IN THE GARDEN: Growing a garden like nature’s own

Tuesday, June 27, 2017 - 09:38

In the woods in springtime I love seeing the small tiny native wildflowers emerge to grace the forest floor. Dwarf dogwood (Cornus pumila), twin flower (Linnaea), shooting star (Dodecatheon alpinum), prickly wild rose (Rosa acicularis) and star flower (Trientalis borealis), just to name a few. I am lucky to these growing wild in the yard.

Geraniums in blue, white and purple hues are sprinkled everywhere right now in the woods along with Jacobs’s ladder in purple and white. Effortlessly and to our delight, native plants grow up after winter has faded and soils warm. All of these wild native plants do so with no help from man, growing spontaneously in the wild for our enjoyment; they are breathtaking and numerous.

Historically, native wildflowers and plants have been the outcasts of horticulture, literally pulled up as weeds and discarded. Many gardeners have preferred the predictable gardens filled with hybrids developed nationally and imports from abroad cultivated for gardens burst of color.

Native plants have been avoided for a couple of reasons it seems: First, it was believed that these plants were hard to grow and demanded special treatment to survive; also, nurseries just have not promoted and carried these plants as part of their stock to be purchased; finally, their predictability and control.

As wild areas shrink, so does our resource of these native wild plants. The neglect of this rich source of native plants seems to be ending as a concern for our environment and food for pollinators comes to light.

My love for these plants comes from my dear friend Verna Pratt, who passed on January 8, 2017 in Anchorage. A well known author, expert, fellow garden club member and educator, Verna was a lover of Alaska’s native plants. As a mentor, Verna has left her footprint and longing for native Alaskan plants in many a heart in Alaska and beyond.

Just last week, the traditional Wildflower Club walk at Arctic Valley took place. On this walk, Verna would point out our native wildflowers and plants that we are so blessed to have growing here.

Our garden clubs around the state as a result of Verna’s input and others have preserved growing these plants. You are able to purchase these hardy plants when they are shared during the garden clubs’ late spring plant sales.

The mere simplicity of native wildflowers is the appeal of these beauties. Growing naturally in the wild, wildflowers native to Alaska grow in the woods, mountains, fields, marshes, bogs and swamps.

Literally with species in the thousands, wildflower native plants are notable for their diversity and fun common names: fireweed, monkshood, columbine, lady slipper, lupine and larkspur are just a few that grow here.

Some people consider wildflowers and plants weeds. Many, however, find them to be stunningly beautiful and worthy to grace their gardens.

Yarrow is considered an herb and comes in many colors. A friend to the butterfly, yarrow has a beautiful full flat flower that provides a landing area where butterflies can rest and take in nourishment. Interestingly, yarrow has been used for centuries due to its ability to slow and stop bleeding and dull pain on the battlefield. Legend has it the plant was once used in battle by Achilles to treat Myrmidon’s wounds at the siege of Troy.

Our state flower, the forget-me-not, memorializes a German folk tale of a drowning knight who tossed a sprig of the plant ashore to his love for her to not forget him as he perished. Who knew?

Of course, not all native plants have flowers. A number of grasses, ferns, herbs, trees, shrubs and berries grow wild here.

Though wildflowers are just that, wild, I so enjoy finding them in unusual places and smile realizing that they were seeded perhaps by the wind or birds in my garden.

If you are lucky enough to have native wild plants in your garden and neighborhood you are off to a good start to having and planning a wildflower garden. I suggest finding Verna Pratt’s books, “Alaskan Wildflowers” and “Field Guide to Alaska Wildflower’s”, two must haves to start your planning and planting.

Wild native flowers and plants survive in the wild on the basis of several factors: soil chemistry, climate, elevation, rainfall, and companion vegetation. The different climate zones throughout the United States and the world have their own wildflowers and native plants and I hope you will look around and appreciate the handiwork of our creator and realize their true complexity and unique design.

I look forward to your questions at [email protected]

And remember, we must, “Keep calm and Garden on.”


Common Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), also known as Butter and Eggs comes from the Figwort Family and is an aggressive perennial that can produce by seeds or rhizomes. Each plant can produce 1-25 stems per plant. This plant is woody, smooth, erect and leafy often in clumps up to 2 feet tall. The leaves are numerous pale green narrow and pointed about three inches long. They have a similar appearance of snapdragons with a spur extending below the lip of the flower, according to the US Forest Service.

This is a persistent, aggressive invader capable of forming dense colonies and stealing the nutrients of surrounding plants you want. Evidently toxic to grazing animals; this pretty but sneaky invader can be found on roadsides, waste areas, lake shores, pastures, and edges of forests. Don’t be fooled and let it get a foothold.

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