Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Wildflower By Any Other Name...

I recently finished a three-Wednesday course in perennial gardening. I have to keep reminding myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and to resist the urge to attempt a massive overhaul of our yard.

We at the 30 Acre Wood do our best to keep things easy, natural and low maintenance. This seems to fly right in the face of our homestead motto, "We Take the Path of Most Resistance." If a project might be difficult, let’s see how much harder we can make it to get the same results.

My beloved husband hates, hates, HATES to mow grass. So in his inaugural year at the house, he rototilled the entire yard - front, back and sides - and threw down wildflower seed. I need to have some law and order, so I mowed one-pass wide paths from the back door to the barn, to the compost pile, to the garden, etc., something that took me a total of 10 minutes to do every couple of weeks and looked way cool.

The first couple of years, the flowers were outstanding. The three blooming seasons each had their own color pallette and scheme, and an abundance of flowers and species that I tried hard to identify. Unfortunately for me, this is one area that my brain just doesn’t seem to retain information. I could I.D. a few - foxglove, sweet william, coneflower. With each year, we had a few different things - the annuals from the first year came back a little from their own reseeding schedule, and the perennials did their thing for the most part. The grass that really didn’t make much of an effort to be a part of the scene when Larry first bought the house now suddenly wanted to stake claim to the yard. We retilled and reseeded a few areas.

Then last year, a lot of the same looking type of plant started coming up - EVERYWHERE. I am forever worried about pulling up a suspect weed - what is it, really? is it a flower? is it a weed? they all look alike! should I pull it? should I leave it? AARRGGHH!! - so I left things alone and keep an eye on it.
It was goldenrod. Tall, invasive, flash in the pan goldenrod. Everywhere. This was not the look we were going for.

What the wildflower seed companies dont tell you (and geesh, I wish they would) is that to keep this idea going strong, you need to retill and reseed every three years or so. Now, to me, this goes against the whole point of doing this in the first place. It is not maintenance free. And unless you live in a flat, rock-free environment (and our 30 acres are neither), rototilling an entire yard with a elderly and cranky rototiller is, as Larry puts it, like riding a bucking bronco.

So last year I started thinking about sticking some perennials in strategic places. I checked out some brightly colored and promising looking books from the library to educate myself. Unfortunately, I suffer from "analysis paralysis" in several areas of my life and this proved no different. When I saw the perennial class, taught by local perennial guru Kerry Mendez, offered in the local college flyer, I jumped on it. Her approach to flower beds is low maintenance, easy, and if it’s a fussy plant, out it goes. I could relate to that philosophy. I gained a wealth of information and, while I still feel a little overwhelmed, I am no longer catatonic. On Saturday I mapped and graphed and colored and put sticky notes in catalogs. I stood in my yard and looked at where the sun was at various points in the day. I plotted and planned.

The goal will be to still do quite a bit with a renewed wildflower seeding, but I have a few areas where I'll attempt to bring some rustic class and style to the yard, a little bit at a time. The goldenrod will never see it coming.

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