Gardening April 2019

From Mélie’s Garden

Screen painted by Nancy Spofford Yerkes (Click to enlarge image)

When I was a child spending summers on Fishers Island, I remember fields of wildflowers. The Island was covered with Queen Anne’s Lace, Blue Corn Flowers, and Black Eyed Susan’s. Over the years these wildflowers have started to disappear along with the insects that love them.

I have tried to plant wildflower seeds on my property, but it has not been successful. Wildflower development is a rather complicated process that often needs the assistance of a professional landscaper. A few years ago, in despair, I discussed this with my friend Penelope Maynard, who is an excellent horticulturalist. Pepé suggested that I just dig up a Queen Ann’s Lace plant from the property of a willing donor and plant it in my field. So I found a plant in a friend’s field and transplanted it into mine. The wildflower survived and multiplied and now I have Queen Ann’s Lace in our field!

A year ago, I discovered a new surprise in my pile of gardening catalogs that arrive in the winter. It was from “Prairie Moon Nursery” based in Winona, Minnesota. They offered a wide selection of wildflowers in seed mixtures, bare root plants and “Potted Garden Kits”. I ordered the “Classic Tallgrass Prairie Garden Kit” which was advertised to be “Medium to Tall plants, good for Medium to Dry Soil and Full Sun” which I thought best described my Fishers Island field’s growing conditions. The plants arrived in early June and looked healthy, but too small to just drop into the field without much oversight. So I decided to pot them up in leftover plastic pots. I dug up soil from the field and transplanted the “plugs” into the pots thinking that over the summer the roots would have time to develop and acclimate to our Fisher Island soil.

During July and August, I watered the plants off and on – I didn’t want to nurture them too much because they needed to be tough to survive in our field. The plants grew happily over the summer and in late September, Mario Torres and I transplanted them into our field.  We decided to keep the plants grouped together in one spot creating a sort of test field garden so we could see easily how they would acclimate. We also put a bit of plastic fencing around the bed for extra rabbit protection.

It will be interesting to see this spring how the plants survived the winter. If they seem happy, we will transplant them into the field and hope that they will multiply. The more we all plant wildflowers on the Island the more they will spread. A Black Eyed Susan appeared in one of my flowerbeds last summer. I am sure it was planted by one of the birds that found it on someone else’s property or possibly the rec path. By reintroducing wildflowers to our properties we will be able to feed a wide variety of insects and birds on our Island.

Photo Credit: PrairieMoon.com

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