Winter Wildflower Dreams

February 23, 2022

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Last year we went looking for wildflowers in the snow—and found some.  (To be accurate, on a winter hike we recognized leaves and stems as former and future wildflowers).  But winter is not high wildflower season, so until skunk cabbage pokes its pointy nose through the snow, we are busy thinking wildflower garden thoughts.

In the heart of winter we dream wildflower dreams. 

Both of us have been planting native wildflowers in our yards over the years.  Some flowers we plant for pollinators, especially the federally endangered rusty-patched bumblebee. Some we plant for their beauty. Some we plant with hope that never blooms (neither do the flowers).  Some plants do well, some don’t, and for some the verdict is still out. But still we plant.

Here are some of our successes, in shade and in sun, and some of the plants on our wish list for this year’s garden.

FLOWERS IN THE SHADE

Under the shade of leafing trees we plant spring ephemerals and other early flowers that bloom before the trees leaf out completely and block the sun.  Ephemerals disappear once they’ve flowered, while other spring bloomers keep their stems and leaves.  All of them brighten the time when we’re hungriest for color, and bumblebee queens are hungriest for nectar and pollen after their long winter. All of our garden flowers are from seeds, from native plant nurseries, or from generous friends’ gardens.   

Virginia bluebells
Spring beauty
Smooth Solomon’s seal
Wild ginger
Bloodwort
Bishop’s cap
Large-flowered trillium
Jack-in-the-pulpit
Mayapple
Large-flowered bellwort
Red columbine



FLOWERS IN THE SUN

If spring and shade mostly belong to the woodland flowers, summer belongs to the prairie.  A few prairie flowers are early bloomers—pasqueflower blossoms even in the snow, and prairie smoke is another early flower—but most of our prairie garden celebrates summer. Bees, butterflies, even hummingbirds appreciate these flowers, and so do we.   We’ve had to be firm with some of our favorite flowers that want to spread themselves everywhere, but even overachievers have a place in our pockets of prairie. Here are some of our better-behaved successes, some from native plant nurseries or friends, some from seeds.

Spiderwort
Prairie shooting star
Spreading Jacob’s ladder
Butterflyweed
Prairie blazing star
Rough blazing star
Narrow-leaved purple coneflower
Purple prairie clover
Bottle gentian
Rattlesnake master
Wild bergamot
Blue giant hyssop
Rough blazing star
Pasqueflower
Prairie smoke

FLOWERS FOR NEXT YEAR’S GARDENS

Every year we love our gardens, and every year we dream about next year’s gardens.  Here are some native wildflowers we hope to find a place for once winter has melted away. 

Dutchman’s breeches
Large-flowered penstemon    
Halberd-leaved rose mallow
Cardinal flower
Sharp-lobed hepatica
Yellow star grass
Prairie blue-eyed grass
Wild sweet William
Twinleaf
Squirrel corn
Wild lupine 
Goat’s rue

Come spring, we’ll eagerly watch this year’s gardens sprout and bloom. And we’ll eagerly be out searching for native flowers wherever we find them. We hope you will, too. Happy gardens and happy searching from two native wildflower chasers.

Author: kellypovo

Kelly Povo, a professional photographer for over thirty years, has exhibited in galleries and art shows across the country. Her cards, gift books, and calendars have been sold internationally. She and Phyllis Root have collaborated on several books. This is her first book on Minnesota's Native Wildflowers.

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