wait until they grow up. Will keep you posted!

 

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Oh Happy Day !!

Eyes long desperate for colour now feast daily upon generous swaths of Coreopsis lanceolata!!!

Eyes long desperate for colour now feast daily upon generous swaths of Coreopsis lanceolata!!!

We’ve arrived ! At long last it’s that heady time of year when I head out most mornings, bucket in hand. After colourful blooms are gathered, I repair to the shade of my willow tree workshop, crank the tunes and blissfully birth bouquets.

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This time of year is tremendously exciting! For example, just this week, swaths of two stunning Echinacea species began to bloom!

Ozark Coneflowers (Echinacea paradoxa) ~~ easy to grow from seed and love full sun and medium to dry sandy loam. http://www.wildflowerfarm.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=18&product_id=91

I love the exaggeratedly large seed head and bright yellow petals of the Ozark Coneflower!

I love the exaggeratedly large seed head and bright yellow petals of the Ozark Coneflower!

Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)  ~~ true wildflower work horses in the garden and meadow. Happy in full sun or part shade they’ll grow beautifully for you in sandy soil, loam and even compacted clay!! http://www.wildflowerfarm.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=18&product_id=90

These upright Pale Purple Coneflower petals will turn downward in characteristic coneflower style in just a few days!

These upright Pale Purple Coneflower petals will turn downward in characteristic coneflower style in just a few days!

This week, I was overjoyed to read a status update from esteemed Canadian feminist and avid gardener, Michele Landsberg I could SO relate to!! Listen to her description of the   effusive joy she feels spending time in her garden;

“Do you share my love of flowers…colours, light, shape, perfume? I know my garden this year is wildly undisciplined, crammed full, not design-y…but it expresses my love of nature’s abundance and makes me feel so damn lucky to be alive!”

Here, then in celebration of nature’s abundance are two wildflower bouquets I fashioned this week;

Bouquet Number One:

Mother Nature favours Yellow, Blue & White in early summer

Mother Nature favours Yellow, Blue & White in early summer

This early summer bouquet includes feathery white Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus) , Baptisias in blue, white and yellow, yellow Coreopsis lanceolata, soft purple Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia), purple Spiderwort blossoms (Tradescantia ohiensis)  and Wood Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) foliage.

Bouquet Number Two:

A riot of colour!

A riot of colour!

The first Ozark and Pale Purple Coneflowers are joined by the first of the Blanketflowers (Gallardia aristata), green seed heads of Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), White Yarrow (Achillia millifolium), Blue False Indigo, softly purple Harebells and dark purple Spiderwort.

Tip: Deadhead Blanketflowers and Coreopsis and they'll gift you with blossoms all summer long!

Tip: Deadhead Blanketflowers and Coreopsis and they’ll gift you with blossoms all summer long!

Learn more wildflower bouquet techniques and gardening tips: http://www.tamingwildflowers.com

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Bonkers ‘Bout Baptisias

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Baptisias have so much to offer! Their spikey Sweet Pea-like blossoms come in a multitude of handsome colors that look stunning in both garden and bouquet.

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Each Spring I thrill to see my Baptisias explode out of the ground like stark raving zombie asparagus.

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By mid-June, here in Ontario they resemble robust shoulder height shrubs!

As card-carrying members of the legume family, Baptisias’ deep tap roots return nitrogen (fertilizer) to the soil. The downside to their deep tap roots is you’ve got just a year to find just the right spot for them in the garden before the roots plunge so far down they become virtually immovable. The only exception to the one year rule is if you happen to grow Baptisias in severely compacted clay. If you’re lucky, they’ll form a giant gnarly root ball you can dig out and transplant.

In late summer Blue False Indigo’s purple blossoms become musical instruments. The dramatic black seed pods sound just like maracas when shaken.

Here are four kinds of Baptisias I’m just nuts about:

First to bloom in late spring is Cream False Indigo (Baptisia bracteata)

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Unlike the other Baptisas upright spike blooms, the Cream False Indigo’s soft yellow blossoms cascade downwards.

 

Yellow False Indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa)

In late summer Yellow False Indigo produce handsome brown seed pods that look like African beads.

In late summer Yellow False Indigo produce handsome brown seed pods that look like African beads.

 

Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis)

These gorgeous creatures bloom in full sun but will tolerate moderate shade.

White False Indigo (Baptisia alba)

Magnificent dark purple stems provide contrast to the pure white spikes of the White False Indigo.

Magnificent dark purple stems provide contrast to the pure white spikes of the White False Indigo.

Baptisias are super easy to grow from seed using the winter sowing or cold moist stratification technique. And besides! Baptisia seedlings are absolutely adorable!

Blue False Indigo babies!

Blue False Indigo babies!

Learn all about Baptisias, how to grow them from seed, plant them in your garden and how to make stunning Baptisia bouquets!

Wildflower Farm & Taming Wildflowers

 

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Not Your Average Pollinator Blog

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A happy bumblebee stumbles across a row of tomatoes in my garden last year. Tomatoes need insect pollinators to produce fruit and including native plants amongst your edibles is a great way to boost pollination. Research has shown that native plants attract the native pollinators that ensure a healthy crop.

Are you ready for the understatement of the year? OK, brace yourselves…pollinators are important.

Phew, there, I said it.

Numbers vary but it is estimated that pollinating insects are needed for the development of 75% of the world’s flowering plants. Some estimates are as high as 96% (there’s always variation in science but whether it’s 75 or 96%, I think it’s safe to say that it’s a big deal).

“But Marette,” you’re saying, “What about the food we eat?” Excellent question and you’re looking at about 35%. That’s more than a third of our food coming from the buzz and tumble of native and non-native pollinators. Corn, most legumes, below-ground growers (potatoes, carrots, radishes), leafy greens, and a number of other food crops do not need insect pollinator help but rather use the wind or rain to transport pollen.

I’ve been careful to use the word ‘pollinator’ rather than the word ‘bee’.  As most of you know, many insects besides bees are excellent pollinators and I wouldn’t want to exclude any of them from our conversation. Bees, moths, wasps, butterflies, flies, and beetles are all important players in the pollination game. A game where every player wins and observers win, too.

Think about it: insects pollinate flowers, the flowers turn into fruit (containing seeds), the fruit is eaten, the seeds are spread, and the cycle continues. Those who eat the fruit aren’t direct players in pollination but they do play a critical role in the survival of the entire ecosystem’s list of species – pollination is but one part of the system (albeit, a fairly important one).

We’ve been seeing an increasing number of pollinators here at Wildflower Farm due to the floral abundance emerging with the rains and warmer temperatures that come with the natural transition from spring to summer. More food brings more hungry patrons to the table.

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The Pasque Flowers are almost finished and most have gone to seed but when they were in their glory, it was a pollination riot. Sweat bees, honey bees, ants, and flies took advantage of the nectar and pollen. Female insects are particularly interested in the nutritious early season offerings as they gather nesting supplies.

 

Right now, the Smooth Solomon’s Seal is a big hit with the bumblebees, flies, honeybees, and some of the smaller bees who crawl right up inside the tiny opening in the flower to get at the nectar and rustle up some pollen.

And to see it in action is even more exciting! Check out this little video compilation from the bumblebees here at Wildflower Farm. Make sure you turn up the sound so you can hear the buzz pollination in action.

 

Brought to the Americas by early settlers and used as food and remedies for many ailments, most people today will think dandelions are nothing but a nuisance. It’s important to understand, though, that they are an important early food source for a number of small insects.

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This small sweat bee rummaged around this dandelion for a good five minutes before shoving off to a neighbouring dandelion.

 

Butterflies tend to get a lot of credit in the pollination department but, in fact, their pollination skills are limited.  Limited by their long tongues and relatively furless bodies, they are sometimes referred to as ‘nectar thieves’ because they do not contribute significantly to pollination.

A Dun Skipper, or Euphyes vestris (to the best of my knowledge) feeds on the nectar from Common Milkweed, New Jersey Tea, and many other white, pink, and purple late spring/summer flowers.  Skippers are pretty good pollinators partially due to their flight habits – they tend to bounce around from flower to flower, visiting many in a short amount of time, thereby increasing the likelihood of successful pollination.

 

And one last pollinator to share with you, the moth.  Moths are great pollinators because they are fuzzy and can pick up pollen easily on their bodies. Some plants, like the Evening Primrose NEED moths for pollination because the flowers are open at night when moths are most active.

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The morbid owlet moth (Chytolita morbidalis)  is not a great moth pollinator – or maybe it is and no one knows about it yet. Turns out, there’s not a lot of information out there on these guys.  Moths in general though, because of their furry bodies and shorter mouth pieces, are able to collect and transport pollen better than most butterflies who can reach nectar with long tongues, completely bypassing the pollen.

Pollination is important and protecting our pollinators is more important than ever before. Take some time to learn about the non-bee pollinators in your yard and work towards encouraging their survival and yearly return.

How do you bring around the pollinators? Leave us a comment!

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