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Let’s Plant – It’s National Gardening Day!

Today is National Gardening Day and I thought what better time to address a question we frequently hear here at Little Red Wagon Native Nursery. Namely, “What wildflowers will look good in my garden?”

But first, what exactly is a wildflower? According to Joan Barker’s book A Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers of North America, “Wildflowers are flowering plants that grow naturally in the wild — and not just in the open countryside but also in the most urban areas, on vacant lots and cracks in the sidewalk.” The Florida Native Plant Society provides a more specific native plant perspective: Florida’s native wildflowers are those that occurred in Florida prior to the arrival of Europeans. In his book, Native Wildflowers and Other Ground Covers for Florida Landscapes, local ecologist Craig Huegel notes that Florida has over 1,500 species of native wildflowers.

Aesthetic use of Florida natives in your gardens requires consideration of a number of design principles in addition to the plant’s characteristics (e.g., soil, sun, precipitation, drainage, etc.) that should be considered in every landscape.

Today, I’m going to focus on two design principles: structure and color.

I remember reading an article in the Chicago Tribune that described garden structure. It stuck with me and I refer to it over and over again: quite simply, “Structure conveys information about how the garden should be used.”

Thus, before beginning your garden design and selecting plants, you should answer several questions that relate to how your garden will be used. For instance:

  1. What is the purpose of your garden? Do you want a meadow that will provide a bounty of cut flowers throughout the growing season? A mass of plantings to screen you from your neighbors? An alternative to turf so you can reduce or eliminate mowing? Or perhaps you own a business and want a more attractive entry to entice new customers to stop by?

  2. How formal (or informal) a garden do you want?

  3. What is the desired effect of your garden? For instance, do you want a mediation garden that calms and soothes? Or, do you want a garden that shouts with joy and exuberance?

  4. How large a garden do you want?

Some of your answers will immediately inform your color palette. For instance, meditative gardens typically incorporate cool, calming colors in the blue-green-white range. True red flowers instill a heightened sense of energy and might be appropriate to welcome people to a corporate enterprise. A yellow-orange-red combination might be appropriate if you want a garden with a kaleidoscope of joyful colors in your yard.

So, how does this all come together in your garden? The function of your garden informs your color palette. This color palette will then influence your plant palette. Noted Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf states that when designing a garden, he uses a combination of “filler” plants (with a short blooming season) and “structure” plants (with long-lasting, strong visual interest such as grasses and repeat bloomers) using a ratio of 30% fillers to 70% structure plants. Here in Tampa, a great example of a filler plant is clasping aster (Symphyotrichum adnatum), which typically blooms for about a month in late fall and is not really noticeable during the rest of the year. Great examples of structure plants include some of our native grasses like Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) and Elliott’s lovegrass (Eragrostis elliottii) and perennials like spiked blazing-star (Liatris spicata).

So, back to the question that started this blog. “What wildflowers will look good in my garden?”

As unsatisfactory as this answer might be, it all depends. For a meadow-like look and feel, a great combination would include black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), blazing star (Liatris gracilis), some milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), Florida paintbrush (Carphephorus corymbosus), some ironweeds (Vernonia spp.) and some native grasses. A meditative garden might include some forked blue-curls (Trichostema dichotomum), lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata), Maypop (Passiflora incarnata), skullcap (Scutellaria spp.), coontie (Zamia integrifolia) and some of our native ferns.

Why not stop by Little Red Wagon Native Nursery and let us help you select the right plants to meet your gardening goals? We’re open Tuesday-Friday from 11:00 am - 5:30 pm; Saturday from 10 am - 5:30 pm and on Sunday from noon-4 pm.

Hope to see you soon!