With plant seeds now being around for roughly 365 million years – beginning about the time life first crawled out of the ocean to give dry land a try—my steady reluctance to cast native wildflower seeds on the ground to create a lovely patch of color in our yard did seem a little silly.
I’d had some experience in random seed-tossing. I’ve started grass in a few dozen lawns, helped create cover-crop gardens and sowed a few wild oats in my youth, although the latter wasn’t necessarily horticultural.
I’d read often about the unlikely success of casually sowing seed and hoping for a miracle. The evidence was overwhelming. And I had become so used to purchasing over-priced native plants in small containers, digging a hole and mothering my new babies, I couldn’t break the habit.
I’d seen a hand full of lovely tossed-flower-seed gardens.
I swear to it.
Cultivate. Plant in rows. Hoe. Hoe. Hoe.
That changed last year after my wife and I closed down our commercial nursery. I was blessed with a roughly 15 by 40-foot patch of sunny ground that once had displayed container plants buried in compost.
Its base had been a thin layer of gravel. No weeds had broken through the compost, which had rotted into the soil. There it was: Wildflower Land! Deep, rich, gravely, sunny, well-drained soil with few weed seeds.
So last spring I was off in search of alleged native wildflower seed packets, which, as the purists will remind you, are not all necessarily God-Derived Native Flowers. But the seed-packet promises were good enough; Siberian wallflower, shasta daisy, sweet william, foxglove, coneflower, candytuft, gayfeather, black-eyed susan, coreopsis, Mexican hat, Maltese cross and yes, perennial lupines, which I had never had a bit of luck with growing in small, overpriced containers. All that in a handful of seeds.
A little over a year ago I cast those seeds upon my rich, gravely, relatively clean soil and monitored the watering from either hose or heaven while still not quite believing much would come of it.
I watched and waited, and then waited and watched. In about six weeks a thick, green, irregular fuzz coated the soil, most of which I took to be weeds. In another 10 days, or so, some spikey green stems rose above the fuzz. In another few weeks, FLOWERS!
I recognized a few of them; wallflower, daisy, coneflower, coreopsis and maybe gayfeather. Not sure of even that. I’m still more of a woody-plants kind of guy.
The patch was a joy, a fine place to walk by on the way to the old greenhouse with its more needy, sheltered, problematic plants. The wildflowers bloomed for months. Frost followed. The new flowers were allowed to go to seed.
Part of me still did not believe they would return this spring—although the literature on tossed-seed-gardens insisted some of those seeds would not even bloom that first year; just wait until the second.
I waited, my skepticism badly damaged. Optimism creeping in, I did what any normal gardener would do. I went out and bought three more huge wildflower-seed packets to spread across the original garden area that hadn’t been fully seeded the first time. Come the first warm days this April, I cast all those new seeds upon my deep, rich, gravely, sunny, well-drained and already productive soil.
I watched and waited, then waited and watched—again. Happiness ensued. The fallen seeds from last year’s plants erupted in new flowers – brilliant yellow coreopsis leading the way but with sweet william and candytuft and others chiming in.
The seeds planted this spring are showing their 2021 green fuzz, their spikey stalks on their way to becoming…. well…. I’m not sure…. time will tell. Meanwhile, that 15 by 40-foot area is already a stunning show-stopper, the most fun I’ve had in gardening in at least two weeks.
I’m not sure how long this flowering bonanza will continue. I don’t know if I am dealing with newly created plants, annuals, biennials or just old seeds going to work as the new ones begin to crank up.
Believing is important. Part of my research said a woman got a plant to grow from a 2,000-year-old date seed, so what’s a few months? I’ve also now decided to toss some poppy seeds into the patch this fall – and maybe some more lupines. The lupines have failed so far. Third time’s the charm?
I’m still in basic Wildflower Seeds 101 here. Clearly my 2021 plants are too thick in some places and too thin in others, but I’m going to just keep watching, let them fight it out. And water when needed. You really are never too old to learn something new about gardening. Seeds already have a nearly 365-million-year head start on me. You’ve still got plenty of time.
Always tell myself seeds want to grow. Nothing more exciting than seeing them pop up. Your garden has made you a new self sow convert
I’m doing the same for three years on an unused part of my gravel driveway, without the nice compost. Poppies, Mexican Sunflower, lychnis, and nigella are the repeating annuals – only one of these being native (sort of). Meanwhile, amsonia hubrchtii, coneflowers, ratibida, and various asters and rudbeckias are colonizing in the area closest to former lawn. I’ve though of relenting and giving the area a little nice soil.
Its beautiful and inspiring, Bob.
Here in dry, rocky northern Nevada I had the same scepticism as you about sowing wildflower seeds, so many I’ve seen are for northern California, very different. I bought one packet from a reputable local native plant guy. Comstock Seeds. He gathers seeds in the desert with his band of merry men ,I’ve seen them above my house, though I doubt all of mine came from a gather in sagebrush country.
Anyway it took a couple years of the right winter moisture I guess, but now the little packet has matured into blanket flower, coreopsis, Palmer’s Penstamen, California poppy, some kind of blacked-eyed susan, monarda (prob. not native), and this year for the first time, a single arrowleaf balsam root plant.
And, a bit off topic, when we bought this 2 acre property 30 years ago it was nude of plants in some pastures from too many horses grazing. I bought a big burlap bag of wild seed from Ed, the Comstock guy, and heavily sowed one pasture with the seed. What a joy it has been to watch some plants naturalize, others come and go, others like the species sunflower move itself to places near the house where they get more water.
I am not a purist, but find growing native plants so satisfying. And our state plant nursery now primarily grows natives and is just up the road from us. Lucky me
I much enjoyed your enjoyment. Thanks for the inspiration.