Wherever you go, it is important to slow down and allow yourself to notice what is around you. Although walking is the best way, road trips are also good, but whizzing by in a car makes it difficult to focus on interesting things.
On a couple of recent trips to Minnesota, I was impressed by the colorful wildflowers along the way. Some of the ditches in the Perham area were full of baby's-breath and along the road to Fertile, it was almost as if the wildflowers had been planted. Tall sky-blue daisy shaped flowers, white spikes, yellow black-eyed Susan and prairie coneflowers, plus many purple blossoms lined the road for miles. If we had gone by a lake, we probably would have seen white water lilies.
Closer to home, large swaths of a low growing yellow flower blanket many areas. I picked a few stems to get a closer look and found two different types of flowers. One is almost like a little snapdragon. I pass little white asters growing near the sidewalks on my daily walk. I even enjoy the curly dock, cattails and goldenrod that I see in fields and ditches.
These are just some of the flowers we see in late summer and fall, but there is another selection of flowers in spring and early summer. I have given up trying to pull all of the little blue violets that grow in my beds and just enjoy them, although I do try to control their spread. The white windflower, Anemone sylvestris is a pretty spring bloomer. Even dandelions are pretty after a long grey winter and before they go to seed.
Each region of the country has its own indigenous flowers, but many have naturalized far beyond their native ranges. Everyone can appreciate the beauty of Minnesota's state flower, the showy Lady's Slipper. In North Dakota, we can find the Prairie Fringed Orchid in low native grassland found in Cass, Richland and Ransom counties. The lavender-blue Pasque flower is the state flower of South Dakota, but it is commonly found in sunny spots in North Dakota and is often called a crocus. The beautiful wild rose is the state flower of North Dakota.
Wildflowers can be annual, perennial or biennial. Annuals perpetuate themselves by re-seeding or self-sowing and some seeds are dispersed in the wind or carried by wildlife and birds. Perennials flower and set seed, but survive with their roots over winter. Biennials take two years to complete their life cycle. The first year they produce only foliage and the second year they flower and set seed.
Wildflower meadows and gardens can be beautiful, but if you would like to grow a wildflower garden, it is not necessary to have a large field. You can designate a small area of your yard as a wildflower plot. My neighbor uses the space between his backyard fence and the alley to grow many wildflowers. He has butterfly weed, baby's-breath,
prairie coneflower, and blue flax to name a few. In a shady area, ferns, wild ginger and Solomon's seal have colonized.
A wildflower garden does not have to be an unruly display that irritates your neighbors. Use the basic principles of form, scale, color and texture to design your garden in relation to the rest of your yard. Note when each flower will bloom, its height and its flower and leaf color. Try to copy plant combinations that occur in nature, such as coneflowers, Liatris and grasses.
Many flowers that we do grow in our gardens are actually wildflowers, although most have been cultivated or bred by plantsmen and are showier than their parents. In July to mid-August, large clumps of red-hued Monarda (Beebalm) strut their stuff in beds and borders. Monarda likes sunlight and moist soil and becomes scraggly in dry or shady conditions. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) flower profusely in June and July and sporadically until frost. This sun-lover has both annual and perennial forms and often reseeds. Blanket flower (Gaillardia) thrives in heat, drought and poor soil. It is one of the easiest wildflowers to grow from seed.
Butterfly weed (Asclepias) stays in bounds at a tidy three feet and its orange, pink or white flowers attract butterflies. Monarchs lay their eggs on the leaves, which are the major food source for the larvae. Coneflowers, both purple (Echinacea) and yellow (Ratibida) are very showy in the garden and make good longlasting cut flowers. Plant them in a sunny area along with Coreopsis, Black-eyed Susan and Liatris. Instead of the non-native purple loosestrife (Lythrum), we are encouraged to plant Liatris, which is about the same height and color. Lythrum is spreading to natural wet areas and choking out the native habitat, while having no benefit to wildlife. Tall phlox is another native plant to replace Lythrum and it blooms at the same time of year with a wide selection of colors.
For late blooming flowers, asters and goldenrod are good choices. Perennial asters have pink, blue, violet, purple or white daisy-like flowers that come in both tall and short forms. Tall asters may need some support and they should be divided every few years. Plant goldenrod toward the back of the sunny border where their showy arching plumes will attract butterflies. They are not the cause of hay fever; the culprit is ragweed, which blooms at the same time and looks similar.
Spring bloomers are often found in the shady areas of our yards. Perennial Columbine (Aquilegia) is found throughout the continent and is loved by butterflies and bees for their nectar. Grow them in a woodland planting or in a rock garden and keep them well watered. Bleeding hearts can't be beat in your shady or woodland areas. Coralbells (Heuchera) are native to moist shady areas, but in our area, they will do well or even better in full sun. There is a wide assortment of leaf colors available and they are often more attractive than the flowers. Primroses, such as Ozark sundrops (Oenothera) grow well in partial shade as well as sunny areas. Perennial geraniums like partial shade or sun and they have handsome foliage on mounded or spreading plants with masses of pretty flowers. I love the Virginia bluebells that contrast sky-blue against yellow daffodils in my spring garden. They die back and disappear in the summer, but are soon covered with fern fronds.
This is only a taste of the wildflowers for our area. A recent Internet check for North Dakota wildflowers gave a list of hundreds. Purchase wildflowers only from nurseries that propagate the plants that they sell. Do not buy plants from sellers that collect from the wild or collect any yourself. Nature is for everyone to enjoy.