IN THE GARDEN: Native plants make great wildflower gardens

Friday, July 13, 2018 - 10:00

Alaska’s short glorious summer is now in full bloom. Everywhere we look while out on our hikes there are native plants and flowers popping up across our forests and mountain hillsides. The rich layers of composting leaves and plant material have provided a perfect balance for our native plants and flowers to thrive.

If we are able to provide the same environment from which these native plants grow, we can collect their seeds and plant them in the fall and they most likely grow for us. It is not advisable to remove plants from the wild and bring them to your yard. Many of the spring plant sales grow native plants and you can pick some up and try them in your landscape.

Wild columbine, (Aquilegia Formosa), shooting star (Dodecatheon pulchellum), chocolate lily (Fritillaria camschatcensis) and wild geranium (Geranium erianthum) are some that I am able to grow easily in my landscape. These are tough flowers which are used to drought and excessive moisture periods and spread readily.

Some native ground covers that are so lovely and everywhere right now are dwarf dogwood (Cornus canadensis), wild strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis), nagoonberry (Rubus articus), lowbush cranberry or lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), and Violet (Viola langsdorfii).

One of my favorite plants to see in the forest is the native ferns. Our forests have 54 different species of ferns that thrive in our habitat. Did you know that horsetail is a fern? Well it turns out that there are several types of horsetail: common horsetail (Equisetum arvense), river horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile), wood horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) and variegated scouring rush (Equisetum variegatum subp. alaskanum). Who knew that horsetail was a fern! I will be looking at horsetail now completely differently when pulling it out of the garden. It is really too bad that moose do not love it. The USDA Forest Service has a well-done article on ferns of the national forests in Alaska you should check out if you are interested in ferns.

While in Homer on the Spit a couple of weeks ago, I ran across a store that had the best Alaska trees and wildflowers guide that I have ever found by Kavanagh and Leung. It is a folding hard plastic guide with great drawings and descriptions of many of our more common trees and wildflowers. This guide would be perfect to carry with you while hiking around our Alaska outback this summer.

When trying to grow a wildflower native plant garden, the shade of a couple of large birch trees can allow you to re-create a wild woodland habitat in your yard. This type of filtered shade is just enough for several shade-loving plants to thrive. Some of the best flowers for such areas include: bluebells (Mertensia paniculata), alpine forget-me-not (Myosotis alpestris), twinflower (Linnaea borealis), fairy slipper (Calypso bulbosa), lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) and wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa), just to name a few.

Instead of looking at what you can’t grow because of your shade, look at the possibilities of what you can grow and embrace it. Of course, you can never hope to re-create the complex wild habitat developed over hundreds of years, but you can certainly enjoy trying.

Share plants with friends and neighbors, being careful not to pick up invasive species. There are so many possibilities, you will want to start with a few plants at a time and gradually build up your wildflower garden. The great thing about growing wildflowers is that they come up on their own every year because they are perennials. With wildflowers, as their name suggests, they can go wild or spread too much. Because they grow and spread, you will have to determine how far they go by deadheading the seed pods before they fly and digging them out when they have gone too far.

The simplicity of a wildflower garden is so beautiful and will give you hours of enjoyment. You must have the patience to watch it quietly grow over time. As the plants mature, you will be rewarded with their color and bowing grace in your garden. Wildflowers are calming to the soul and just one of the many blessings we have been given to enjoy. Happy gardening everyone.

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