Growing a wildflower garden was not the plan when we first toured our lakefront home.
We did realize, however, that purchasing the property meant purchasing an erosion problem.
Our bid on the property included a scary consideration. We would immediately need to install erosion control.
We contracted for the work to be completed that summer. It was a hot and dirty job that took months and lots of patience, both on our part and the contractor’s.
Even after tons of dirt and rock, the grade of the slope remained steep.
Planting hardy grass was a part of the contract. However, there was no way I was going to mow the hillside. Letting it grow wild seemed more appealing.
A Wildflower Garden in Your Dreams
The neighbors had a patch of wildflowers growing near their shoreline. I thought I’d like the same and it would be easier than a grass-only hillside.
Since I had no experience growing wildflowers, I looked online for how-tos and seed sources. I found a local nursery called Ohio Prairie Nursery that specializes in native wildflower mixes.
The Eastern Great Lakes Pollinator Mix seemed to be the best fit for my situation.
When the seeds arrived I asked the contractor to mix in some wildflower seed with the grass seed. The slope was finished and planted in late August.
According to the instructions that came with the seed package, it could take more than a year for the plants to become established.
It didn’t surprise me that the hillside was mostly grass in the spring of 2020.
I waited and watched to see what besides grass might come up on the hillside as the growing season progressed..
I saw a few rosettes of plants but I couldn’t identify them.
The only flowers that I could recognize for certain were – dandelions!
Then, in 2021, this happened.
Tickseed (Coreopsis) and wild sweet clover (Melilotus) plants started growing and blooming. So did evening primrose (Oenothera) and chicory (Cichorium intybus).
In late summer of that year, Rudbeckia made its appearance.
So did coneflower (Echinacea).
Even more variety moved in the spring and summer of 2022.
This false indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa) wasn’t in the seed mix, but appeared on the hillside in early summer 2022. Its black spikes with orange anthers were stunning.
Later, Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus Carota) bloomed.
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) spread from other beds in the yard.
White sweet clover (Melilotus albus) grew almost 6 feet tall.
I planted cattail (Typha angustifolia) seed fluff and got a cluster of cattails..
Cow vetch (Vicia cracca) and wild yellow clover ( Melilotus officinalis) made beautiful color contrasts.
Chamomile (Anthemis cotula) brightened the steep hillside.
And then after all these wildflowers began blooming and spreading, the butterflies appeared.
A monarch butterfly enjoys sipping nectar from a stand of goldenrod.
An Eastern tiger swallowtail.
This is the larvae of the black swallowtail enjoying feasting on some parsley.
The colors of late summer flowers were vibrant, like this ironweed (Vernonia spp.) .
Wild purple aster (Symphyotrichum patens) made its appearance in fall.
Goldenrod (Solidago) spread from nearby.
Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) was probably spread by the wind along the shoreline.
Wildflower Garden Finale
In early September, things slowed down on the wildflower slope. Tons of seed heads dried in the sun, ready to bring new monarda, tickseed, and rudbeckia plants next year.
What I learned from this experience is that you can’t be too quick to pull out plants (“weeds”) before you are able to identify them. This is especially true for wildflowers because they can often look weedy before they flower.
Also, don’t give up after only one season. In my case it took a full year plus to see any real evidence of wildflower growth. Many wildflowers grow only basal leaves in year one and don’t flower until their second year.
It can be difficult to stay the course when you feel pressured by community expectations as to what a yard should look like.
If you stick with it, you will realize a wildflower landscape that you, your neighbors, and guests will enjoy – not only for its intrinsic beauty, but for the beneficial and pleasing insects it attracts (butterflies!), its ability to slow erosion and survive drought, and its easy maintenance.
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