Wildflowers for the Cultivated Garden

If you see some of California’s wildflowers in the field or at the wildflower show in the Pacific Grove Museum (April 19-21), you just might be inspired to add a few to your own garden. In this column, we offer some thoughts for such a project.

First, the season when wildflowers are in bloom is the time to choose your favorites and begin plans for your garden. The early bloomers are already appearing; wildflower season will continue through about August. Many opportunities exist to spot those that would please your eyes and enhance your home landscape.

When selecting wildflowers for the garden, consider plants that are small, neat and refined, and suitable for the sunny or shady site where you would place them.

Most annual wildflowers grow best in full sun. An early bloomer, Baby Blue-eyes (Nemophila menziesii) is a popular choice for February. Each bowl-shaped blossom has five azure blue petals and a white center with dark blue flecks or streaks from the base. The plant grows about six inches tall.

The blossoms of the related Fivespot (N. maculata) have five white petals, each with a blue-purple spot at the tip. It grows to about twelve inches tall, and blooms in the early spring.

Other good choices for a sunny garden include Baby Lupine (Lupinus nanus), Foothill Poppy (Eschscholzia caespitosa), Canchalagua (Cenaurium venustum), and Wind Poppy (Stylomecon heterophylla). Taller annuals include Desert Bluebells (Phacelia campanularia), Bird’s Eyes (Gilia tricolor), Globe Gilia (Gilia capitata) and Farewell-to-Spring (Clarkia ssp.). You may well find additional wildflowers to enjoy.

California annual wildflowers are best planted from seed. Some garden centers will present some potted seedlings, but mail order nurseries will offer a wider selection and lower prices.

For a bed of about 133 square feet, ¼ to ½ ounce of seeds, depending on size, will be enough. Sources for small inexpensive packets of seeds for specific plants (not mixes) including the following:

  • Larner Seeds, which also offers a $4.00 booklet, “Notes on Growing California Wildflowers”(www.larnerseeds.com)
  • The Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants, which also offers a weekly Wildflower Hotline (www.theodorepayne.org)
  • Seed Hunt, which is located in the Pajaro Valley in the Monterey Bay area (seedhunt.com).

Annual wildflower seeds may be sown at any time before the beginning of the rainy season, i.e., about mid-October. Clear the area of weeds, sow the seeds and rake them in lightly, mostly to make them difficult for birds to find. The seeds will remain dormant during the dry season, and should not be watered at that time. They will germinate naturally when wet with rain.

Several desirable California native wildflowers are perennial plants. We will explore good choices among those plants in this column next week.

1 thought on “Wildflowers for the Cultivated Garden

  1. When I was little, my dad gave me a 6 foot square plot of ground to garden in one year, and I grew a packet of wildflowers, just sprinkled over the ground. I loved how they all grew mixed together like that. Someday we’d like to have enough property that we can devote a whole field just to wildflowers, plus big swaths around the rest of our property and along edges of pastures and things. I think they’re such a good thing, for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife.

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