Q: I want to have a little patch of wildflowers in my landscape to attract butterflies, but I am afraid my neighbors will complain. Do you have a suggestion for keeping them looking fairly neat?
From a horticultural or garden use point of view, there isn’t a lot of difference between, say, a flowering annual such as zinnia from South America and a coreopsis from North America, or between a perennial daylily from Asia and a purple coneflower from America. Though they differ vastly in growth habit, shape, flower type and origin, they are similar in how they are used in gardens.
So treat native wildflowers like any regular flower, whether in a strip carved out of the lawn, in a bed, or even in a container. Those that spread from runners or seeds may have to be thinned from time to time to keep them in bounds.
Mix with the Familiar
There are some easy ways to work natives into any style garden, or to even get away with a with a full-blown slice of meadow right out in the lawn.
For starters, keep a neat edge to the planting, with perhaps a “mowing strip” of grass to make it look tidier to others, and to help keep some plants from spreading as quickly or easily.
Interplant common garden favorites with the natives. Nothing wrong with including daylilies, gladiolus, iris, yarrow, and some hummingbird-friendly salvias in with the native coneflowers, Phlox, Monarda, Rudbeckia, cardinal flower, Liatris, and perennial natives sunflowers. In fact, it will look more like a real garden if you include all those together anyway.
And include semi-woody plants such as the native soft-tip yucca and some ornamental grasses for a very naturalistic effect. Consider adding a small shrub rose as well.
Accessorizing Works Wonders
No good garden, whether formal, contemporary, suburban or naturalistic, will fail to have “hard” features that interpret the area. Mulched or paved walks, low fencing, a gate, an arbor: These are hallmarks of good gardens, and lend credibility to native plants as well.
Be sure to add butterfly- and hummingbird-friendly native vines to an arbor or rustic post. Great ones to start with would be Carolina Jessamine, trumpet creeper, coral honeysuckle, and crossvine (the one named ‘Tangerine Beauty‘ is my favorite for its non-stop flowers).
For an instant visual interpretation for both you and your neighbors, include artwork. It could be something as simple as an old wagon wheel, or a large boulder. Could be a series of birdhouses, a bird bath, or even a sculpture.
Just as adding Chinese or Japanese stone lanterns to a quiet spot can create an Asian look, having a big piece of driftwood, some split rain fence, or a large boulder can create an acceptable naturalistic scene that will interpret the area to folks who may not otherwise understand.
Finally, go to the National Wildlife Federation website (www.nwf.org) and apply for a “Wildlife Habitat” designation for your garden. Place the sign in a prominent spot for your neighbors to see that you are doing all this on purpose - not just letting the yard go to weeds.
Gardening expert and certified wit Felder
Rushing answers your questions and lays down some green-wisdom. You can
get more of your Felder fix at www.slowgardening.net.