My Wildly Floriferous Life

Gathering wildflowers on a beautiful summer day! It's a tough job but Somebody has to do it.

Gathering wildflowers on a beautiful summer day! It’s a tough job but Somebody has to do it.

This morning is a great example of my insanely beautiful life here at the pollinators’ paradise we call Wildflower Farm. Just yesterday on Facebook, one of Wildflower Farm’s loyal friends asked “What’s in bloom right now at the Farm?”  How better to answer her question than with a big fat bouquet filled with many of wildflowers in bloom right now. I couldn’t fit every single wildflower and native grass in bloom into the bouquet. You’ll find list of the species in bloom that didn’t make it into the bouquet at the end of this blog post.

Butterrfly Milkweed, Oxe-Eye Sunflower, Purple Monarda and Dark Purple Capsule-shaped Purple Prairie Clover!

Butterfly Milkweed, Ox-Eye Sunflower, Wild Bergamot and the capsule-shaped Purple Prairie Clover!

Allow me to introduce you to each of the wildflowers in this bouquet. Monarda fistulosa  or Wild Bergamot  sporting soft mauve, crown-shaped blossoms, the blooms and leaves smell minty and indeed Monarda fistulosa is a member of the mint family. It’s a super accomodating plant that stays in bloom for many weeks and grows happily in full sun or part shade. Veronicastrum virginicum or Culver’s Root, it’s easy to spot the tall white spires of this plant from a great distance! Bright yellow Heliopsis helianthoides or Ox-Eye Sunflower is an absolute workhorse in the garden.

I am absolutely enchanted with Amorpha canescens or Leadplant! This native shrub is in its glory this time of year sporting purple flower spikes flecked with gold!

Look at the stunning purple spikes of Lead Plant flecked with gold!!

Look at the stunning purple spikes of Lead Plant flecked with gold!!

Parthenium integrifolium or Wild Quinine, is a beautiful white wildflower that  blooms all summer and into the fall, growing in in full sun or part shade.

Sturdy Wild Quinine blossoms visited by native sweat bee during photo session

Sturdy Wild Quinine blossoms are visited by a native sweat bee during the photo session!

Asclepias tuberosa or Butterflyweed, this bright orange Milkweed loves full sun and sandy soil and, of course, is an essential food source for Monarch Butterflies. Look how beautifully it works as a cut flower!!!

Butterfly Milkweed is an essential food for Monarch Butterflies! Love that orange!

Butterfly Milkweed is an essential food for Monarch Butterflies! Love that orange!

Silphium perfoliatum or Cup Plant is a tall, majestic, wildflower with bright yellow flowers. Its thick square stems combine with sturdy leaves to form a cup that holds water for the birds. Monarda punctata or Dotted Mint grows triple decker blooms of soft pink and white.  Rudbeckia hirta or Black Eyed Susan are the classic cheery yellow and brown wildflowers that grow in sun or shade.  Agastache foeniculum  or Anise Hyssop smells and tastes like licorice.  Ratibida pinnata or Yellow Coneflower offers bright yellow droopy petals on very thin stems.  Pycnanthemum virginianum or Mountain Mint is an essential plant for bee keepers; this lovely member of the mint family has white flowers. Attention summer drink mixologists! Mountain Mint tastes rather like spearmint and works well in  mojitos!

Coneflowers close up! Yellow Ozark Coneflower, Pale Purple Coneflower and Purple Coneflower float atop this very full mid-summer bouquet

Coneflowers close up! Yellow Ozark Coneflower, Pale Purple Coneflower and Purple Coneflower float atop this very full mid-summer bouquet

A Carnival of Coneflowers! Echinacea purpurea or Purple Coneflower, is there anyone not acquainted with the effervescent purple coneflower? Echinacea pallida or Pale Purple Coneflower is a tall, long-blooming tall member of the coneflower family.  Echinacea paradoxa or Ozark coneflower is both goofy and elegant with its giant conehead and huge yellow petals.

And here are the beauties are also in bloom in my mid-summer wildflower gardens and meadows that either didn’t fit into this giant bouquet or don’t work well as cut flowers: Artemesia  ludoviciana or Silver Sage is an elegant silvery ground cover for sun or shade. Bright yellow Coreopsis lanceolata or Lanceleaf Coreopsis; Gallardia aristata or Blanket Flower –  everyone knows this bright red, orange and yellow wildflower! The low growing and elegant native grass, Sporobolus heterolepis or Prairie Dropseed.  Astragalus canadensis or Canada Milkvetch has soft yellow lupin-like blossoms. Verbena stricta or Hoary Vervain sports bright purple blossoms. Eryngium yuccifolium or Rattlesnake Master is the ancient ancestor of the blue sea holly.

Gravel and rock garden plants are amazing! Very few of these beauties function well as cut flowers but they are truly the ultimate drought tolerant plants grow in full sun in pure gravel! Ruellia humilis or Wild Petunia  is a great rock garden plant that thrives in gravely soil and full sun. Callirhoe involucrata or Purple Poppy Mallow, its cousin Callirhoe digitata or Fringed Poppy Mallow and another cousin Callirhoe bushii or Bush’s Poppy Mallow.

Supporting Beneficial Wildlife!  Remember, each of these wildflowers has a long standing mutually beneficial relationship with pollinators and beneficial insects.  So, if you are planning on starting or expanding your wildflower garden start with our Wildflower Seed Selector Tool  to choose the wildflowers that will grow successfully in your site conditions. It’s easy to grow all these beautiful wildflowers from seed! And this fall is the best time to start your wildflower seeds.

It's ridiculously easy to grow your own wildflowers.

It’s ridiculously easy to grow your own wildflowers.

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Let’s Go, Pollinators


Antheraea polyphemus, a giant silk moth. Wingspan reaching around 15cm to give you an idea of size.


It has been a whirlwind of activity in the gardens these past few days.  As a lover of “creepy crawlies”, I don’t think my camera has had more than five minutes rest this week.  Even at night, I am finding things – some of the best things, actually.

But let’s get to the point: it’s bug season.  In fact, our Canadian bugs have been busy since April when the Pasque flowers started blooming.  I liken our bugs to our gardeners: it doesn’t take much to get them out and about once the snow starts to melt.

And, like us, they’re living it up in the summer heat.  Wildflowers are great attractors of native pollinators (and the non-native ones, too).  Have a look at what’s happening around the farm these days.


The Honeybee
These are the non-native pollinators I was referring to.  Honeybees actually come from Europe but were brought over many many years ago, about four centuries ago, actually. Nevertheless, they continue to be used by farmers to pollinate crops. Colonies exist outside of those managed hives and they find a happy place on the Farm with the spiderwort.

The Bumble Bee
Bumbles are awkward, heavy bees. I was watching one zip around the coreopsis in my garden the other day.  Now I’m not sure if this particular bumble was heavier than average but every flower it landed on seemed to almost buckle under the weight. Fortunately, there are sturdier plants that they love to peruse. Take, for example, pretty much any Echinacea species and the milkweed.

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In my home garden (mainly devoted to vegetables), I have left several common milkweed plants to grow between the rows.  I pluck out the ones that come up between the veggies where I don’t want them to grow, knowing that in a few years, I will likely abandon the vegetable garden completely, in favour of the milkweed.  The monarchs that I attracted last year are not here this year (yet – I’m remaining hopeful).

However, the coreopsis, although a little too lightweight for the bumble bees, serves as a great little spot for the pearl crescent.  I usually see these small, nimble butterflies in pairs.  The females often sitting atop the flowers and the males on the lookout for a female. Neither the butterfly nor the caterpillar are considered a garden pest and really, are just fun to watch.

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Sometimes I accidentally forget to turn off the outdoor light before packing it in for the night.  This isn’t always a bad thing, though, as moths are attracted to the bright light and will often stick around until the next morning.  I’ve found several species of sphinx moth this year, which was rather exciting (for a bug nerd).

In the gardens at the Wildflower Farm, I was fortunate to come upon this couple, uhm…well, you know.  Think about it this way: every insect noise you hear in the garden is a male attracting a female for the purposes of reproduction.

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The Virginia ctenucha moth is a day-flying moth (unlike most which prefer the cover of night).  This couple have found a protected spot amidst the cup plants (Silphium perfoliatum). I really love the iridescent blue body of these moths and how it contrasts so sharply with the orange head and black wings.

The dark colour and pointed shape often have folks confusing them for wasps.  Indeed, they are called a “wasp moth” but moths, including the ctenucha, do not have stingers, can’t bite (don’t even have mouths that open), and are completely harmless! The scariest part of this moth is trying to pronounce its name (ten-ooch-ah, if you’re wondering).


Beetles aren’t often thought of as pollinators. Zooming in on this photo of a flower longhorn beetle reveals a good amount of pollen stuck to the head and legs.  It was actually quite a challenge getting a good photo of this beetle – they were zipping around the milkweed plant, bumping into the flowers and leaves and this one finally landed long enough for me to snap the picture.

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What’s buzzing in your garden? Leave us a comment!

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DIY Wildflowers – So Simple

Brilliant purple Spiderwort (Tradescancia ohiensis) takes centre stage in this DIY wildflower bouquet.

Brilliant purple Spiderwort (Tradescancia ohiensis) takes centre stage along with Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida) in this DIY wildflower bouquet.

Easy Pickings!!

We’ve reached that magical time of year in the wildflower garden when The Picking Is Easy! This very morning I crafted two simple and colourful wildflower bouquets.

Have a look!

The bouquet includes just five kinds of wildflowers, two kinds of foliage and some big fat green Blue False Indigo seed pods.

The Wildflowers included are: Ozark Coneflower or Echinacea paradoxa, Pale Purple Coneflower or Echinacea pallida, Culver’s Root or Veronicastrum virginicum, Spiderwort or Tradescantia ohiensis, Wild Quinine or Parthenium integrifolium,

The foliage contributors: Blue False Indigo or Baptisia australis and Stiff Goldenrod or Oligneron rigidum

I was on a roll so I whipped up this big fat bouquet next!!

DIY: Easy mid-summer wildflower bouquet

DIY: Easy mid-summer wildflower bouquet

This colourful summer daydream includes: Black Eyed Susans or Rudbeckia hirta; White Yarrow or Achillia millifolium; Oxe Eye Sunflowers or Heliopsis helianthoides; Lead Plant or Amorpha canescens; Purple Prairie Clover or Dalea purpurea, Pale Purple Coneflower or Echinacea pallida and Canada May Flower seed pods or Maianthemum canadense.

Check out this close-up of the Purple Prairie Clover. You can see the gold flecks on it and on the purple spiked Lead plant behind it.

Check out this close-up of the Purple Prairie Clover. You can see the gold flecks on it and on the purple spiked Lead plant behind it.

Wild Lily of the Valley sports snazzy striped seed pods.

Canada May Flower sports snazzy striped seed pods and is a brilliant shade ground cover. Look for the seeds in early 2016 from Wildflower Farm!


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Wildflower Farm Walkabout Time!

I love this time of year because the season of wildflower beauty is upon us! Every walkabout is an adventure of discovery overflowing with poignant reunions with dear wildflower friends.

Wine Cups (Calliroe involucrata)

Magenta coloured Wine Cups bloom all summer long.

Magenta coloured Wine Cups bloom all summer long.

I thrill to see Wine Cups in bloom! What’s not to love? Vivid magenta flowers cascade throughout the summer over walls, mounds or the ground. Wine Cups love a super sunny spot in gravely soil where its deep tap roots can wander. My Wine Cups add flare and colour to my scree garden. And it’s easy to grow from seed!

Yellow Wild Indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa)

Yahoo! The Wild Indigo's in bloom!

Yahoo! The Wild Indigo’s in bloom!

Wild Indigo is a mellow yellow cut flower supreme!!!

Wild Indigo is a mellow yellow cut flower supreme!!!

Swaths of vivid yellow spikes in late spring with cunning blue green baptisia foliage are a most welcome sight! I adore them almost as much as the bumblebees do!!! Yellow Wild Indigo produces handsome chocolate brown seed pods that add visual interest later in the summer. Easy to grow from seed.

Harebell (Campanula involucrata)

Harebells look fragile but they're tough wildflowers  that bloom in dry sun or shade and last for many days in floral arrangements.

Harebells look fragile but they’re tough wildflowers that bloom in dry sun or shade and last for many days in floral arrangements.

If you think Harebell’s fragile stems and delicate bell blossoms indicate wildflower wimpiness – you are sadly mistaken. Wildflower Farm’s scree and container gardens feature showy Harebell blossoms for many weeks. And, Harebells make long-lasting cut flowers!!! Easy to grow from seed.

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It’s Columbine Time

One of my favourite late spring bloomers is the columbine (Aquilegia canadensis).  It’s not a particularly large or showy flower by any means but it has its own unique features.

columbine_parts_lgThe flower itself faces down, leaving the pollen-covered anthers and stamens dangling towards the ground.

These are surrounded by blades which are encircled by sepals.

Oh, and it has spurs.  Those nubby, alien-like cones pointing up behind the flower…that’s what those are called (in case you were wondering).

I found this really great diagram from the USDA that explains it all very nicely.


IMG_0963 (960x1280)This structure facilitates pollination:  the bees looking for a meal have to bypass and actually push the pollen-covered anthers out of the way to get to the nectar (which is stored in the spurs).  If they’re looking for pollen, they’re still going to be rustling it up and covering themselves in it.  With multiple flowers on the same plant, a pollinating insect doesn’t have to go far to pick up a good amount of pollen.

My absolute favourite part about the columbine, though, is who it attracts to my garden.  And I don’t mean my neighbours.

Not only is it a host plant for the columbine duskywing butterfly (Erynnis lucilius), the unique flower structure provides ample food for the tiny sweat bees that crawl into the spurs to gather nectar.  Long-tongued bumblebees are also able to get up into the spurs with their tongues and are another important pollinator.


From left to right: columbine duskywing, sweat bee, rusty-patch bumblebee

And Then There’s…

The hummingbird.  I’m a sucker for the tiny birds and the columbines are a favourite in my garden right now.  When they’re not at the hummingbird feeder (not filled with red-dyed ‘nectar’ by the way), they’re flying low to get into the columbine’s spurs and sip the nectar.  I wish I could say I had a photo but my camera hardware is nowhere close to where it needs to be to capture such a thing.

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Thanks to the Internet, you can see what I see in the evenings after I get home from work. It’s amazing to see the stability and dexterity that is a feeding hummingbird.

Where to Grow

Fortunately for you (and the wildlife), the native columbine will grow almost anywhere.  Put it in your rock garden, butterfly garden, in the shade of your largest maple or that super sunny spot at the edge of the property.  It really isn’t picky at all.

As your garden matures this season, look for empty spaces where you could plant a few columbine seeds…or maybe more than a few.  Columbines need cold-moist stratification so plan accordingly for your growing season. Wildflower Farm is here to help you through the steps: check out the process on our website.

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Zizia aurea: more than just a pretty face

There’s a whole lot of activity happening at Wildflower Farm.  With the blooming of the flowers comes the buzzing of the bees and the flutter of the butterflies.

“But, Marette,” you’re saying, “you talked about butterflies last week.” To which I can only respond, “Yes, I certainly did.” And there’s a reason for that.  As much as I love to read and write about monarchs, they are not the only butterfly out there struggling to survive.

And in all honesty, butterflies are attractive, well-liked insects. Yes, they are the charismatic megafauna of the insect world and I am not ashamed to use them to improve the natural world for other critters who may be suffering.

This week: Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea). One of my favourite Latin plant names to pronounce.

The Plant

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The late spring bloomer is a member of the carrot family: the umbel flower shape gives that away pretty quickly.  The bright yellow flower will last a few weeks in the garden and will do well as a cut flower, too.

Zizia provides garden blooms in that awkward time when early bloomers are finishing and summer bloomers have yet to arrive. This is an added bonus for the hungry insects foraging around your lot.

Plant in full sun to part shade in an area that gets some moisture.  Not a fan of sandy soil, but will work fabulously in loam and clay.

Hardy to Zone 3.


The Benefits

Zizia aurea provides food for a number of butterfly species (not to mention a whole host of other insects), the largest of which is the swallowtail (black and Ozark).


Left: black swallowtail; Right: Ozark swallowtail

Although a generalist where food and egg-laying is concerned, Zizia aurea is one of the few native plants to host these species.  Many introduced plants have become favourites (dill and parsley to name a few) but if you’re looking for native hosts, golden Alexanders is your one-stop shop.

You’ll see the very recognizable ‘adult’ caterpillars (or the more conspicuous ‘baby’ caterpillars) munching away at the leaves in late spring-early summer, depending on where you live.


Young swallowtail caterpillars mimic bird droppings for protection. The adults are a colourful combination of yellow, green, and black.

While you’re out there looking for black or Ozark swallowtails, keep an eye out for the spring azure, duskywing, frosted elfin, orange sulfur, clouded sulfur and painted lady – all species that frequent the plant to feed and lay eggs.


Top, left to right: spring azure, duskywing, frosted elfin
Bottom, left to right: clouded sulfur, painted lady, orange sulfur
I’ve provided open wing images of the sulfurs since they look very similar. Orange sulfurs have the distinctive orange colour on the interior side of their wings.

Remember to look for other insects as well while you’re out there. Non-stinging wasps, mining bees, soldier beetles, syrphid flies…the list goes on and on as does the benefits you bring to your garden by planting the native Zizia aurea.

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