New York’s Central Park may have its Strawberry Fields, but now New Orleans City Park has wildflower fields — two brilliantly hued expanses along Roosevelt Mall near Marconi Drive that add dazzling shocks of color to the park’s leafy beauty.
“It’s an experiment, really,” said City Park’s chief executive officer, Bob Becker. “And the origins were practical. There are a few areas that are difficult to mow because they are a little lower than the areas around them. I wondered if there couldn’t be something we could plant there that would be attractive and not need to be mowed.”
Becker said he got the idea for the flowers from the park’s North Golf Course, where a patch was planted with wildflowers last year. He met with the horticultural staff and asked if the approach could work elsewhere.
“We decided to give it a try, and we planted the first patch last year,” he said. “It worked so well that we started tilling the ground for the second patch in March of this year.”
The work paid off.
Today, there are two blooming fields of familiar annuals and perennials including baby’s breath, black-eyed Susans, two types of coneflowers, poppies, gaura, gilia, gaillardia, coreopsis, four o’clocks, liatris, lemon mint, verbena, asters, lupines, phlox, flax, sage, cosmos and tree mallows. The flowers create a golden tapestry, with accents of red, purple and white.
The reaction from parkgoers has been exuberant, according to Amanda Frentz, media manager at the park. The fields have become choice spots for families to take photos of their children, and the flowers seem to have attracted dozens of other photographers eager to capture their beauty, especially close-up images of the flowers visited by bees, she said.
At least one artist has set up an easel to paint the scene on canvas, she said.
Mowed pathways through the fields make it possible to enjoy the wildflowers without damaging them.
The plants grew from an ornamental wildflower seed mix purchased by the park, then spread on soil prepared by the horticultural staff.
Some of the plants are native to the region. Others are non-native species that have adapted well to regional conditions.
In addition to the ornamental appeal of the flowers and their practical use, each species adds something to the biodiversity of the park, Becker said.
Gilia, for example, are food for the larvae of some butterfly species, and coreopsis is food for the caterpillars of other butterfly species.
The coneflower — or echinacea — is a source of various herbal remedies, and lemon mint is used to make tea.
Although many of the plants in the mix are perennials and can be counted on to establish themselves and bloom year after year, others are annuals.
“What’s great is that even though a lot of them are annuals, many are the kind that self-seed, so they should reappear when the weather warms up enough and we get enough rain,” Becker said.
One such annual is the four o’clock plant, which can be found in many old gardens in New Orleans. When its flowers open in the late afternoon, they emit an intoxicating scent.
Becker said the cool spring and dry weather early in the year delayed the onset of plant growth in the newly planted field and caused him a bit of concern.
“The horticultural staff kept telling me to be patient, but I was anxious,” he said. “We invested in the seed and diverted resources to the project, so what if it didn’t work? It became a little bit of a joke in the office. Whenever the staff couldn’t find me at my desk, they’d say, ‘He’s probably outside, waiting for the wildflowers to bloom.’ ”
R. Stephanie Bruno is a contributing writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. or follow her on Twitter, @rstephaniebruno