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by Mort Mather

Dear Mort,

Your gardening columns are so informative and so pertinent to the ordinary gardener that I am hoping to persuade you to write one on wild flowers.

To me, many wild ones are just as beautiful as the hybridized and highly developed blooms. I would like to be able to incorporate some of them among my (mostly) perennial flowers. Some have self-seeded and I would like to encourage the ones I have and be able to plant or transplant more into the areas where I want them.

I am talking about the common field flowers—daisies, black-eyed Susans, Queen Anne's lace, violets, lupine, pink yarrow (I don't dare tamper with lady's slippers). As I get deeper and deeper into my 80s, I am trying to fill my garden with rugged, undemanding, low-maintenance plants.

Can you tell me which of the above are annuals, biennials, perennials? Do they propagate by seed or roots? Many of them sprout small plants after their blooming season. Could I transplant these in the fall? Or could I move the small plants early in the spring? I know that Queen Ann's lace has a long carrot-like root which makes it difficult to move. The daisies and black-eyed Susans seem to come up in the same place year after year. Are they perennials, or are they just self-seeding?

Thank you, Arline Dupras, Tyngsboro, MA

Dear Arline,

Last year my wife, Barbara, changed the complexion of one of her gardens because, well here is a quote from her garden diary: "Columbine is punking out. Whole area between house and sidewalk has a mind of its own. This season I'm letting it do what it wants. Lots of Black Eyed Susans, Daisies, grape vine, Queen Anne's lace, vetch. In '97 I should move any astilbe that manages to survive." The area was beautiful and lower maintenance than her other plots. The plot already had some ferns that she transplanted from the wild and she thinks the grape vine came with that transplanting.

The daisies, Black eyed Susans, Queen Anne's lace, and lupine propagate by seed. Probably the easiest way to move them to your garden would be to watch the flowers in the wild, perhaps flag them with a ribbon so you don't loose sight of them when the petals are gone. Pick the flower head after they have dried a little. You could scatter the seed in the garden at that time or save them in the house in a dry place away from the light. Some seeds need to be frozen and since any seed that propagates in the wild in Maine must be able to withstand freezing it might be a good idea to freeze the seeds that you bring in the house.

If you don't want to wait until next year and you know where some of the plants you desire grow, look for the young seedlings this spring and transplant them.

Queen Ann's lace is a biennial. It is actually a member of the carrot family. You could transplant the root but not of a flowering plant because it is on the way out. Of course that is one way to get the seeds into the garden.

"Yarrow can be propagated by seeds or root divisions in the spring or fall. Space the plants ten to twelve inches apart as they will spread. Yarrow does much better growing in full sun and in slightly acidic soil." The Roots of Healing by Deb Soule (Carol Publishing Group, Seacaucus, NJ 07094)

I would transplant violets in the early spring, I guess. I suspect they will be the most difficult not because they wouldn't like transplanting but because they might not like their new home. Light, shade, competition, other plants in the neighborhood, plants that grew there before, soil type, soil acidity, soil nutrients, moisture, soil depth, wind exposure, and some things I haven't thought of may influence a plant's ability to thrive or even survive. Acceptance of what works may be the best advice I can offer.

Wild flowers are wonderful in the wild or as part of a home flower garden. I even like to appreciate them in my lawn. Thanks for asking.

ŠApril 4, 1997

Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. He is a consultant for organizations. You can eat his organic produce at his son's southern Maine restaurant. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.

Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate.



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