My New Wildflower Patch

05/30/02 12:00AM By Charlie Nardozzi
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I was fortunate to spend some time away last fall in India. While I was meditating, hiking and traveling, we had a little "episode" at our house back in Hinesburg. Our leach field failed and by fall, contractors moved in to replace it.

When I returned this winter the area was all covered in snow. I didn't think much about it until spring, when the melting snow revealed a 1500 square foot moonscape where lawn, herb and flower gardens used to reside.

After some discussion with my wife, Barbara, we decided to plant a wildflower meadow in most of this desolate area. Why wildflowers? Wasn't that an 80's thing? Well, the "wildflower in a can" fad may have faded but growing wildflowers is still a good idea. They not only require little care, they create season-long color and habitat to boot. Now, instead of a buying a prepackaged wildflower mix, Barbara made our own from selected perennial and annual wildflowers and some medicinal herb plants. She selected traditional wildflowers such as Black-eyed Susans and Dames' Rocket and some personal favorites such as lemon mint and chichory. Plus, she mixed in medicine plants such as Echinacea and Elecampane.

Wildflowers are perfect for our backyard, because they perform best on poor soil. In fact as a testament to their toughness, some of the wildflower plants from Barbara's old gardens in that location such as yarrow and tansy are making a comeback. It's not that wildflowers don't like rich soil, but many grasses and undesirable weeds are more apt to move in and crowd them out in a fertile bed than in a marginal one. I raked out a 600 square foot section in the middle of the moonscape; the rest of the area will be in lawn and shrubs. Then, I let it sit for a few weeks so any annual weed seeds would germinate. Then I raked it a second time to kill those seedlings and got ready to plant. Barbara broadcasted three ounces of seed on the area, lightly raked them in and waited for rain.

Even though wildflower meadows are low maintenance, they're not "no maintenance." We may have to do some hand weeding of grasses and weeds that move in before the perennial wildflowers take over and to help along the annual wildflowers that will bloom this summer. Annuals such as red poppies and baby's breath provide splashes of color while the perennials are getting established. Come fall we'll mow it all down and let it grow back in spring. By next year we should have a beautiful display of Echinacea, asters, lupines, and other perennials and we'll probably spot sow more annuals next spring for more color. With little yearly care, these wildflowers and medicinal plants will fill in and create a naturalistic and beautiful backyard oasis where we can relax with the bugs, butterflies, and birds.

This is Charlie Nardozzi from Hinesburg.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a special fondness for tomatoes and roses.
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