Saturday, March 14, 2020

Flowers are Fun Too!

“It is easier to tell a person what life is not, rather than to tell them what it is. A child understands weeds that grow from lack of attention, in a garden. However, it is hard to explain the wild flowers that one gardener calls weeds, and another considers beautiful ground cover.”
― Shannon L. Alder

Colorful wild flowers
Wildflowers in the front of the house

Vegetables are great, provide a lot of sustenance and allow you to lower your dependence on the typical food system.  They do tend to be pretty plain looking though, it's usually a sea of green with some small color variations here and there as the plants mature and fruit start to ripen.  If you're like me and you like lots of variation and you want some scattered color here and there, you'll also want to grow wildflowers.

Once wildflowers are established they basically take care of themselves.  You might need to water them every now and then if your area is going through a drought (which happens a lot in Colorado).  They require significantly less water than grass, provide a lot more color, and keep your local bees and pollinators happy.  2020 will be my second full year of having a wildflower front yard.  I started it in 2018, the spring and first part of the summer were spent prepping the area for the wildflowers; which involved covering the entire area with thick, black plastic to kill all of the existing grass and weeds that were in the area.  After leaving the black plastic down for about eight weeks (my neighbors were delighted during this time), I pulled up all of the black plastic and spread out a thin layer of compost and fill dirt to give the wildflowers some room to start growing since the clay dirt at the house is ridiculously hard (it's seriously just like cement).  After that I threw a ton of wildflower seeds that's specific for the region I live in (zone 5b) on top of the dirt then danced on top of the seeds and dirt to work them into the ground a little and to try and keep them all from blowing away in the wind.  The flowers started sprouting very quickly and within a few short weeks I had the beginnings of a wildflower front yard!  It actually worked out surprisingly well when you consider that I started them from seed extremely late in the year.

Orange red sunflower with pollen covered bee on it
Extremely Happy Bee on a Red Sunflower

At the end of the 2018 season as well as the beginning of the 2019 season I spread more wildflower seeds in the yard to jump start it more and to fill in the gaps quickly.  It worked out quite well (see photo at the top of this article), I still had some areas where the wildflowers didn't take so well which I'll hopefully be able to fill in this year with different types of flowers to get a little more diversity (and color) going on in the wildflower yard.  I did spend a fair amount of time weeding in-between the wildflowers to keep the invasive weeds at bay which will hopefully lead to more wildflowers this year and less weeds, time will tell though.

I've been trying to limit the types of wildflowers I put in the wildflower front yard to low-growing wildflowers to keep the front of the house more aesthetically pleasing, some taller flower varieties have definitely snuck in there though, which I think gives it a pretty cool look with some taller flowers appearing sporadically.  My neighbors started out as being staunchly against my wildflower front yard since it goes against their view of how a house should look.  As a result I've gotten to know the city inspectors quite well along with the city code and I'm good to go as long as I keep the invasive weeds at bay.

I think the 2019 season was a turning point for this though as I had more positive than negative comments from my neighbors and people walking by on the sidewalk would usually stop to look (and smell) the flowers and take photos.  Whenever I do get negative comments from my neighbors on the wildflowers (old school, pro-grassers as I like to call them) I just take it as an opportunity to talk to them about it and try and get them to see it from my perspective as well as educate them on how this is more beneficial for the environment, animals, insects, pollinators which in turn means it's better for the neighborhood, their house, and the world as a whole.  They're fun conversations to have as long as they stay conversations and people don't start yelling at me for doing something different which goes against what their view of a home should look like.  The front yard isn't the only place I grow flowers though.

Red poppy with four bees on it
Bee Party on a Red Poppy

On two sides of the vegetable farm there's a fairly long, roughly five foot wide strip that runs the fence line.  The first side is a mostly rock area where previous owners of the house parked an RV.  I tried moving these rocks when I first moved in so I could expand the usable area for growing vegetables; I quickly gave up after a few hours of trying to move these rocks.  I would probably have to spend a solid two months of moving rocks to get them all moved and that's not going to happen so I left them and I'm using them to my advantage.  The second strip, has a whole bunch of utility lines so I can't dig there, the weeds had taken over like hot cakes and I removed a few volunteer trees from this area when I first bought the house.  These two areas are in the middle of being turned into a sunflower (amongst some other flowers) haven.  Why sunflowers you ask?  The first year I tried throwing wildflower seeds out there and they most definitely did not take at all.  These strips have a lot of rocks, not a lot of soil, and the weeds are seriously bananas there crowding anything else out.  After I did some research with Professor Google I discovered that sunflowers thrive in poor and rocky soil conditions and they grow extremely fast so there's a good chance they would grow faster than the weeds and crowd the weeds out.  I bought a whole bunch of sunflower seeds, spread them out and 2019 was definitely the year of the sunflower at my house, they easily outnumbered all of the other plants and the look they added to the urban farm was just plain bad-ass.  Plus as it turns out, sunflowers are extremely good for the soil and they're even used after nuclear accidents to help remove contaminants from the ground.

Sunflowers along fence
Sunflowers Along Border of the Urban Farm

2019 was also the first year that I experimented with Dahlias and starting my own hanging baskets from seed to hang along the patio covering.  Dahlias are far from being native to Colorado, but it's one of my favorite types of flowers so I thought I'd give them a go.  I decided to grow them in pots so I can easily pull them up before the freeze, put them in burlap bags, and store the bulbs in my basement to be planted again next year.  The clay soil in Longmont seriously sucks to dig in (I broke 3 heavy duty hand trowels in the first year alone of the urban farm) and Dahlias can't be left outside to freeze so planters seemed like the obvious choice.  2020 will be the true test of this choice though to see if the Dahlias come back after being re-planted or if I messed up pulling them up and storing them.

Beautiful Pink Yellow Dahlia
Tahiti Sunrise Semi Cactus Dahlia

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