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Gardening & More: 2013 will be the year of the wildflower

OH SO PRETTY — Wild bergamot is an excellent wildflower for your garden. Not only does it get beautiful purple flowers, you can use the leaves and stems as a seasoning that is similar to oregano. Photo used courtesy of the National Garden Bureau.
The year 2013 will be the year of the wildflower and representatives of local garden centers have lots of suggestions for great flowers that you can plant, from that category.

The National Garden Bureau, a non-profit organization promoting gardening, on behalf of the horticulture industry, showcases plants in three different categories, each year. Eligible plants must be popular, easy-to-grow, widely-adaptable, genetically diverse and versatile.

Representatives from Lockwood’s Greenhouses, located at 4484 Clark St. in Hamburg, and Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses, located at 118 South Forest Road in Williamsville, said that, while the term “wildflower” seems less like a type of plant and more like a wide-ranging category, the wildflower still meets the criteria for this nomination.

The gardening professionals were less enthusiastic about the National Garden Bureau’s nominations for 2013 in the other categories, though. The 2013 vegetable is watermelon, which needs a long growing season, and the 2013 annual is the gerbera daisy, which can be tricky to grow.

Theresa Buchanan, general manager at Lockwood’s, said that even farmers in our area don’t grow watermelon, very often. Watermelons found in local stores come from the south, which has a longer growing season.

Some varieties are better suited to our shorter growing season than others and Mischler’s will carry both seeds and starter plants. Lockwood’s will carry seeds.

Buchanan said that the fruit will be small when it is ripe, which is why it works in our shorter growing season.

For those wanting to grow watermelon, the National Garden Bureau advised to cover the planting area with black plastic, to warm up the soil.

Start seeds inside two or three weeks before they are going to be set out in the garden. Do not start the seeds any earlier, because large watermelon seedlings transplant poorly. Plant three seeds a half an inch deep, in 3- or 4-inch peat pots or large cell packs. Place in a sunny south-facing window or under lights, to germinate. Make sure the area is warm both day and night, ideally 80 degrees. Use a seedling heat mat, if necessary. Thin to the best plant.

Gerbera daisies are tricky to grow. “It’s a very temperamental plant,” Buchanan said. “They’re high maintenance.”

Gerberas are subject to numerous diseases and insects. Details are available on the National Garden Bureau’s website,

Because these flowers are so difficult for nurseries to grow, gerberas tend to be a bit more expensive than other plants. Lockwood’s grows its own crop.

“They’re difficult to care for,” said Mark Yadon, vice president at Mischler’s. “Gardeners often find they get poor results.” While Mischler’s will have gerbera plants to sell, that business does not grow gerberas.

Gerberas do have some wonderful attributes, though. “People love them because it’s a long-lasting flower,” Buchanan said. On the plant, a flower will stay a week, or more. Gerberas come in many colors and have bright, intense hues.

Newer “landscape” varieties, which are large plants with big flowers that you notice in a large area, are also available. Gerberas make a great gift plant that you can keep inside a sunny window. Look for them in baskets, at Easter time.

A couple of wildflowers that are most popular in our area are echinacea (cone flowers) and black-eyed Susans. There are plenty of reasons for their popularity in Western New York.

“They’re easy to grow and very winter-hardy,” Yadon said.

The flowers are showy. They tend to bloom a bit later in the summer, when gardeners are looking for something new in the garden. Birds also like the seeds.

Both echinacea and black-eyed Susans will be available at Mischler’s perennial sale, in the spring.

Ken Parker, a native plant specialist and tree, shrub and perennials manager at Lockwood’s, discussed three of his favorite wildflowers.

His first choice is wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), which is more than just decoration. In the spring, you can use the leaf and stem of this plant for tea.

In the summer, use the leaf and stem as a substitute for oregano. The leaves get a hotter taste after the plant goes to seed. You can use it in salsa or canned tomatoes and it is great for making herbed vinegar. Butterflies and birds love it, too.

His second choice is blazing star liatris, also called dense blazing star. It’s a tall, upright perennial with purple flowers and it is native to North America.

“They’re monarch magnets,” Parker said, noting that gardeners may find several butterflies perched on one blazing star flower.

His third choice is aralia racemosa, a wildflower for the shade. It grows to approximately 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide. This plant is grown for its beautiful foliage and dark berries. Aralia racemosa adds great texture to your garden.

A Christmas open house will be held from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Nov. 17 at Lockwood’s Greenhouses. The event will include hors d’oeuvres, desserts, spiced cider, music, prizes and a preview of holiday gifts and decor. No reservations are required.

Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email


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