Wildflower packs dazzling color in garden
Names like Firewheel and Indian Blanket give clear indication that this is a flower that packs some color. Two-foot-tall plants loaded with red flowers that look as though they have been dipped in yellow make this a winning plant in landscapes, butterfly gardens and wildflower meadows.
Known botanically as Gaillardia pulchella, it is indeed one of the most loved wildflowers in the United States and rightfully so. It is hard to believe, but it is native to all but 11 of the lower 48 states. It is blooming in dramatic fashion at the National Butterfly Center located in far south Texas along the Rio Grande River and no doubt will be putting on a show in South Carolina in the near future.
Everyone will suggest to you that it is treasured by butterflies, and we have to concur, for it seems no matter which clump we look at, there is a Red Admiral, a Bordered Patch, American Lady or a Crescent feasting on the nectar.
We planted ours a little differently in that we used transplants that were set out at the end of October. The soil is fertile, and it was well-prepared prior to planting. The plants were set out in a cooperative project with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service along with a combination of 21 other wildflowers and native grasses.
Though not impossible, is still fairly rare to find this species available at garden centers. Below you'll find the species that have become just as sought-after and much more readily available. Most gardeners who love the aspect of spring wildflowers, however, are accustomed to sowing Indian Blankets by seed.
The Gaillardia aristata, known as Blanketflower, has caught on as a perennial and is native in the west from Canada to New Mexico and across the northern third of the United States eastward to New York. In trials I have been associated with, varieties such as Oranges and Lemons, as well as Sunburst, have stood out tolerating the sweltering heat and humidity of the South. Whereas we think of the Indian Blanket, Gaillardia pulchella, as being a short-lived perennial or reseeding annual, we consider the Blanketflower to be a fairly tough perennial but one that also reseeds, giving you a double shot.
A couple of years ago, the gardening world was turned upside down with the debut of Mesa Yellow, the first F1 hybrid gaillardia from seed. This solid yellow variety not only did well in trials but also was chosen as an All-American Selections Winner and a Flueroselect Gold Medal Winner. The Mesa series has been expanded to two with the addition of Mesa bicolor that looks more like the traditional red and yellow Blanketflower.
Gaillardias will bloom best if you select a location in the full sun. Almost any type of soil is fine as long as it is well-drained, simply put, Gaillardia does not like wet feet. Once established, this plant is drought-tolerant. Deadheading promotes more flowering, but the one thing that impressed me with the Mesa Yellow was that spent flowers took on a golden look for a period of time, looking almost as appealing as a gomphrena.
In the landscape, you have options of combining with yellow flowers for a monochromatic color scheme. At the National Butterfly Center we've partnered them with small yellow flowered bladderpods. But you couldn't go wrong combining them with blue flowers like Victoria Blue salvias or Blue Daze evolvulus. Gaillardias are among the most dazzling flowers we can choose for the garden and it is extra special that provide such a rich source of nectar for bees and butterflies.
Norman Winter is executive director of The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Contact him at: email@example.com.