Northern Wilds Magazine
Western Spiderwort
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Creating a Wildflower Garden

My wife, Diana Hestwood, and I have always liked the idea of having native flowers in our yard. They don’t require intensive maintenance and they attract birds, bees and butterflies. So, years ago, we picked an area in our yard that we didn’t mow and thought of that as our “wildflower garden.” That didn’t produce the results we wanted however, so we hired Jeff Poenix to design and plant a real wildflower garden for us. He rototilled and treated the area so we could get a fresh start. Jeff ordered a seed mixture containing 27 native flowers and five native grasses and planted them in the spring of 2015. It was a dry summer, so we needed to do some supplemental watering of the area just so the flowers and grasses would get a good start. Plants grew that first summer but didn’t produce many flowers. By the second summer, we had flowers galore. Jeff told us that the first year or two would be dominated by black-eyed Susans and he was correct. By the second summer, the native plants needed no additional watering.

Some of the flowers we planted take more than one year to establish themselves. Each year brought new surprises as we discovered a few more varieties that we hadn’t seen before.

Before settlers came to the Great Plains, fire was a natural experience and it always revived the prairie. After three years of growth, Jeff decided it was time to renew our garden by burning it. The native flowers had established a solid root system so they could withstand the fire. Non-natives and any woody shrubs and trees that managed to infiltrate the garden would be taken out by the flames. He is an experienced firefighter, so he got a burning permit and picked a calm day to do the burn. We have a small wildflower area, so it only took about 15 minutes to complete the burn. As we looked at the charred remains, we didn’t know what to expect that summer. We didn’t have to worry. After only one month, solid growth was evident and the wildflowers came back in full bloom. We even saw a few new varieties. Perhaps they needed the fire to get them started. We plan to burn the garden every three or four years.

Our wildflower garden has been a source of great pleasure for us. We enjoy seeing different kinds of flowers all summer and feel good about the pollinators that visit our garden. There is concern nationally about the disappearing habitat for bees and butterflies. If more wildflower gardens are planted, they will help make up this habitat gap. An extra bonus is having a vase of beautiful flowers on our table as we eat our meals.

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