Wildflowers have been quite a fad. Relative to most fads, they are not so impractical. For some situations, they are a good excuse to waste less effort and resources on unrefined parts of the garden. Of course, they all require some degree of effort and resources. Most are neither as wild nor as natural as their marketing suggests them to be. Few are native.
Wildflowers that lived here centuries ago, prior to the introduction of exotic species, were relatively unimpressive. Although some bloomed spectacularly, they did so within a brief season. Winter is too cool for pollinators that wildflowers intend to attract. Summer is too dry for bloom to last long. Most bloom was limited to the transition from winter into spring.
The same native wildflowers bloom even less now than they did centuries ago because of competition with exotic species. Most exotic species that compete with wildflowers are feral forage crops that lack colorful bloom. They grow so vigorously that they obscure the natives. Mitigation of such undesirable vegetation ruins wildflowers that mature within it.
Most of the best wildflowers here now are as exotic as feral forage crops. Those that are native might be more reliant on unnatural cultivation. California poppy, evening primrose, and native annual lupines might prolong bloom with a bit of extra water through summer, but need weeding. With the same watering, (non-native) cosmos stands up to the weeds.
Unfortunately, vegetation management is more important than wildflowers outside of the refined garden. Overgrown weeds are combustible and can be dangerous to pets. Weed whacking too often involves wildflowers before they get their chance to bloom, as well as foliage of spring bulbs after bloom. (It sometimes damages bark of trees and shrubs too.)
Some low and dense perennial wildflowers are more reliable than annual sorts because they exclude annual weeds. Saint John’s wort and periwinkle are invasive exotic plants, but work well as ground covers. Mowing or shearing them late in winter slows their competing weeds, and also enhances their foliar density before competing weeds regenerate.
Colorado must really like blue. Not only is the state tree the Colorado blue spruce, but the state flower is the Colorado blue columbine, Aquilegia caerulea. However, the flowers are not always blue, and in fact, are often white or various shades of pink or soft yellow, or a combination of two colors. The many other specie and hybrids of columbine add even more shades and combinations of richer shades of blue, red, yellow, orange and purple. The distinctively lacy foliage is somewhat bluish. A few varieties have chartreuse foliage.
Although potentially perennial, most columbine do not reliable regenerate after winter dormancy, so are instead grown as spring and summer annuals. Flowers are not as abundant as those of other annuals, but are interesting close up, and very attractive to hummingbirds. Mature plants stand about a foot tall, so work nicely in pots surrounded by lower and more colorful annuals like lobelia and alyssum. Columbine prefers partial shade and rich soil. Plants in full sun tend to be more compact and seem to be a bit faded. Incidentally, some parts of the plants are toxic.
Pretty weeds do not get my attention like they do for others. They look too much like weeds to me. If I want to appreciate them, I must do so with intention. Sometimes, I do actually try. I did happen to notice these two weeds. However, now that I got their pictures, I have no use for either of them. Neither is readily useful for the gardening column. I will just share them here.
The yellow flower pictured above is most likely prickly lettuce. I really do not know. I know it as yellow chicory; but chicory does not bloom yellow. Some people think of it as dandelion, since the flowers are similar. These flowers stand much higher though, with only minimal foliage below. For the picture, I plucked this flower and stuck it in the ground to keep it still in the breeze.
The white flower pictured below is common bindweed. When I was a kid, I knew it as morning glory. In this close up picture, it looks like a fancier garden variety of morning glory, although the flower is much smaller. Real morning glory happens to look good in white, like this one does. If it is fragrant, I have never noticed. It tends to creep along the ground more than it climbs.
It sometimes seems silly to me that others so easily notice how pretty weeds such as these are, especially while there are so many more flowers that are prettier. Then, I realize what others must think of what I consider to be pretty. For example, the pollarded blue gum with aromatic blue foliage that I enjoy so much, is the same species that gives all eucalypti a bad reputation.
Besides, these flowers were the prettiest in the otherwise bare meadow where I found them.
Columbine does not do well here. I do no know why. It does well enough in Colorado to be the Official State Flower there. Yet, the mildest of climates is Colorado are harsher than the climate here. It does not get too terribly warm in summer here. Humidity is minimal, but not as minimal as in much of Colorado. Nor does it exceed that of other regions where columbine does well.
We have certainly tried to grow columbine. It just does not work. Some of it succumbs to powdery mildew. Some succumbs to rust. The last batch just succumbed. Because it was expected, I did not bother to investigate. I got the impression that it was taken out by both powdery mildew and rust. Flowers that bloomed so delightfully when planted went to seed on their way out.
That should have been the end of it. I would not mind if someone tries again to grow columbine for next spring, even if it last for only a short while. I just do not expect to see it ever perform well here. None was planted this year. Even if someone had considered it, there was no need to add any prior to furlough, while cool season annuals for winter continued to bloom so happily.
What I certainly did not consider was the few seed that the last batch of columbine tossed almost a year ago. Apparently, at least one of those seed fell from the ledge where its parent plants lived briefly in now absent planter boxes, and into the edge of a small landscape below. It grew into an exemplary specimen of columbine, which is happily blooming as if it were in Colorado!
It is surrounded by a concrete retaining wall, a perpendicular granite wall and a big granite boulder!
Money plant, Lunaria annua, which some may know as ‘honesty’, is honestly not a wildflower here. It is neither native nor naturalized. Yet, it seems to grow wild on roadsides, in drainage ditches, and around the perimeters of some of the landscapes. It certainly produces enough seed to naturalize. It just would not have done so in this climate without a bit of intervention.
Many years ago, someone who maintained the landscapes here started sowing seed for money plant. I do not know if he was the first to sow the seed, or if he collected it from plants that someone else grew. He collected seed annually to disperse randomly by simply tossing it out wherever he though it might happily grow into more money plant.
Since money plant wants a bit more water than it gets from annual rainfall here, it was happiest where it is most often seen now, in roadside drainage ditches and on the perimeters of irrigated landscapes. It somehow competes effectively with other seemingly more aggressive vegetation. In the more favorable situations, it self sows, but can not perpetuate indefinitely.
The horticulturist who dispersed the seed for so many years retired a few years ago. Consequently, there has been a bit less money plant annually since then. It certainly tries to naturalize, but was rather scarce last year.
We could not allow it to go extinct just yet. We collected some of the seed from the plants that bloomed last year. I dispersed a few where I thought they would be happy without being obtrusive in the landscapes. I gave most of the seed to a neighbor who happens to enjoy tossing random seed into random (but hopefully suitable) spots where wildflowers would be nice.
It is such a delightful tradition that is worth continuing.
Clearing space for a new small vegetable garden is more work than it will be worth. It took more than a day to remove the thicket of bramble from a triangular area that is only about forty feet from front to back, and not much more than twenty feet wide. After so many years of getting trash dumped on top of them, the brambles were unusually prolific with gnarly root burls.
There is still significant work to do. I still need to condition the soil and groom the adjacent junipers before sowing seed for the warm season vegetables for this summer. Now that I can see that the junipers that were formerly concealed by brambles are worthy of salvage and grooming, I will need to clear a bit more garden space across the road, and cut back a few trees above.
When finished and producing, the garden will not produce enough. The four hundred or so square feet in the main part of the garden should supply enough for two people; but realistically, it would more likely produce enough for me alone, with a bit extra to can for when it is not producing much. There are about a dozen on our crew. They all have families. I need a quarter acre!
The math of it all is frustrating. So is all the work to get it started. It all seems so futile. I know we will appreciate the little bit that we get. I will still get plenty from the weeds that grow wild around the baseball field, so will not take much from the garden.
For now, I try to visualize what the small vegetable garden will look like in production this summer, even if all that I see blooming are the poppies and periwinkle on the outskirts.
This . . . was a ball field. It might eventually be one again. The old backstop at the upper left corner of the picture is almost completely obscured under a thicket of blackberry brambles and a fallen boxelder. It would need to be replaced. So would the decommissioned irrigation system, all the bases, the basepath, the turf . . . and everything else that goes into a functional ball field.
The turf had naturalized and overwhelmed the basepath long before last year. I collected wild mustard, radish and turnip greens from around the perimeter last spring and summer. By the time they were finishing, the blackberries were ready. I got stinging nettle from the bank of Zayante Creek in the background of this picture. Dock is already regenerating off to the far right.
There are naturalized wildflowers here too. I got pictures of perennial pea, purpletop vervain, Saint John’s wort, four o’clock, calla, narcissus, teasel, common thistle and California poppy, all within the perimeter of this ball field. Native trees include Douglas fir, California bay, California buckeye, bigleaf maple, white alder, cottonwood, coast live oak, canyon live oak and redwood.
The ball field looks like the moon now only because a construction company used it as a parking lot for trucks and machinery. We dumped excess soil removed from landscapes on the infield, where it was evenly dispersed by the machinery before it left. A low mound of road debris remains just past the foul line in the background. Firewood gets stocked out of view to the far left.
Restoring this meadow to a ball field would be like starting from scratch. The only salvageable asset is the flat space. Even though turf would be the most substantial feature of a finished ball field, a restoration project will involve more engineering and construction than horticulture.
The seed is not really bad. At least I do not think that it is. It is merely misunderstood. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is simply unidentified. I really do not know what it is. I do not say that very often, especially about seed that I bother to collect to sow elsewhere. I believe that it is of American bellflower, Campanula americana. If not, it is very closely related.
It appeared in part of one of the landscapes at work. Because it looked like some sort of campanula, we left it to see what it would do. It got quite tall, but never started to look like something we did not want to take a chance on. We were rewarded for taking the risk when it bloomed with these elegant spikes of small sky blue flowers. That was a little more than a year or so ago.
No one bothered to deadhead it immediately after bloom. It was only a few plants on the back edge of rather relaxed landscape, so was easy to ignore. By the time the dried floral stalks were noticed and removed, the seed had already been tossed. Consequently, there were many more of them through this last season, both in the same area, and in adjacent parts of the landscape.
In fact, there were too many to ignore when their floral spikes had finished blooming. I deadheaded them myself so that I could collect the dried floral carcasses in a small bucket. Some seed had already been tossed for next year. Nonetheless, there is enough dust-like seed in the bottom of the bucket to share with other landscapes. I intend to sow it just prior to winter storms.
So, this unidentified seed should be an asset to the landscapes.
Compared to extensively bred garden varieties, wild roses are not much to look at. Their tiny flowers do not get much wider than two inches, and may not get much wider than those of blackberry, with only about five petals. Flower color ranges only between pale luminescent white and pale pink. Bloom is typically rather brief in mid spring. Only a few healthy specimens bloom again later.
The main advantage to wild roses is that they are ‘wild’. Once established, they do not need much more water than they get from annual rainfall. Without pruning, canes of larger varieties develop into intimidating thickets that bloom annually. Smaller types stay short, but are intimidatingly thorny nonetheless. The deciduous foliage is not bothered too much by mildew, blackspot or insects.
Some types of wild roses appreciate a bit of pampering that might be offensive to other wild plants and most natives. Winter pruning, occasional summer watering, and perhaps a bit of fertilizer improve bloom. Alternatively, pruning after spring bloom may stimulate a second phase of bloom. Long canes can grow roots where they touch the ground, and grow into new spreading plants.
There were barely enough blue elderberries left this late in the season for the blue elderberry jelly that should have won the blue ribbon at the Harvest Festival. It’s a long story.
After the main supplier of blue elderberries was removed to widen the driveway that it was next to many years ago, I started collecting blue elderberries from other wild shrubs on roadsides about town. At the time, the berries were very abundant. No one else was collecting them, and the doves did not come down to eat them until later in the season.
A friend eventually asked me why I was collecting the berries. I informed him that they could be used just like the black elderberries that grow wild in Eastern North American and Europe. He decided to make wine and booze with them, and payed others for whatever they could harvest. The berries were much more scarce the following season, not because they had been any less prolific, but because others were collecting them as quickly as they ripened. They became comparably scarce elsewhere as well, seemingly since the blue elderberry jelly started winning second place annually at the Harvest Festival. https://tonytomeo.com/2017/10/01/blue-ribbon/
This year, the elderberries were collected faster than I could get them. Even the berries at work that were out of reach of those collecting berries closer to town were taken by the doves who arrived early, and could not get enough to eat around town. Some of my friends insisted that they could find berries for me, but by the time I asked one of the them to do so, it was just too late in the season. She found barely enough for the two half pints of jelly needed to enter into the competition at the Harvest Festival. I was pleased with that much. It would have been all that I needed for my blue ribbon. However . . .
The Jelly and Jam Competition at the Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest Festival was canceled for this year!
That too is a long story. There are not enough entries to make it worth the bother. A few years ago, there were only seven entries, and five were mine (which makes my ‘temporary’ lack of a blue ribbon even more embarrassing)! The competition will resume next year, and it will get more publicity. The Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest Festival is happening right now (until 6:30 this evening), but without the Jelly and Jam Competition.
For now, I made only one pint of elderberry syrup.