Plant a Wildflower Garden

A summer stroll down Pease’s Point Way across from Edgartown’s Westside Cemetery reveals a riot of garden color thanks to a narrow but profuse strip of wildflowers. Carol and Michael Berwind, who own two houses there, and Carol’s mother Jan Riley, who owns a third, tend these altruistic gardens on the far side of their fences.

To assist aspiring wildflower gardeners, the family has taped information onto the fence about their mix of seeds: Firecracker 234 from Wildseed Farms in Texas. The mix contains the usual wildflower suspects – cosmos, cornflower, coneflower, and poppy – but includes some intriguing names like Indian blanket and baby blue eyes.

By definition a wildflower is one that grows on its own, and what better kind of garden can there be for a summer resort than one that looks after itself? Cultivating a wildflower garden takes some initial planning and work though.

Planting in early spring or late fall, when there is naturally more rain, should do the job of keeping the ground moist while plants are germinating, but consistent watering for at least a month after sowing is important. Generally, seeds planted in fall will get a two- to four-week jump on blooming compared to a springtime planting.

Choose a well-drained area that receives at least eight hours of sun a day; remove weeds by mowing as short as possible, tilling the soil, or treating with a natural herbicide like vinegar (spray kitchen vinegar, or buy higher acetic-acid solutions at your garden store); then lightly rake the bed and broadcast the seeds across the area following planting directions on the package.

With all these different new plants emerging, weeding can get confusing. Wildseed Farms’ website (www.wildseed offers photos of each plant at seedling stage so you can judge if you have a friend or foe before tugging. (For the truly obsessed, it’s suggested that you plant a few seeds of each plant variety in separate pots and then tote them out to the garden for comparison.)

Once the garden is established, neither weeding nor fertilizing is necessary – Mother Nature doesn’t do this to all those roadside meadows. Based on the last few dry Vineyard summers, supplemental watering might be needed, so planting near a hose makes sense.

Most wildflower seed companies design mixes for specific regions of the country, and some create blends specifically for cut flowers or to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Seeds are available at garden centers like Vineyard Gardens and SBS in spring on the Vineyard, or through garden catalogues. Wildflower mixes may contain annuals, biennials, and/or perennials, so whether you need to reseed every year depends on the mix you choose.

For the Berwinds, wildflower gardening continues around the corner from Pease’s Point Way on Cooke Street, where they own another house. They prove that wildflowers can flourish in just a narrow swath of soil as well as a larger meadow – you can spy their beauty from the road.