Q. What’s the difference between a “wildflower” and the flowering plants we buy at the garden center?
A. Not much.
Wildflowers, by definition, are flowering plants that grow without human cultivation. Some of our favorite garden flowers such as roses, daisies and Black-eyed-Susan’s are, in fact, wildflowers that have simply been brought into human cultivation. If you want to make the point, all of the flowers that grow in our gardens started out as wildflowers. At first they were cultivated by people. Then they were hybridized. Recently they were tissue cultured to produce clones of the parent plant. I suspect that many garden flowers will soon be genetically modified, if they aren’t already. But, none the less, they all started out as wildflowers.
Wildflowers remain as some of our favorite plants. People take pilgrimages to known wildflower sites in spring to revel in their beauty. Even the hardest hearted fellows are impressed by a wild field of Virginia Bluebells grandly spreading into the far woods.
The point of all of this is that I want to encourage you to consider adding wildflowers to your garden plans. I recognize the irony of urging you to “cultivate” wildflowers, but they can be added to your gardens without significant cultivation. All you need to do is to prepare a suitable bed with the right conditions, put in a few wildflowers, and let them do their own thing. They are still natural wildflowers, but are now just a bit closer to your house.
Not only do they add to the charm of your gardens, but you will also be helping to preserve our native plant heritage. For a bit of magic in your garden, introduce a few sprouts of Bloodroot, Shooting star, or Trout lily to the woody edge of your property. Your children or grandchildren will love to find them - or a Jack-in-the-pulpit or Trillium - growing among the pines and weeds at the back of your lot.
If you will allow me to be schoolmarm-ish for a minute, the one thing I need to make clear is that you should not go out into the woods and dig up wildflowers. This is known as “plantnapping” and is most destructive. First, it helps destroy a growing colony of wildflowers. Secondly, most wildflowers do not transplant well. The “plantnapped” specimens will likely die when planted in your garden. Save yourself the work and disappointment. Get your wildflower plants from a reputable grower.
I have used several great places for buying wildflowers. Let me recommend several that offer mail order service. Sunlight Gardens in Tennessee has a nice selection. The Gardens of the Blue Ridge in North Carolina is great place with an extensive catalogue. Carolina Wild in South Carolina also has good plants. Closer to home, Nearly Native Nursery in Fayetteville, Georgia has a great selection. You can Google these company names to find their website and catalogues.
Locally, our own Dunwoody Nature Center will be holding a wildflowers-only plant sale this spring. They will offer a dozen varieties of Georgia native wildflowers from reputable growers. Not only will you get good plants at good prices, you will save the costs of shipping and/or gasoline. The plant sale’s offerings will be specifically chosen for our Atlanta area conditions. The plant sale will offer plants that not only bloom in springtime, but also summer and fall blooming wildflowers, too.
The Dunwoody Nature Center will have the information about the plants and prices on their website (www.dunwoodynature.org) on March 1. Orders and payments will be taken on-line only. You can order between March 1 and March 31. Plants will be available for pick up at the Nature Center on April 13-14.
So, don’t touch that dial and stay tuned for more information. And remember, it’s good to “go wild.”
Jeff Coghill has been gardening in DeKalb County for more than 30 years. He is a gardening volunteer at the Dunwoody Nature Center and works closely with members of the DeKalb Master Gardeners group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.