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Bee on Rosinweed

Must Have Flowers – One gardener’s updated approach to gardening

“I must have flowers, always, and always.”
― Claude Monet

Like most gardeners, I can relate to this quote. I love flowers, and as a lifetime gardener, one goal has always been, if possible, to have “something” blooming in every season of the year!

Flowers to attract wildlife

Flowering Perennials Attract WIldlife. Photo credit: Molly Griner, UF/IFAS Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

In earlier gardens, I confess the selection of which flowers to grow was a bit random and very spontaneous, often guided by what looked pretty in the nursery. There was no real sense of any role of flowers in my yard other than the beauty of the flowers and the joy of nurturing them as they grew.
This approach might have been enough, except that over the years, I’d learned about a growing awareness of the loss of Florida’s native habitats and how this loss has been a key factor in the reduction of our native bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife. I learned, however, that at the same time our forests, wetlands and other natural areas are being cleared for development, homeowners can help by creating natural habitats in our own yards.

This awareness led me to rethink the role of flowers in my garden. Could I combine my love of flowers with a desire to help the environment? It turns out that yes, I could, even on a small scale. This new approach to flower gardening changed my thinking forever! These days, flowering plants chosen for my garden must pass the test of “wildlife value”; that is, does the flower provide food, shelter or home for our native bees, butterflies, and/or birds? This approach has led to a yard now filled with a diversity of flowering trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals, especially a growing presence of Florida’s easy-to-grow native wildflowers! Happily, this diversity of plants has not just increased the presence of color in our yard; more importantly, the presence of many species of birds, butterflies, bees and other native pollinators has exploded! Our current garden is filled with the gift of color, and the joy of sharing our flowers to help our environment.

Our yard is now more vital and interesting than in years past. We walk through the yard regularly just to see what new exciting “happening” is going on in the garden. We might follow the miraculous life cycle of a butterfly, from the laying of eggs, through the eating antics of hungry caterpillars; the forming of a chrysalis and the emergence of a beautiful new butterfly. We might discover a new insect we’ve never seen before. We can sit by and listen to the hum of small native bees as they visit our flowers for nectar. We’ve become people who tour our yard with a magnifying lens! We can locate a new bird nest, or sit in the shade of a tree canopy. (Even if you have no trees in your yard at this time, did you know that a tree can begin to cast shade within 3 years of planting?)

At the end of a gardening day, I wonder about the role of one flowering landscape in the grand scheme of things, but I’ve absolutely seen the difference in our yard! What if the number of home landscapes that support birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife increased? What if the folks who manage land development in Florida were led to leave more green space in their developments for Florida native plants? Who knows how much impact we could have on our environment? Wouldn’t it be delightful to find out?

If you would like to include flowers with wildlife value into your yard, read Part 2: A few tips on including flowers with wildlife value in your yard.

Resources:
Florida-Friendly Landscaping™
Florida Association of Native Nurseries
Gardening for Pollinators
Gardening with Wildlife

This blog post was written by Master Gardener Molly Griner under supervision of the Master Gardener Coordinator and Residential Horticulture Agent Anne Yasalonis.

For more information, contact UF/IFAS Extension Polk County at (863) 519-1041 or visit us online at http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/polk.  The Plant Clinic is open Monday-Friday, 9:00 am-4:00 pm to answer your gardening and landscaping questions. Visit us in person, give us a call, or email us at polkmg@ifas.ufl.edu.

The Florida Master Gardener Program is a volunteer-driven program that benefits UF/IFAS Extension and the citizens of Florida.  The program  extends the vision of the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, all the while protecting and sustaining natural resources and environmental systems, enhancing the development of human resources, and improving the quality of human life through the development of knowledge in agricultural, human and natural resources and making that knowledge accessible.

An Equal Opportunity Institution.

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