This year I replaced an 800-square-foot area of sun-bleached front yard with wildflowers, and it has been a lot of fun and very rewarding. I’ve even learned from my mistakes (I think.) I was amazed to discover how simple the process was–all I needed was an action hoe, some elbow grease, some wildflower seed, and a water hose. Providing the elbow grease can be a problem for me, as I tire easily. So I had to chip away at the project a few square feet at a time. (Better add planning and patience to the list of requirements.) Since I started prepping the area in November of 2013, that gave me plenty of time to gradually clear the ground and sow the seed.
I’ve been rewarded with striking displays of color, an unusual array of bugs and butterflies, more photo ops than you can count, a closer relationship with my neighbors, and even a request from a professional photographer who wanted to walk through the garden and do a photo shoot. And wildflowers re-sow easily, so I’m already looking forward to next year!
Here’s the slideshow with before-and-after pictures as well as intermediate steps in the process.
East side of front yard in July 2013, before conversion to wildflower garden: nothing but bleached-out Bermuda grass and sand burs.
East side of front yard in July 2014, after conversion to wildflower area and rows of field peas.
November 2013 - clearing area for wildflower garden. Soil surface has been scraped clean with an action hoe; gridlines for rows have been marked off with the point of a shovel.
June 2014 - Wildflower Garden in Full Bloom - Gloriosa Daisies, horsemint, and clasping coneflowers blanket an area that was once scalped, withering Bermuda grass and sand burs.
Action Hoe: The Magic Wildflower Implement. To prep the areas prior to sowing wildflower seed, the soil surface was scraped clean with an action hoe. No digging required; all that is needed is seed-to-soil contact.
Late April 2014. A smattering of bluebonnets and Some corn poppies: the bluebonnets did not fill in solid, which was disappointing. Everyone tells me it takes 2 years to get good coverage.
May 2014 - Young Sunflower Plants in Row 6. Sunflowers planted in the wildflower garden's back row are still about a month away from blooming.
End of May 2014 - Surrounded by Spring. It's a beautiful time to just sit in the middle of the garden, where clasping coneflowers and horsemint predominate and the gloriosa daisies are making an appearance.
Mid June 2014 - The Back-Row Sunflowers Join In. Rows three through six have filled in nicely with gloriosa daisies, cosmos, more horsemint, Firecracker sunflowers, and common sunflowers.
I live on a hill covered with bad clay, and have read that a whole lot of work must be put into soil amendment to grow anything in it. That’s not necessarily true; field peas and wildflowers will grow in anything, even if mixed in with a lot of weeds and grass. As for growing anything else, I like to think I’ve been given an endless supply of in-ground clay planters. I dig out sections of clay about eight inches deep, a foot wide, and three or four feet long; add several inches of water, then fill with a mixture of potting mix and peat moss, as well as adding a buried fertilizer strip (reminiscent of planting an EarthBox). I add my plants, keep them watered, and they grow like crazy. I also use my bad clay as a sculpting medium; with it, I shape “pseudo-terraces” shored up with paving stones set in a clay channel. The stones dry in place, giving me terraces that help with the conservation and channeling of water. Here’s the slideshow showing how I do it:
I rescued several wild sunflowers on the fourth of July from their death camp: a construction site that had been bulldozed for the building of yet another strip mall. I had pulled up several more of them the previous week for transplant, but there was a huge hill of fill dirt covered with hundreds of sunflowers that I couldn’t save. When I came back ten days after my initial rescue, the hill had been flattened and all the sunflowers destroyed. There were a few survivors around a storm drain that the bulldozer could not reach, and I pulled up four of them. That’s the good thing about wild sunflowers; they are exceptionally tough. I simply yanked them out of the ground. The roots are so strong that they retained a lot of their native soil for a root ball. When I transplanted them to row five of my wildflower garden, I just dug holes slightly larger than the plants’ root balls, filled the holes halfway with water, set the plant in the ground, and filled the dirt back in. In less than a week, it was impossible to tell the plants had ever been moved, and some of them were blooming! That’s about as close to an instant wildflower garden as you can get; the plants were three to four feet tall already, did not have to be cut back, and the existing buds remained viable and bloomed as they normally would. Absolutely awesome!