Native plants growing freely
To some, luxury is relaxing on a Caribbean island or owning a Hermès Birkin bag; to me luxury was being able to spend a year taking care of my granddaughter. Our days were filled with so many adventures. We had memberships to the Audubon Zoo, Aquarium and Insectarium, Storyland and the Botanical Gardens. But by far our best adventure didn’t involve a membership card. We spent hours wandering the mowed pathways of the fields of wildflowers in City Park at the corner of Roosevelt Mall and Marconi Drive.
The wildflowers started several years ago as a bit of an experiment. “We had used wildflowers in a difficult wet spot on the golf course, and it worked,” says Daniel Preziosi, horticulture manager for New Orleans City Park. “So we thought we’d try it somewhere else.”
The first year they used a general southeast mix but discovered that the Cosmos were really prolific and dominated the display. They now plant only Cosmos.
“They give a big, bright show three or four times a year,” Preziosi says. “For us they give us the biggest bang for the buck.”
A wildflower is defined as one that is native to the area and has not been cultivated or modified by artificial selection or breeding. Lady Bird Johnson, an advocate for wildflowers once said native plants “give us a sense of where we are in this great land of ours.”
Besides their sublime beauty, wildflowers provide food and homes for insects, birds and mammals, and they increase biodiversity. They also help reduce mowing costs, conserve water, protect the soil and save money on fertilizer and pesticides.
If your yard gets a minimum of six to eight hours of sunlight a day, you can plant wildflowers. When done properly, you can transform a portion of your yard into a thing of beauty that will last for years with very little annual maintenance.
“It’s a pretty simple project,” says Preziosi. “Once you’ve selected the site, till it and do your best to get rid of any weeds or grasses. Then sprinkle on the seeds and let Mother Nature do her thing.”
He also suggests starting with a mix suited to Louisiana to see what works best for you in the first year, because every microclimate can be different.
Here are a few other hints: Mix the seed with damp sand, peat moss or vermiculite to help prevent clumping and to provide even distribution.
Rake the seed in lightly being careful not to bury the seed too deeply. Seed should be planted no more than a quarter-inch deep. During germination be sure to keep the soil moist.
Seedling should start to appear in two to three weeks, and you should see your first flowers in about six to 10 weeks.
Here’s a trick I wished I had known before I planted all my seeds: If you aren’t sure what you are looking for, plant some of your seed mix in a container and use that to compare to what grows in the seedbed. Right now, my little green sprouts mightily perplex me – do I have weeds or potentially beautiful wildflowers growing in my small 7th Ward garden?
Fertilizing may produce much more foliage at the expense of your beautiful blooms. Also, fertilizing the first year may encourage more weed growth, which you definitely do not want.
My granddaughter will soon be 4, and her adventures now include wild romps on the playground, games of tag with her friends and helping her Gigi plant wildflowers in her yard.
This a guide to making seed balls for wildflowers and other seeds. They are easy and fun to make with your children:
This site has a detailed guide to growing wildflowers and a comprehensive list of native plants:
This site has an app that will help you help Louisiana document wildflower sightings: louisiana.wildflowersightings.org
And finally, it is well worth your time to explore the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s website. wildflower.org