I have a kind of laissez-faire attitude towards my front flower border. It started out as all grass when we moved in. I planted some onions and some johnny jump-ups, but they did not compete well with the grass, and the moles got to the onions. I used cardboard to help smother the grass and have slowly expanded the border.
Something I learned recently: a flower bed is free standing. It doesn’t back up to a fence or a house, it has its own edges. A flower border does edge a house or other such landscape feature. We all learn new things everyday, don’t we?
The first few years of the border’s existence I planted irises and other bulbs, balsam, cleome, poppies, and various other things that either never came up or didn’t reseed themselves after one season. I think forget-me-nots and foxgloves were on that list. One important lesson I learned is that you should not plant cleome near a door or window. It stinks. Like a skunk. It has little thorns and tends to be sticky, too, but it really smells bad. We thought maybe a skunk lived under the house until we figured it out. Balsam, a type of impatiens, doesn’t really have a smell that I noticed, and it is an enthusiastic self-seeder. It seemed to like my backyard better – it gets more shade. So, it moved from the front flower border to the back and just took over. Its alternative name is touch-me-not because the seed pods explode when touched, sending seeds in every direction.
Poppies are my favorite flowers. I don’t know if it is their shape, the variety of colors and forms they come in, their delicate nature, or their many uses that make me love them, but I do. I adore the sunny little California poppy, but I can’t get them to reseed. I just haven’t found where they like to live yet. I love the blowsy Papaver somniferum my mother gave me because they look like fluffy pink pompoms and never fail to cheer me up. They grow next to my hollyhocks and pop up every year next to the porch. I have other varieties of P. somniferum that come up every year as well. They are so delicate when in bloom, and their seed heads add structure and texture to the garden when the petals fall away. I have Oriental poppies in the garden, too, but they tend to keep to themselves.
One spring I noticed a frothy looking patch of greenery growing in the dirt around a newly planted apple tree. It looked like dill, all feathery, but was low to the ground and didn’t have the right smell to be dill. I watched it for a few days and it turned out to be love-in-a-mist, or Nigella damascena. As soon as it set seeds in its interesting, ball-shaped, horned seed pod, I gathered it up and spread it around in the front border. It appeared again the next spring in the hot, sunny part of the border and provides a nice counterpoint of color next to the orange Oriental poppies nearby. One of my neighbors must grow these in their garden up the road. I like to joke that I captured it from the wild.
Another, very enthusiastic flower to volunteer in my border is the larkspur. I’m not sure of the variety because the seeds were gifted to me, but they come in a lovely range of intense pink-purple, lavender, white, and some interesting shades in between. These also grow in one of the flower beds I have up the hill and fill it to the brim every year and have started escaping down the hill.
Cosmos tend to do well in this border, but they’ve all moved to the front. Mine are rather taller than what the seed packet said to expect, sometimes over 6 feet tall! Last fall, in order to combat them self-seeding at the front of the border, I bent them all back towards the house so hopefully their tall, feather-leaved beauty grows back there. I mixed in some Gaillardia, or blanket flower, and some sweet peas with them; marigolds always find a spot to pop up near the front of the border. I also planted dill once in this border years ago and it reliably comes up every year, much to our delight and to the necessary enjoyment the swallowtail butterfly’s caterpillars.
These are all annuals that I planted on purpose at one point or another in my border. I have some others that come and go in that border and around the house that some may consider weeds. I have a particular fondness for Scotland, so whenever a thistle pops up, I keep it. They smell really nice and I’m sure there are some beneficial insects that like them. Various types of milkweed come up in the yard, which I also let grow and seed where they wish. They, of course, are beneficial to butterflies like the Monarch, and with populations of such a beautiful and important insect dwindling, I will do anything I can to help them. There is also a healthy population of some kind of daisy growing around the house that I let stay. They’re so beautiful in their simplicity.
In general, my gardens’ purposes are to provide food or beauty to my family, but anything I can do to help the local insect populations, particularly those of the pollinating insects, I will do. I do my best to plant natives, especially ones that provide food for the bees and caterpillars. With increased use of pesticides, especially neonicotinoids, the honey bee population in this country has dramatically decreased. We need these animals in order to produce food for ourselves, so it is worth our efforts to welcome and feed them in our gardens. This year I plant on making bee houses for the non-social varieties that live around the house. We have a few wood bees who have industriously dug their holes into the rafters of the porch, and I hope to attract a few more by placing the bee houses in the gardens.
I do research to figure out which varieties of plants provide the most nectar for my bee and butterfly friends, and which plants their young need for development. There are many sources for this research and a good place to start is Monarch Watch. This site will provide information about Monarch migration, foods, tagging, and much more. You can also buy plants from them that will benefit these pollinators.