Crown Jewels of the Sand

04 Aug 2019

Enjoy these crown jewels of the garden! 

By Christine Hall

Growing up in the Sandhills, I remember spending hours in the backyard with my Mother – tiptoeing among blossoms as she navigated the garden. She’d inspect, browse and pick – making arrangements and finding insects to discuss, or a new bird’s nest to protect. We’d listen to the bees and watch the hummingbirds dart in search of a bright, floral drink.

As a young adult, I took interest, and started building my own garden. First on the balcony of my condo. And next, as a wife and mother in our home in Whispering Pines. Each moment spent, taking the lessons I learned from my Mother and applying them to my imagined floral countryside. I wanted to build a nature fortress and live among it with our two young girls.

There was just one problem. My landscape was barren and basked in the blazing sun. What’s more, our soil was fill dirt and tepid sand. My Mother’s garden had been delightfully dappled, shaded and sunned. Moist, aged soil settled happily after years of planting and seeding. It had it all! How was I going to manage? 

After trials of annuals, mismatched potted arrangements and deciduous plants that overwintered without much ado, I took matters into my own hands. 

I searched to discover a collection of native, sustainable perennials (read: happily survives and returns each year) that would thrive in our arid conditions. It was then I realized I needed to consult the experts. I enrolled in the Moore County Master Gardening program and soon, my classmates and I were immersed in the challenges – and delights – of sowing gardens in the Sandhills. 

We learned how to incorporate a delicate balance of living organisms, insects and pollinators, why it’s important to incorporate native species, and the ins and outs of “soil amendment.” If real estate’s moniker was Location, Location, Location, we learned soil’s rallying cry was Amend, Amend, Amend! 

After lots of trial and error, research and dirty fingernails, I landed on a collection of die-hard, heat-thriving perennials that speckle our backyard; attracting native pollinators like bees, moths and butterflies; and providing food for travelling birds, hummingbirds and a collection of roving white squirrels. 

One of my favorite wildflowers is Gaillardia pulchella, more commonly known as Firewheel or Indian Blanket. A Carolina native, you may have seen this copper and yellow-hued delight growing at the beach or along roadsides. Dubbed one of the most tolerant of hostile surroundings, this bushy prairie flower takes heat and soil deficiencies in stride.

How to Plant and Grow Indian Blanket grows well from transplanting or seeding and will take full sun to part shade. Deadheading, watering and feeding late in the season can promote a new set of blooms. They also do well in cut arrangements with their bold red, orange and yellow blooms. Pairs well with Coreopsis and Cosmos.

Tips and Tricks Indian Blanket often drops seeds and returns the following year nearby but is non-invasive. Indian Blanket is of special value to bees searching for flowers late in the season, and can be planted in early fall to provide a valuable food source. Just make sure you plant early enough to develop a heathy root system before the winter frost.

Medicinal Use Native Americans used infusions of its roots and leaves to relieve upset stomachs and to treat saddle sores on horses. Others picked the flowers for good luck. Cancer studies have determined this flower contains a tumor-killing (antineoplastic) compound as well as antibacterial properties.

Tips for Planting

Soil Preparation. In sandy soils, the particles are so loose that water runs right through, and nutrients have nothing to cling to. Organic matter in the form of composted leaves, manures and garden compost available at most gardening stores are invaluable to improving the soil’s ability to hold nutrients. My favorite is Garden Scape Organic Mushroom Compost. Modestly priced at a little over $4 a bag, several bags can be spread area-wide, or like I do, used sparingly by the cupful to place in your freshly dug holes. Shredded Mulch is like icing on the cake, and can be used as a finish on top to trap moisture and protect tender roots.

Don’t be afraid to try your luck in beautifying your own home landscape. You, too, can snicker at drought with these fiery beauties. And, as we near the turn to fall, I encourage you to discover what blooms and leaves an impression in your heart. 

Enjoy these crown jewels of the garden! 

Christine Hall is a Master Gardener, Communications Director for Sandhills Farm to Table and a Sandhills native.

Prev Post Thyme & Place Café
Next Post Game On!
Pinehurst Medical Clinic