Posted by: Dennis Hinkamp on Aug 1, 2006

Add Something Wild to Your Landscape

Writer: Julene Reese, 435-760-9302 Contact: Jerry Goodspeed, 801-392-8908

Wildflowers in the Landscape

The dictionary defines “wild” as “occurring, growing or living in a natural state; not domesticated or cultivated.”

Some flowers are considered wild, according to Jerry Goodspeed, Utah State University Extension horticulturist. After visiting wildflower sites, admirers often ask how they can recreate this beauty in their own landscape.

“To succeed in planning a wildflower landscape, think like Mother Nature and design like she would,” he said. “Most home gardeners tend to control or over-organize flowerbeds. Mother Nature creates a natural flow, which is more relaxed and peaceful, and definitely not formal. Although this look may appear completely unorganized, in reality, it does have a pattern.”

When designing a natural-looking flowerbed, keep the basics in mind, said Goodspeed. First, there are no hard, fast rules. It should be more relaxed and free-flowing than a formal design, but that does not mean you simply throw seeds around the backyard and let them grow.

“One thing that is distinctive about wildflower meadows is that plants are typically clustered in a random pattern,” he said. “Consider how a wildflower meadow evolves. A seed lands in a meadow and grows. The majority of seeds produced by that plant fall to the ground close by, creating a cluster of flowers around the original plant. A few seeds may be carried to other locations by the wind, water or animals, which distribute them throughout the meadow, allowing each variety to create its own small cluster of plants. If several plants disperse seeds in the same way, a grouped but random pattern develops. Of course, many of these clusters overlap, resulting in stronger colors in various areas.”

Shapes and sizes have very little to do with where the plants grow, Goodspeed said. Shorter flowers often hide among larger ones, creating a three-dimensional look and adding depth and interest. A naturalized area does not have all short plants in the front and tall ones in the back. Varied heights produce a natural look.

“Another thing Mother Nature is noted for is throwing in an occasional tree, shrub, rock or log,” he said. “She’s not big on statues, orbs, bird baths or pink flamingos, and her rocks and trees are randomly placed. Another critical aspect of creating a naturalized area is to select the proper plants. Pruned hedges or dwarf Alberta spruce are never part of Mother Nature’s designs. And, although many of the plants she uses are not adaptable to our home landscapes, several of their cousins look quite colorful and fairly authentic.”

Flowers that are well-suited for this type of landscape include columbine, hardy geranium, penstemon, primrose, harebell, lupine, flax, poppies and coral bells, said Goodspeed. Keep in mind that many of these flowers reseed, which makes for a very nice meadow, but it also creates work when it comes time for removal as things grow out of control.

One common myth associated with naturalized wildflower areas is that they require little or no maintenance, he said. In a home landscape, weeds always invade, and aggressive wildflowers encroach on the growing space of others. This type of landscape requires weeding and reseeding or the re-introduction of new plants every year.

“The best method for gleaning ideas for a wildflower design is to spend time in the mountains enjoying and observing Mother Nature’s flowerbeds,” he concluded. “July and early August are the ideal time to walk through the canyons and mountains to get a feel for her handiwork.”

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