Local News

Wildflowers in a Pandemic

Over the years I have gotten seeds of California native wildflowers from native plant sales, mail order sources, and friends. Now tidy tips, arroyo lupine, desert bluebells, California poppies, wind poppies, Dudley’s clarkia, bird’s eye gilia, and chia have “naturalized” in my garden, coming up reliably every year without my having to plant the seeds again. They are “annuals,” which means they complete their life cycles within a yearl, coming up with the late fall and winter rains, blooming at various times in spring, and  leaving their seeds on the ground when they die, to repeat the whole process the following year—a clever adaptation to our Mediterranean climate of dry summers/wet winters.

Bird’s Eye Gilia and Tidy Tips

I don’t have to water them; they can survive on rainfall alone even in dry years. Most of the work with this type of gardening involves thinning out unwanted wildflower seedlings (for example, in paths where you may trip on them) and pulling up weeds. Weeding is a challenge because you have to be able to tell weed seedlings from wildflower seedlings. Over time this gets easier. I do not amend the soil or fertilize the wildflowers. If I am trying a species I have not planted before, I sow the seeds in late fall, “roughing up” the soil a little bit with a rake before scattering them.

Never have my wildflowers looked so beautiful or been so welcome as during this recent tense spring, making  stay- at-home restrictions more bearable. Besides the pure pleasure of looking at them, there is a feeling of accomplishment at having provided pollen and nectar to insect pollinators and seeds to seed-eating birds. And I get a much-needed sense of control when removing weeds and deciding which wildflower seedlings can remain and which have to be removed because they came up in an inconvenient place.

Now it is summer and the wildflowers have gone to seed. Some of the seeds have provided a feast for birds, some have been collected by me to give to people, and yet there are still plenty on the ground so that in an uncertain future I know I can count on another beautiful display next spring.

Arroyo Lupine