During our nice summer days you might feel like adding some wildflowers to your yard. There are a lot of different kinds of perennial wildflowers and plants that are a joy to have blooming each year in our sub-arctic yards. Each year I try to add a few more plants to my home's landscape.
The other day, a couple of my friends, Mary Lou Weese and Ginger Gauss, my mother-in-law Gwen Babcock and I made a trip to one of the many surrounding hillsides and domes to search for wildflowers. We found that the Pasque flower (sometimes referred to as the crocus), the Northern Lady Slipper of the orchid family and the Arctic Poppy have already come and gone.
The "crocus," according to Francis Baker, a good friend and a local wildflower and shrub landscape enthusiast, can be grown from seed and transplanted into a permanent sunny location. In order to get the seed to germinate you have to duplicate nature. Keep the seed in a packet under the snow and in the spring start germinating them inside. She also said the Lady Slipper can be transplanted from the field and placed into any moist, shady and westerly location.
In the lower areas on the hill, we also saw the wild flag of the iris family; purple, white and yellow vetches, Bunchberry Dogwood, Grass of Parnassus, purple wild Delphiniums and Monkshood. There were also tall Fireweed, Siberian Asters, Labrador Tea and Wild Spirea, not to mention the beautiful Wild Rose.
At the top of the dome were blue Harebells of the Campanula family, Lupine, Yellow Arnica, white Anemones, Goldenrod and Alpine Saxifrages. The Lupine is tempting to dig up; it is much easier to wait till later on in the summer to gather seeds. The Lupine has a very long tap root and is difficult to transplant.
"Wildflowers of Alaska" by Christine Heller, and "Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories," by Eric Hulten, are among beautiful books for wildflower seekers.
Since perennial wildflowers fit with surrounding property, require little or no maintenance and are free, they make a welcome addition to our sub-arctic landscapes. The best thing to remember is to try and get seeds and not dig up the plants so other people will have a chance to enjoy the beautiful landscape.
If you do get a chance to find something to transplant, the following guidelines might increase your chance of success:
* Try to transplant trees, shrubs and some types of wildflowers when the plants are dormant. This means fall or spring. Some horticulturists say fall is best. Fall transplanting of trees and shrubs also allows for a longer period of time for root regeneration before growth starts and requirements are placed on the root system to supply water and nutrients.
* Choose the right wildflower, tree or shrub for your location. Don't become overeager to have large strong plants in your yard the first year. As the size of the plant increases, it becomes more difficult to dig it out without causing extensive root damage. Pick smaller trees or shrubs for transplanting.
* Take care of the roots when transplanting. The important parts of a root system are in the root hairs, which occur toward the ends of most roots. The root hairs are responsible for water and nutrient uptake while the larger roots provide anchorage for the plant.
Root drying can be a problem when transplanting trees, shrubs or wildflowers. Disturbance of the roots during digging should be kept to a minimum and during transporting they must be kept moist. If the plant is not going to be replanted immediately, it should be kept in a location which will insure adequate soil and moisture around the roots.
Roots can be best maintained by taking along a fairly large soil mass with the plant (another good reason to pick out only small shrubs or trees.)
* Choose the right location for the plant. Matching the new location to the old will greatly increase the chances of transplanting success. If you are going to plant a species which grows only in sunny or in shady locations, try to choose the same environment for its new home. Soil type, drainage, acidity and fertility are other important considerations in choosing the right location. Take a little time to determine what your chosen plant requires.
* Take care of the plant. Continued maintenance of the plant after transplanting requires that adequate moisture is available at all times along with the right fertilizer. A high phosphorous fertilizer added after transplanting will help promote root growth which is critical for future growth.
Poor transplanting techniques result in frustration and wasted efforts. So be sure and make a good plan and follow through.
Throughout these past few weeks I have been telling Fairbanksans how they might enjoy gardening. Gardening gives a bounty during the summer months and fall. It provides many hours of relaxation.
Along with this recreation is exasperation when the weeds flourish right along with the favored cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes and corn.
I have seen some weedy lawns (mine included) and gardens and some beautiful ones around town. As I pulled into the driveway of Charles and Opal Mussatti in Lemeta subdivision, I couldn't help be impressed - and refreshed - by their lovely lawn surrounded with tiger lilies, dahlias, shrubby tundra Rose, nasturtiums, Shasta daisies and few weeds!
Opal met me at the door and took me into their large backyard, which is partially filled with six or more cords of firewood for home heating in winter, many beautiful rose bushes in large containers, a large successful greenhouse drooping with cucumbers and ripe tomatoes, a large colorful orange trollius plant and healthy zucchini plants in large containers.
What caught my eye were the large heads of cauliflower and broccoli and ears of corn -- and no weeds.
The Mussattis grew tired of fighting chickweed, lambsquarters and quackgrass. They decided to fight the problem by putting down a 12-by-30 foot piece of indoor outdoor carpeting over their vegetable garden after the first of June rototilling and fertilizer session.
Their garden is raised about two feet from the surrounding lawn. The indoor outdoor carpeting is porous, looking much like astro turf. Opal found it easy to make cuts into the carpeting and plant cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes and corn in neat rows in the first week of June.
Since the carpeting has no rubber backing, the water soaks through from the rains or from the overhead sprinkler they use in the cooler evenings.
They think that the moisture is trapped under the carpeting, and the soil remains water. Opal periodically applies a soluble fertilizer, such as Rapid-Gro.
According to area pioneer gardeners, the Mussatti garden is a half-month ahead on the head lettuce, which is already fully headed and ready to eat in July...You can be a month ahead on cauliflower and broccoli, which are ready to pick in July. The corn already had formed into ears in July.
It takes Opal only 10 minutes a week to care for the very few weeds, which only grow next to the stalk of the plant.
The Mussattis' garden is carpet neat. It is great to have healthy vegetables poking up through the carpeting. It only makes me want to go get the vacuum cleaner, which really isn't a suggested gardening tool. The Mussattis plan to double their garden plot next year.
Another nice thing about using this type of carpeting is that you can hose it off at the end of the growing season and roll it up for use next spring.
Since writing this column years ago, I have found that the porous Tevlar ground covering works well in the same fashion. Although some tough grass can poke through, it is easy to maintain.
Somewhere in my long pathway through life, I heard the saying, "If everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world it would be!"
When I turned into the Agriculture Hall area of the Tanana Valley fairgrounds, I couldn't help but notice a bright and colorful garden area laid out like nuggets in a pioneers gold pan near the Gold Dome.
During the long cold days of last winter, Mary and Mike Vediner sparked a great idea and got a community pride grant to follow it through. Like true pioneers forging into new territory, they envisioned dozens of raised individual large flower boxes built so various Fairbanks North Star Borough families could plant them up.
Through the grant, and a land donation from the Tanana Valley Fair Association, the Vediners purchased the building materials and four dump truck loads of gardening soil to make their pioneering idea come to a wonderful reality.
By involving individual families in the project, there is a great sense of community pride that each family receives by volunteer participation. The project was a wonderful chance for parents and children to share gardening ideas and make them grow by working together.
n early spring the Vediners, with the aid of their sons, Charles and Jason Barker, built 96 individual raised flower boxes and filled them with the gardening soil. The boxes are spread about in a neat and orderly pattern with wide aisles between. Several families from Ester, Badger Road, Gilmore Trail, Chena Ridge, Fairbanks, North Pole, Ft. Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base achieved a large assortment of color schemes by planting up the family garden beds with flowers of all kinds and some vegetables.
The garden beds are very colorful. The families that planted the flower beds only had to plant them. Watering chores were handled four times a week by several families: the McMillians, Nichols, Perkins, Edmonsons and Earlys.
Often, people don't take time off from their busy summer schedules to sit down and smell the flowers. Here is a good chance for you folks. It really is a nice place to come and sit with your family for lunch upon the benches placed among the flower boxes.
It is wonderful to have a sense of pioneer community pride and spirit for the various hard-working people who came and planted the flower beds and for those who maintained them throughout the long hot summer to make a bright spot in the Fairbanks area.