GardenDishes

dishin' the DIRT on hit and myth landscaping

Wild about Wildflowers, Part 1

Bluebells at Denver Botanic Gardens, where it’s hard to find the ice cream but easy to find the flower.

This week I had great fun with the Ft. Bend Master Gardeners in Rosenberg, Texas. They wanted to hear about one of my plant passions: wildflowers. (I’m sharing a list of my favorite wildflowers at the end of this post, plus a FREE BOOK for a lucky winner!)

Many Americans alive today were not around to remember when wildflowers were called “weeds.” That transformation in thought is a recent developement. (RECENT if you are an old fart, like me.) The Beautification Act of 1965, championed by then 1st lady-Lady Bird Johnson, brought much deserved appreciation for our natural beauties. (Okay, I wasn’t in school yet when LBJ was president, so maybe I’m not THAT old.)

The entry sign at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX.

The entry sign at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX. For more info on the childhood of Lady Bird Johnson, read MISS LADY BIRD’S WILDFLOWERS, by Kathi Appelt with art from Joy Fisher Hein, illustrator of my book, BLOOMIN’ TALES.

For many years, our native wildflowers were sought after as foreign favorites, proven to be hardy additions to European gardens. A prophet in his own land, right? Mrs. Johnson’s love for her Texas roots – and the attached flowers – bloomed into a determination that her fellow Americans were missing the boat. Or at least the wheelbarrow.

So what is a wildflower? “A flower not intentionally planted or seeded,” says Wikipedia. How is that different from a weed? Maybe it’s not. A new friend from Ft. Bend Master Gardeners (thanks, Vic!) says “a weed is a plant that no one has discovered a use for yet.” In my experience, a weed could be a misunderstood wildflower. It’s often a plant that happened to take hold in a spot where it’s unwanted. A wildflower in a flower bed might be okay, but that same plant in the lawn is considered a weed. Why do they seem to thrive in the lawn instead of the well-tended garden? Because most prefer a depleted soil. We take too good of care of them, in other words.

There’s some disagreement on whether a plant should be indigenous to an area to be truly considered a wildflower. Insects, animals, and birds probably prefer dining on natives over foreign plants. Most of us are leery of unknown foods, right? In my book, an INVASIVE plant is always a WEED. Intent on crowding out our native plants, gorgeous flowers lull us into a stupor as they plot to take over the world.

Weed or wildflower, here are 10 of my favorites. Next week I’ll share 10 more easy-to-grow wildflowers.

I’d also like to hear and see some of your favorite wildflowers. Share your wildflower stories and shots with me as a comment here to be in the running for a FREE copy of my children’s book BLOOMIN’ TALES, full of legends telling how some of our wildflowers got their names. And if you are in the Austin area next weekend, the illustrator -Joy Hein- and I will be signing copies on Saturday, April 27th, from 1-4 in the Wildflower Center’s bookstore.

  • fragrant aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)
  • beauty berry (Callicarpa americana)
  • beebalm (Monarda spp.)
  • blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)
  • bluebells (Eustoma exaltatum)
  • blue sage (Salvia farinacea) (Salvia x ‘Indigo Spires’)
  • butterfly weed (Aeslepias tuberosa)
  • cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
  • Hinkley’s columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinkleyana)
  • purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
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5 thoughts on “Wild about Wildflowers, Part 1

  1. Timely post since this question of defining wildflowers has been on my mind as I prepare another post on the wildflowers in my yard. The “not intentionally planted” part is challenging because I have intentionally planted or seeded many of the wildflowers here in my garden. Then there are the perennials like Zexmenia, wildflower or not?

    Fun to see a follow-up on your talk to the MG group.

  2. Hi Cherie, You will be very pleased that the National Garden Bureau has named 2013 the “Year of the Wildflower”. Our website has more details: http://www.ngb.org/year_of/index.cfm?YOID=35

    • Diane, thanks for sharing that info. Will you be having SEED GIVE-AWAYS or anything like that to help spread the news? Be sure to let me know so I can keep my readers in the loop. Okay? c:

  3. cherie–nice post. one of my favorites is black eyed susan—all species of Rudbeckia that grow in East Texas….one that has a special place in my heart is Rudbeckia hirta. When in flower…each flower lasts for such a long time. Visited by some butterflies, seeds eaten by birds in the winter, long lasting cut flowr if you can bear cutting flowers to put in the house.
    diane cabiness aka the plant lady

    • Diane, you can bet black-eyed susans are on my list, too. They’ll be coming up in the next couple of entries. My list of favorite wildflower is a long one and I know YOURS is too. In fact, one of my best photos I’ve taken of them is from your house. You had a little sign that said “Welcome birds” and had them planted around it.BEAUTIFUL!c:

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