Growing up in central Alaska, summer was short and precious. The long, 8-month night of winter yielded almost unwillingly to a muddy spring, then suddenly summer made its appearance and life seemed to start again.
Even Mother Nature seemed thrilled when the days grew longer and wildflowers crowded in to amaze us all, lupine and bluebells, pale wild roses and Queen Anne’s lace. While I don’t plant those flowers in my current California garden, I am still wild about wildflowers.
California’s Wonderful Wildflowers
I grew up with a deep respect for the wildflowers of central Alaska. We didn’t plant, water, or tend them. They miraculously reappeared year after year despite the permafrost and the winter temperatures that regularly dipped below negative 60 degrees F. (16 C.). So, it’s hardly a wonder that my go-to summertime flowers are always wildflowers.
Compared to anywhere, California is rich in fauna, but compared to central Alaska, it seems a miracle. In fact, the Golden State is incredibly biodiverse with more native plant species than any other state. The wildflower displays in the different ecosystems – from the deserts to the slopes of the Rockies – are among the best on the planet.
Installing a Wildflower Garden
The wealth of wildflowers in California makes putting in a wildflower garden both easier and harder. It’s easy to find plant nurseries that sell native plants. It is particularly easy for me since I volunteer as a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden where such seeds (and plants) are available.
The hard part? Deciding which natives to invite into my flower garden. There are so many delightful native flowering plants to choose from! Plant selection for a wildflower garden is a matter of personal taste, and I add new species almost every year. Fortunately, as long as you select plants that are native to your region, they usually grow happily together.
The state flower is the California poppy, a tough plant despite its fancy foliage and brilliant orange flowers. They are annuals but reseed like magic and bloom profusely from spring through fall. I always keep native sages (Salvia spp.) as well, drought-tolerant plants with vivid blossoms. I love the indigo flowers of desert sage as well as the scarlet blossoms of hummingbird sage, that, as the name promises, attract hummers – yet another great thing about planting wildflowers.
Other wildflowers that make summertime special in my garden? I love penstemon and have it in a variety of colors, golden yarrow, and a climbing California morning glory vine. I shouldn’t forget the native shrubs either, many ceanothus (aka California lilac) including several that are over 12 feet (4 m.) make their home in my garden. Then there are many different kinds of succulents in my garden that bloom in summertime too – weird, bright, and spectacular.