Wildflower Meadow – Two Years On

I never did an updated post on the wildflower meadow. In its third year I think I’ll call it a success, though a qualified one.

Plains coreopsis dominated the meadow last summer

The seed mix I planted included anise hyssop, wild bergamot, two varieties of aster, a goldenrod, boneset, lupine, blue false indigo, milkweed, coreopsis, spiderwort, ironweed, partridge pea, beardtongue, brown-eyed susan and grasses. So far, I’ve only found wild bergamot, boneset, partridge pea and brown-eyed susan, so not a very high success rate.

However, the first rule for a new wildflower meadow is to clear it of weeds, and I totally skipped that step. So we have a meadow with lots of intentionally planted native wildflowers, but plenty of weeds as well. Luckily there is only one truly nasty weed in there – Black Swallow-wort. This is an invasive vine that will attract monarch butterflies to lay their eggs, but the caterpillars will not survive on the plant. Luckily we have only a few small patches – I removed one patch last year, but missed a second patch that I just tackled last week. Hopefully I was successful and won’t be able to post any future photos.

The rest of the weeds (or volunteers?) include tufted vetch, ox-eye daisy, and several species of clover. So far I’ve identified rabbit-foot clover, hop clover and white sweet clover in addition to the common red clover I was already familiar with. Other than the white sweet clover, which apparently can be an aggressive spreader, all of these plants seem to be very attractive to our local bees so I’m leaving them alone.

Tufted Vetch
White Sweet Clover – a very tall clover that grows up to 8 feet

Other than the gorgeous plains coreopsis in the first photo, which unfortunately is an annual, the biggest success last year was wild bergamot, which bloomed in great profusion in late July, and common evening primrose. The latter plant wasn’t included in the seed mix I purchased, but must have been a substitution for one of the other species.

Wild bergamot (monarda fistulosa)
Common evening primrose – not the most beautiful plant, but the goldfinch love it

This year the wild bergamot is clearly dominant in terms of plant numbers, but until it blooms the meadow is a pretty subdued mix of white from ox-eye daisy and daisy fleabane, and spots of purple and yellow from tufted vetch and hop clover. Sadly I can’t find any sign that the plains coreopsis re-seeded itself last year, and I also haven’t seen any primrose yet.

So should I have cleared the site of weeds? Absolutely. Was I too overwhelmed from moving in, commuting to Boston for work, and dealing with construction on the house to bother? Absolutely! So I would still call this meadow a success. After all, we have phoebes and house wrens that hunt in the meadow daily for insects to feed their nestlings. That works for me.


New front garden

I put in a new front garden this summer to replace some of our lawn. My goals were to plant native shrubs and wildflowers that would attract pollinators and birds, and beautify the yard as well.

After planning the garden on paper, and ordering a load of way too much compost, I prepared the garden bed by outlining the garden with a hose and laying down cardboard on the grass, and watered the cardboard until thoroughly wet. I then covered the cardboard with about two inches of compost. When I planted about two weeks later it was easy to cut through the turf and cardboard, which had already softened. If I had planned further ahead I may have left it longer to more thoroughly kill the grass and weeds underneath.

New garden bed to the left, compost pile under blue tarp. The crabapple is beautiful blooming behind the Japanese maple. These two are non-natives which get to stay.

My first purchases were bargains from a native plant sale in May. I planted  lowbush blueberry, boneset, wild bergamot, a summersweet clethra, a winterberry, wild strawberry, blue-eyed grass and butterfly weed. The garden looks a little pitiful after the initial planting on May 18:

Gardens always look better with a layer of mulch, however sparsely planted! We were lucky to have a big pile of mulch from trees cleared for our septic:

I’ve added more plants here, such as Viburnum Nudum ‘Brandywine,’ Obedient plant, swamp or rose milkweed, more summersweet clethra and winterberry, and New Jersey Tea:

I purchased soaker hoses and coiled them around the new garden:

Can you spot someone making himself at home in the mulch? I was very happy to see him. He is well camouflaged towards the lower left:

He was less happy to see me:

I think the garden was more or less complete by the date of this photo in late June. I added some tall perennials at the back to fill in while the shrubs grow – Joe Pye Weed and garden phlox, as well as mixing in some beardtongue ‘Huskers Red’ and switchgrass for contrast, and cranesbill geranium for blooms:

This is butterfly weed, asclepias tuberosa, easily my new favorite garden plant. It started blooming in early July and then just kept going:

The cranesbill geranium ‘Rozanne’ bloomed practically all summer:

This is the beautiful summersweet clethra ‘Hummingbird,’ a dwarf variety of the species that will grow 2-4′. The species can be seen in the background – less showy but it will be 6′.

I don’t know if this butterfly weed will make it – it never looked very good:

One of many early visitors:

Rose milkweed just before blooming:

The garden phlox took off immediately, attracting a good number of butterflies:

This is a grouping of New Jersey Tea and butterfly weed, which were supposed to bloom together and to bloom when very little else is blooming. I’ll reserve my judgment until next year for the New Jersey Tea. Behind the New Jersey tea is the viburnum nudum ‘Brandywine’ to the right, and the boneset to the left.

Summersweet clethra – the species on the left is in full bloom, and apparently peaks a little later than ‘Hummingbird’:

The rose milkweed was very leggy but made up for it with beautiful foliage and blooms. The bumblebees liked them too! I may put in some plant cages to help them stand up next year:

The blooms of this summersweet ‘Ruby Spice’ are pink, but not as showy as Hummingbird. I’ll reserve my judgement until next year:

The boneset was extremely popular with the pollinators:

You can see how tall the boneset is in this photo – it is way in the background behind the garden phlox. I love it but it may be too big for this garden – I do have another spot for it, and may move it next spring. Also in this photo, taken in late August, the summersweet is past peak but still very pretty, and butterfly weed is still blooming!

As if you needed more incentive to plant rose milkweed:

Future wildflower meadow

Our first order of business at the dome was planting the new septic field with wildflowers. My goal was to plant native grasses and wildflowers that would attract and sustain pollinators. I made the mistake of skipping topsoil, so we started with this inhospitable field:

Septic ready for planting?

Yes, I should have cleared out all of the rocks, roots and stems!

For seed I selected the Northeastern Pollinator Conservation Seed Mix sold by Ernst Conservation Seeds  produced in collaboration with the Xerces Society for Invertibrate Conservation

I spent a lot of time trying to match the new seedlings to online photos of the seeds we planted. Luckily a neighbor helped me identify our most enthusiastic crop, native staghorn sumac:

Healthy crop of Staghorn Sumac

I have spent a substantial amount of time weeding out the sumac, and have managed to weed about 1/2 of the meadow. I’ll keep weeding until the ground freezes.

Saving the Common Milkweed

With few native wildflowers blooming when we moved in, I was determined to save a small patch of common milkweed. We surrounded the patch with some big plastic cylinders left by the previous owner, and the contractors… rolled the tubes out of the way and flattened the milkweed patch.

Common Milkweed patch, with caution tape

We added the caution tape, which seemed to be more effective. The granite blocks are propping up the plants flattened by the tubes. Oh well, they survived!

Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca