Just stop by one of Jenny Kendler’s seed stations, located at strategic spots on Buffalo’s East Side, as well as other Western New York locations, and grab a pack of seeds. The project, titled Rewilding New York, is intended to reintroduce native plants to the urban center, providing sustenance for pollinators and challenging conventional notions of what urban plantings should be. The seed stations are standard newspaper boxes that have been covered in floral designs created by Kendler (and otherwise adapted); it is part of a series of public art projects organized by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Erie County.
Of course, some of the eleven species, provided by Wildflower Farms, should be familiar to most Buffalo gardeners. Echinacea, rudbeckia, and monarda are already commonly used throughout area gardens, though many gardeners are using hybrids rather than the Echinacea purpurea and Rudbeckia hirta offered in the stations. Some varieties are much less familiar though. One of my favorites of the eleven is Agastache foeniculum, the hyssop variety of agastache that is much hardier than the more colorful varieties that only make it as annuals here. If I were planting a wildflower plot with these seeds, I’d combine Agastache foeniculum, Heliopsis helianthoides, and maybe Oligoneuron rigidum (stiff goldenrod). Goldenrod is considered a weed by most nongardeners and many gardeners (at least around here), but I’ve always loved it. The other seeds offered include Achillea millefoilium, Asclepias incarnate (Red Milkweed), Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed), Coreopsis lanceolata, and Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England Aster).
Wildflower Farms is a family-owned seed operation operated by Paul Jenkins and Miriam Goldberger, and located north of Toronto in Ontario; several bloggers visited it during the recent bloggers’ Fling. As Goldberger affirms, the eleven species selected “are designed by nature to withstand the brutally cold conditions of our region. They’re built to survive.”
I have to think most of the politicians who attended the announcement of the project would call many of these plants weeds if they saw them on a roadside, and it’s Kendler’s intention to challenge the conception of what a weed is. I spoke to her briefly, and she said, among other things, “My mother was an active environmentalist and our property bordered on a public bike path; we planted it with native grasses and flowers and I am still wondering how we got away with it.” Kendler’s other projects include a milkwood dispersal balloon cart (the balloons are meant to be popped in the garden, not released), and a large mural in Chicago, A Place of Light and Wind, that educates on the disappearing native prairie. Kendler is also an artist-in-residence with the National Resources Defense Council.
As we know, front garden wildflower plantings that include mainly tall plants are still a problem in many communities. So there’s still plenty of discussion to be had regarding wildflowers/native plants. I hope Kendler’s project will facilitate such a discussion in Western New York.