A Special Wildflower Garden
A wildflower lover tours her garden.
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An 87-year-old dynamo who works on her web site till the wee hours of the morning, Caroline Dean is a wildflower lover extraordinaire. Long interested in native plants, she has catalogued more than 10,000 slides and photographs she has taken of flowers in the wild. Via her web site, she shares her knowledge and enthusiasm with nature lovers around the world.
This great-grandmother regularly gives lectures on native flora, traveling the state of Alabama and beyond. She taught herself about computers when she was 77 and has been keeping up with the latest technology ever since. She converted her presentations to Power Point after realizing that her slide and projector seemed passé.
On her 110-acre farm in Opelika, Ala., Dean grows wildflowers, many of which are endangered. Friends have sent her seeds or specimens, but many of her plants were rescued from construction sites. Rectangular beds are scattered informally throughout her large, flat front yard. Some beds are lined with pine limbs and contain odd trilliums and other ephemeral natives. She has also created bog gardens by sinking kiddie swimming pools into the ground. These latter moist areas are home to rare pitcher plants.
At the edge of the piney woodland stretching the length of the front yard, Dean has planted native azaleas in a riot of colors. These deciduous shrubs — some of them as tall as 15 feet — produce yellow, orange, red, white and pink flowers throughout the spring months.
Dean has many kinds of native plants, ranging from a beautiful specimen dogwood (Cornus florida) to the tiniest odd trillium from northern Florida. In her garden are:
Oconee azalea (Rhododendron flammeum syn. R. speciosum)
The plant: The Oconee azalea is a deciduous shrub with a mounding habit and unscented flowers that range from bright red or orange to pink, apricot, salmon and shades of yellow and cream. The trusses may contain as many as 15 funnel-shaped blooms. The shrub's habit can be low and mounding or more upright and rounded. Native to the Piedmont region of South Carolina and across Georgia to the Alabama line, this azalea was first described in 1789 at Kew Gardens in England. Although the Oconee azalea is native to the southern U.S., it is hardy to -15 degree F. Size: 6' x 6'.
How to use it: Great for a natural garden or at the edge of a woodland. It could also work at the back of a flower border.
Cultivation: Native azaleas appreciate well-drained, rich woodland soil. The shrubs will bloom more profusely if they receive good light. Morning sun and filtered afternoon sun would be ideal.
Source: Lazy K Nursery
Vernal iris (Iris verna)
The plant: In its native setting, this little evergreen iris is found in sunny meadows and at the semi-shaded edge of woodlands and in coastal barrens. Growing 2 to 6 inches high, the iris blooms in spring (March to May, depending on location). The flowers are deep, clear lavender to violet with a distinct golden-orange haft. Hardy from USDA Zones 6A to 9A.
How to use it: Grow at the front of a flower border, at the edge of a path in a wild garden, in a rock garden or in a trough.
Cultivation: Plant in open, bright shade or dappled sun in well-drained soil. In the wild, the vernal iris prefers slightly acid soil. Propagate by division.
Wild Easter lily, or atamasco lily (Zephyranthes atamasco)
The plant: Found in moist ditches and woodlands of the southeastern U.S., the atamasco lily produces white, three-inch-long, lily-shaped flowers on stems that are 12 to 15 inches tall. The flowers are borne singly and often fade to pink as the blooms age. The narrow, strap-shaped leaves are slightly taller than the flowers. Often called wild Easter lilies (due to the fact that the flowers appear around mid-April), these herbaceous perennials are members of the amaryllis family. The flowers are fragrant; the leaves and onion-like bulbs are poisonous.
How to use it This is a wonderful plant for a sunny to partly shady moist area. The flowers can be cut for a spring nosegay.
Cultivation: Atamasco lilies may be divided as the plants begin to grow dormant. Plant in soil that is rich in humus and that will remain moist during the growing season. For best bloom, the lilies should receive several hours of sunlight a day. Don't let the plants dry out.
Source: Plant Delights Nursery
Two-winged silverbell, snowdrop tree (Halesia diptera)
The plant: This smallish (15 to 30 feet high) deciduous tree produces white to pale pink, pendulous, bell-shaped flowers in spring. The two-winged silverbell (so called because of the seedpod) is much showier than the Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina). Found in the wild as an understory tree in moist, acid woodlands or along stream beds, the two-winged silverbell is native from South Carolina to Florida and west to Texas. The tree is usually multi-stemmed. Hardy in USDA Zones 6 to 9.
How to use it: Grow it at the edge of a woodland or use as a specimen tree.
Cultivation: Choose a location that is protected from the strong western sun. Plant in well-drained soil, and keep watered evenly when young. Protect from drought conditions; a layer of mulch is suggested.
Dwarf Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra var. nana)
The plant: A rare, dwarf version of the Ohio buckeye tree, this 5' x 5' shrub produces greenish-yellow flowers on four- to seven-inch long panicles rising from palmate, compound leaves. It's one of the first shrubs to leaf out and flower in spring. The habit is open, forming a loosely rounded bush. Flowers at an early age. Hardy from USDA Zones 5 to 9.
How to use it: This would be a wonderful addition to a native woodland garden or to a small, natural garden. Grow several together for maximum effect.
Cultivation: Grow in part shade in moist, well-drained soil. Don't plant in sunny, dry situations.
Thriving just about anywhere -- from deserts to roadsides and mountain tops -- wildflowers are tenacious plants.