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Designing a Wildflower Garden

  Wildlowers and native grasses are a natural combination.
The following ten tips combine the principles of plant ecology with those of traditional garden design. It is our hope that you will select the ideas that you wish to apply in your garden and express your own unique style using our wildflowers and native grasses in designing your wildflower garden.

1) Plant Flowers and Grasses Together to create a natural meadow effect. The dense root systems of the grasses dominate the upper soil and help to squeeze out the weeds. The grasses essentially do most of the weeding for you, simply by eliminating open soil available for weed seed germination.

2) Select the Plants to Match the Scale of your landscape. Use the shorter flowers and grasses in small meadow gardens. The short grasses, such as Little Bluestem, Side Oats Grama, and Prairie Dropseed are clump-formers that leave room between them for flowers. Most of the tall native grasses form a dense sod and do not always accommodate a diversity of flowers.

3) Plant Deep-Rooted Wildflowers with the grasses. Many wildflowers have tremendously deep roots that can grow down 10 feet or more into the soil, well below the grasses root systems. The grasses and flowers thus share the soil rooting environment and utilize water and nutrients extremely efficiently.

4) Plant Flowers in Masses and Drifts of colour to create impact in the garden. This technique can be very dramatic. We recommend mass plantings or drifts with a relatively non-competitive grass such as Side Oats Grama to help keep weeds down. Mass plantings of only one or two species of flower often experience weed problems. In a manicured or heavily-mulched garden, this may not be a concern.

5) Arrange Plants to Complement one another, both texturally and in colour combinations. For instance, plant the flowering spikes of the blazingstars (Liatris) in front of the bold foliage of Prairie Dock. (Silphium terebinthinaceum). Most wildflowers mix well with the grasses, the green grass foliage serving as a background that highlights the flowers.

6) Select Plants for Succession of Bloom throughout the growing season. This ensures that something interesting is always going on in your garden. Remember that the grasses will still provide a show in fall and winter when the flowers are gone.

7) Plant Tall Plants in Back, Short in Front. This rather obvious principle is essential in successfully displaying and enjoying your plants. Tall plants can be used quite effectively planted against a wall or wooden fence.

8) Include Spring Blooming Flowers in the garden. Many of the shorter, spring-bloomers are some of the most attractive and delicate of the wildflowers. Most spring wildflowers go dormant by mid-summer, thus making good companions for a variety of other flowers and grasses, tall or short.

9) Use Large "Specimen" Plants as architectural focal points in the garden. Surround individual specimen plants with lower-growing flowers and grasses to really help them show off their special attributes.

10) Attract Songbirds and Butterflies with wildflowers. The flowers provide food and combined with the grasses, create habitat for wildlife, adding drama to your garden as these creatures go about their business. Early blooming flowers provide spring nectar for butterflies. Blazingstars and coneflowers are on the mid-summer menu, and asters and goldenrods sustain late season visitors. Silphiums, sunflowers, and grasses provide nutritious seeds for winter birds.

By integrating the principles of ecology with those of garden design, you can create attractive, ecologically sound wildflower gardens. These gardens will require no fertilizers, pesticides or irrigation to keep them healthy and vibrant. Even during severe heat and drought, wildflower gardens continue to perform while other plants succumb to the weather.

Some good flower combinations include:
 

For Dry Soils

Butterflyweed and Pale Purple Coneflower
Smooth Aster and Sky Blue Aster
Lanceleaf Coreopsis and Lupine

For Medium to Slightly Moist Soils

Prairie Blazingstar and Rattlesnake Master
Prairie Blazingstar and Wild Quinine
Smooth Penstemon and Spiderwort
Queen of the Prairie and Prairie Blazingstar
Joe Pye Weed and Great Blue Lobelia

 


Specimen Plants - "The Showoffs"
Blue False Indigo
Rattlesnake Master
Joe Pye Weed
Queen of the Prairie
Compassplant
Cupplant
Culver's Root

Deep-Rooted Flowers for Interplanting with Grasses
Leadplant
Butterflyweed
Blue False Indigo
Wild Senna
Pale Purple Coneflower
Rattlesnake Master
Ox-eye Sunflower
Lupine
Wild Quinine
Purple Prairie Clover
Yellow Coneflower
Compassplant
Cupplant
Spiderwort

Spring Blooming Wildflowers
Columbine
Jack In The Pulpit
Shootingstar

 
Wild Iris
Lupine

 
Spiderwort
Golden Alexanders

 

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