September 29, 2013

Maine Gardener: Patience pays off for wildflower meadow


(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

A two-year-old meadow test plot at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H.

Tom Atwell photo

"It looks nice from a distance," Papineau said, but the landscapers agreed that their clients would not be happy with those gardens.

By the third year, the wildflowers are so well established that the crabgrass gets pushed out.

Neal and Papineau planted 40 species in their gardens, of which 18 flowered regularly and eight flowered some, and the rest flowered seldom or not at all. The gardens also include five native grasses.

The first flowers to bloom are rudbeckia, or black-eyed-Susan, and for the first year the gardens look like they are almost all black-eyed Susan.

The second year, the dominant plant is Monarda fistula, which is a tall plant with light purple blossoms. These are related to the popular bee balms, which are hybrids of the species Monarda didyma.

After that, plants like echinacea, Joe Pye weed, asters, milkweed, goldenrod, heliopsis and baptisia come into their own.

One plant that Neal really likes is Ratibida pinnata, a yellow coneflower that is not commonly found on the market.

Most of the plants in the study came from Prairie Nursery ( in Wisconsin and Prairie Moon Nursery ( in Minnisota.

UNH cuts its wildflower beds once a year, sometimes in the spring and sometimes in midsummer. They leave the plants up through the winter to provide food and habitat for wildlife.

One of the best side benefits of this research on wildflower meadows is a website ( that shows you what the plants look like at various stages of their growth. Once at the website, click on the wildflower guide for New England meadows.

Most people can identify plants in bloom, but they have trouble when they first come out of the ground and later. This website shows about 50 types of plants at different stages.

Now, if I can only memorize the photos, I will be able to do a better job of weeding.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:


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