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Fields of Wildflowers Can't be Beat
by Joyce Schillen
November 29, 1999

It got hot while we were away on vacation. In spite of my son keeping everything watered, the garden looked a little bedraggled when we returned. Or maybe I was just comparing it to the wildflower fields at Glacier National Park.

Nothing can top those fantastic wildflowers for beauty and grace. They were progressively popping into bloom, painting the slopes from valley floor to snow fields with every color possible. The backdrop of gorgeous geology and sparkling lakes set them off just fine.

I told myself I’d enjoy the flowers this time by simply feasting my eyes upon them. However, being an unrepentant counter and cataloger, I ended up making a list as usual. On my list are 42 specific Rocky Mountain wildflowers, and some I couldn’t identify even with the help of guidebooks.

The Indian paintbrush was shining brightly, screaming along the Going-to-the-Sun roadside in shades of red, magenta, and mauve, a new paintbrush color in my experience. Tall spikes of fireweed and patches of white and purple asters joined the paintbrush.

Have you ever thought of cow parsnip — a favorite bear food — as being a pretty plant? It is when it’s filling entire fields with giant plants with even taller flower stalks.

Oddly enough, the bear grass that rangers say bloomed profusely last year was barely present this year.

There were numerous other flowers in various degrees of lushness, including glacier lilies, brown-eyed Susan, sticky geranium, monarda, and penstemon. Mountain hollyhock, or globemallow, was just beginning to line the roadsides with long racemes of delicate pink blossoms.

Glacier has various plant communities that are influenced by elevation and moisture. Plants in the dryer areas — lupine, mullein, pearly everlasting, yarrow, thistle, St. Johnswort, shooting star, buckwheat, rose, false hellebore — were familiar as Rogue Valley wildflowers.

East Glacier Park is where the prairie butts up against the mountains, and the intermix of species makes the area especially exuberant with wildflowers.

Next up on the wildflower chase: Crater Lake National park in early August. Don’t miss it!

But now, back to the real world. The garden apparently took our absence as a sign it could do whatever it pleased, like a teenager while the parents are way. The weeds gained a stranglehold in several beds. Too much heat and not enough personal attention made the flowers retreat.

The cucumbers and zucchini, however, flourished while we were gone. With too many cukes, even to make into pickles, I dug out the list from an earlier column on local food banks and kitchens that can use fresh produce.

What else happened while we were gone? For one thing, the deer noticed. We’ve been maintaining an uneasy truce this year with the three- generation herd that has settled in. They steal a plant on two on the periphery of the garden but shoo away agreeably when we catch them at it.

Lack of human activity was just too much encouragement for them, though. They ate the potted tree peony on the front porch, even though it had been saturated with RoPel before we left. They even ate a fledgling autumn sage in the herb garden. It was probably one of the spotted fawns that did that, not yet knowing that our agreement is that deer leave the strong-scented plants alone.

This morning when I went outdoors a big fat doe was asleep in the middle of the herb garden. I’m just glad she found an open spot to lie down in and didn’t smash anything.

Copyright 1997 Joyce Schillen

Joyce Schillen (So. Oregon, Zone 8) Author of "The Growing Season" (ISBN 0-936738-12-x) Home of "Gatherings of GARDENers" photo album

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