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Gardening with Gael: Taming the wildflower garden

Gardening with Gael


13 Feb, 2024


thumbnail IMG 7689 copy-101“I’m planting wild flowers in the front beds,” said Harry Bennett. I agreed they would be a great splash of colour at the front of Bennett’s cafe building. There is a family wedding early March and Harry was timing the wildflowers to look their best for the occasion.

“They’re not doing well,” said Harry a few weeks later. “I’m very disappointed. I think I’m going to have to pull them out.” We checked them out. There were enough groups to work with I thought.

“Maybe,” I suggested, “ you just need to bulk them out.” Harry didn’t look that enthusiastic about the idea. “Or maybe I could help you.” That seemed to get a better response. I explained what I wanted to do and received Harry’s approval to go ahead. Mary, Harry’s mother, is keen to help me.

On Saturdays, Rowie and Helen at the school market, and Julie at the tavern market, all offer a wide range of flowering plants. All we needed was an eclectic range of annual flowering plants with which to fill the gaps. I checked out what had come up and set about trying to replicate it knowing I was restricted by what was available but knowing we could substitute variety and colour with different species. Wildflower gardens promise to be no care. Throw in the seeds and a wonderous garden appears. In my experience it is not that easy. Weeds grow as rapidly as the flowers. On the roadside this doesn’t matter but as a front garden it does.

Nigellas, Californian poppies, and some calendulas deliver a base to work from. A variety of form and colour is needed. I had previously bought some bi-coloured rudbeckia from Rowie and sure enough she had some. Members of the daisy family, rudbeckias, also called coneflowers because of the often raised centre, grow well with little care and provide a splash of yellow colour. The bi-coloured variety exhibit large bright blooms on sturdy plants. We distribute them over both beds.

For a complete contrast in colour and form Agastache (also known as ‘Anise Hyssop’) is an upright plant with flower spikes of purple and blue. Luckily Rowie has both colours. The leaves of Agastache are soft and have a similar appearance to nettle. Very suitable for our wildflower collection. A deep purple salvia with a similar form adds another contrast.

It is a bit late to plant cosmos but we are lucky to find some well-grown tall varieties on Helen’s stall. This adds much needed height to our mix along with the last of Rowie’s cleome.

Now to add in some colour. I associate poppies with wildflowers, the pop of colour bringing life to the mix. There are no poppies but Helen has a great variety of zinnias which will give us the bright colours we need.

I’m generally in love with zinnias. My niece Emily grows them and I have some giant ones in my garden. It is too risky to transplant them at this stage but maybe next year. We are getting so much joy from this garden that we consider doing it again.

I learnt from my first mother-in-law that to make colours really stand out, intersperse them with white. Some alyssum has grown from seed and so we add to it. It is a struggle not to plant a border with them. They make a great job of filling in the gaps. Some white daisies and some feverfew add to the white mix.

As we scratch around in the soil watching carefully for any new seeds to pop up we are thrilled to find they are. Nigella and larkspur are making appearances. More alyssum. A calendula or two. The new growth adds to the layers. Some rain and everything grows. By March it will all be flourishing. Harry is happy.




By constant deadheading the flowering season can be prolonged. It is also true of herbs. Keep them picked, particularly basil. There’s so much you can do with it.



Mary Bennett and I scratch around in the Bennett’s Cafe garden.

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