By Eileen Morrison, Hobby Greenhouse Club member
Climate change is calling to all inhabitants of this planet, saying please change your habits before it is too late. This is an urgent call to action for all of us, but especially gardeners and homeowners.
Totally natural gardens are gaining in popularity, fueled in large part by climate change and related issues such as lack of water. Opting for a wild landscape (other than grass) has many advantages:
- A lawn consumes 200 gallons of of drinking water/year
- Inorganic pesticides necessary for grass are harmful to our health
- Natural and wildflower gardens remove plant warming pollutants
- Native plants will increase wildlife populations and natural pollinators
The purpose of this essay is to argue for less reliance on grass and increased use of wildflower gardens to build healthy natural ecosystems. Hopefully education regarding this topic will reduce current resistance to change. I planted a wildflower garden that was beautiful, but unexpected problems arose.
Let me start by telling my story. I had no experience with wildflowers and had never seen a wildflower garden, so I didn’t know what to expect. I found the website for American Gardens and read all the tutorial information on their site. I also bought and read their book: Mini Meadows: Grow a Little Patch of Color Flowers Anywhere around your Yard by Mike Lizotte. I followed their guidelines.
The front yard of my apartment had a medium size area with little to no grass, some weeds, and large tree roots left over from a tree that was downed by lightning. The apartment complex had no interest in improving the area. The previous owner had a rule that older tenants on the first floor were allowed to work in the garden and even had sponsored some contests for the prettiest garden. However, after the owner died, his son took over, and we assumed the rule was still in effect.
I started by digging up the ground by hand using a shovel. I loved being outside in nice weather, so I did not mind the work and thought of it as my spiritual time. Neighbors always stopped and asked what I was doing or just to talk. I spent most of the winter preparing the ground. I added bags and bags of Black Cow compost. Curious neighbors enjoyed watching me haul Black Cow from my car to the garden. I started removing the first bits of grass and weeds and had dug down 2 inches. The second round of digging went to 4 inches. Some of this was very difficult, but I discovered that adding water made it easier. I added more compost. Eventually, I went down to 6 inches which is what Lizotte recommends (p. 6).
You can sow seeds in the Fall or Spring. Because I am just a novice wildflower gardener, I was quite overwhelmed by the idea of mixing seeds for a garden. It seems complicated, especially needing to choose early, middle-season and late-blooming flowers, mixing colors and annuals, biannual and perennial to ensure a full season of color. Fortunately, American Meadows sells seeds for specific geographic regions and different mixes for sun and partial shade gardens. I ordered a small amount of the southeastern seeds for the shade. American Meadows has a greater variety of mixes now which also includes 6 regional mixes for pollination gardens.
I stored the seeds in the fridge until it was time for sowing. I planned on Fall planting, but the weather was not cooperating. The ground temperature must consistently be under 55 degrees to sow the seeds. GreenCast shares the ground temperature for every geographic area, so I checked daily. I consistently saw frequent warming trends that pushed the temperature above 55 degrees. American Meadows has a call in line where I got advice. After 3 calls, they advised me to wait until Spring. A BIG disappointment, but I waited. I evened out the soil, raked it and waited. Now I needed to see consistent soil levels above 55 degrees in order to sow seeds. Finally sowing time arrived.
I calculated the right amount of seed and mixed it with the right amount of sand and sowed it 2 times in a criss cross manner. I then pressed them down by walking over the area, not covering the seeds. I started watering every other day when no rain was in sight and waited. After about a month, I was rewarded with a glorious garden with 1 ft tall mixed pastel flowers. When the wind blew they all swayed miraculously like a wave that someone was orchestrating. Pretty soon, the neighbors were coming by and commenting on how beautiful it was and taking pictures. I had definitely underestimated the beauty of a wildflower garden.
However, not everyone was overjoyed with my garden. Neighbors who don’t understand the value of a wildflower garden, especially if it means they have to walk around it instead of through. Another issue is, if not planned carefully, wildflowers can look unkempt and messy. Ultimately, the neighbor complained and the wildflower garden was cut down. If gardeners don’t carefully plan and maintain the garden, it can look messy and irritate neighbors.
If you live in a community with an HOA, housing regulations may not allow a wildflower garden. Many in our area will not allow a wildflower garden as they generally believe similarity in landscaping, particularly in a particular kind of lawn care. I’m glad that some homeowners are taking up the mantle and are addressing these regulations by educating the HOA regarding the importance of naturalistic gardens. Cities often have old regulations in place which limit what homeowners can do in their gardens. I salute those trying to educate others and make change to the dated rules and regulations.
The National Wildlife Federation has published a Guide to Passing Wildlife-Friendly Property Maintenance Ordinances for local officials, HOAs, and others.
I highly recommend Lizotte’s book, as he outlines all the stages of creating a garden that any beginner can follow. He covered choosing a spot, planning the garden, digging the soil, calculating the number of seeds, sowing the seeds, troubleshooting, and enjoying the results. He also included examples of gardens to visit and sources for seeds or natural plants. Locally, you can check out the New Hanover County Arboretum, the Master Gardener Program, the NC Cooperative Extension, Airlie Gardens, and of course, your fellow Hobby Greenhouse Club Members. We hope to see you at an upcoming event!
greencastonline.com Soil Temperature charts. If you add your location (city and zip), you will get current soil temperature, 24 hour average and 5 day average.
Lioztte, M. (2019). Mini Meadows: Grow a Little Path of Colorful Flowers Anywhere around Your Yard. North Adams, MA: Story Publishing.
National Wildlife Federation. Guide to Passing Wildlife Friendly Property Maintenance Ordinances.