The Secrets of Wildflowers

St. John’s Wort

“In joy or sadness, flowers are our constant friends.”  ~Kakuzo Okakura


Black-eyed Susans

Even with the crazy and extreme winter weather, we have had an abundance of wildlife visiting the garden.  And the wildlife is one of the biggest reasons I have added more and more native wildflowers to the garden.  They bring us hours of excitement right outside our window.

And for the last couple of years, I have enjoyed profiling many native plants in my garden and learning more about how they grow, their folklore and benefits to wildlife.  And naturally I have been collecting many books about the folklore and uses of wildflowers.  I like to have lots of information about the plants I grow and those I am thinking of growing.

So when I saw this book last spring, I couldn’t wait to buy it.  I finally had more time to read this book, and thought what a perfect first garden book to review for 2014.


The Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History

secrets wildflowers


Author:   Jack Sanders

Paperback: 320 pages

Publisher:   Lyons Press (January 26, 2010)

Amazon Price: $41.00 Used (I bought it for $12 in May)



In A Few Words


The book is divided into sections based on the seasons spring to fall.  And the plants are further arranged according to when they bloom in that season.  The author begins by telling us why wildflowers are so important.  As he says these flowers are interesting with many “secrets” and:

“…few things in nature beautify the world more than wildflowers…..without them the world would be a pretty dull place.”

This book describes both native and alien wildflowers; those that were here before humans came to North America and those that were imported.  So why profile both?  The author says simply because they are both interesting.  He further says that wildflowers are defined by their success at surviving sometimes too much so.  He gave several references to how humans have helped this success.  One such example is ragweed that exploded in its growth and range when humans poured more carbon dioxide into the air.

The author tried to choose a variety of the most common wildflowers showcasing many of their medicinal and practical qualities.




What I Liked


I have to say that if I judged this book by its cover it would rate 4 out of 4 stars as it resembles my meadow in spring.  But just reading the introduction hooked me as I couldn’t put down this tribute to wildflowers.  So many stories and sidebar poems and snippets are crammed into the book:  origins of names, natural history, folklore, habitats and creative uses.

For instance St. John’s Wort has a rather mystical past associated with St. John the Baptist for whom the plant was named.  But it is considered a noxious weed in some spots depending on the species.   And red trillium’s putrid scent was considered a divine sign for its use to treat gangrene.

And I love how the author highlights the benefits of wildflowers to the habitat of birds, insects, animals and even humans.  For instance, eating the basal leaves of blue violets in the spring will give you 5 times more Vitamin C.  And some daisies are actually repellent to insects because they contain a natural insecticide.



Not So Much

Purple Loosestrife

While the author includes invasive weeds in this book, I still find the stories and history of these plants intriguing none-the-less.  At first I was off put by this, but now I understand why he included them.  And I think I actually appreciate the book more because they are included since most of us have them growing in our gardens whether we like them or not.

Some interesting tidbits about purple loosestrife are included.  This alien wildflower is considered one of the most noxious because of its takeover of wetlands.  But it is controlled by insects in its native habitat which is one reason it runs wild here; we don’t have that insect.  And the supposed sterile cultivars have been found to not be so sterile after all, creating more ways to keep this plant running amok.




Final Thoughts


If you are looking for a book to identify wildflowers or show lots of great pictures of them, this is not the book.  As the author says, there are field guides for that.

This book takes you to the next part in the story of wildflowers beyond what they look like and where you might find them.  It’s the wonderful stories that will keep you reading.  I agree with many others who have read this book; it is an intriguing if not indispensable addition to your wildflower library.




Are you a lover of wildflowers?  What is your favorite wildflower native or alien?


In about a month it will be time for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).  I look forward to this event every year image_previewas it means spring is closer, and I get to be part of a growing movement to track and record what is going on in my wildlife garden.  Scientists use the data to help learn more about birds and what factors may be affecting them.  This year will be the first International GBBC.  I hope you will be part of the fun from February 14th to the 17th.



I am joining in with Katarina@Roses and Stuff for her meme Wisdom Wednesday.  Include the quote she has chosen or chose one of your own.  You know how I love quotes.

“Every time I go into the garden where the man or woman who owns it has a passionate love of the earth and of growing things, I find that I have come home.”  ~Marion Cran



Next up on the blog:  I have a special post coming on Thursday.  I am collaborating with a fellow blogger and friend, calling all gardeners for their advice.  And there will be a giveaway.  Then first post in my 2014 Simply The Best series begins next week.  I hope you will enjoy the plants I am planning to profile.

I am linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.

It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. See my latest post.

I can also be found blogging once a month at Vision and Verb.  My first post will be on January 22nd.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.sharethelove

I am also joining in I Heart Macro with Laura@Shine The Divine that happens every Saturday.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2014.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.

61 Replies to “The Secrets of Wildflowers”

  1. Wonderful book review. Your photos and post are lovely. Now, I am looking for spring to see some wildflowers. Have a happy day!

  2. I love native wildflowers and meadows. Learning about the history of plants is so intriguing and helps me understand the plants so much better. This sounds like a good read. I will be putting it on my list of books to read.

  3. This sounds like an interesting book, full of info. I think my favorite wildflower is the common Echinacea, E. purpurea. We don’t have a problem with purple loosestrife here in the PNW, but when I lived in Massachusetts, it was everywhere! Pretty but so invasive. Our garden then bordered protected wetlands, and many times I pulled loosestrife out of my garden, even though it wasn’t actually growing nearby.

  4. Hi Donna. I really love that opening quote – it jumped out at me, as a dear friend and fellow lover of flowers was laid to rest today. She would have agreed. Thank you.
    I also wrote a brief review of this book last year – it is a beautiful collection of tales and folklore and I love looking through it, even though it primarily covers North American plants. Your review is lovely.

    1. I am so sorry Cathy for the loss of your friend…I seek solace in flowers so the quote was important to me. I probably read the review Cathy and it may have been you who sparked my interest in the book so I thank you! 🙂

  5. Thank you, Donna, for a great book review! I think I would enjoy the stories and folkore that goes along with the wildflowers. California poppy is one native wildflower that I try to grow from seeds. But it doesn’t always grow so well for me. Last year I tried Butterfly Weed (Asclepias), but I’m not so sure it’s native to my area. but it did really well. You do have some pretty wildflowers growing in your area!

    1. Dorothy I believe butterfly weed is native to CA so I hope grows for you. I adore CA poppies and wish they were native here. Glad you liked the book review.

  6. This looks like a fun book, especially as I am also a big fan of wildflowers and grow many of them in my garden. Of course, all garden flowers start out as wildflowers, and the dividing line is really not so clear. As to a favorite, threre are too many to say, but here are three: Anise Hyssop, Butterflyweed, and Brown Eyed Susan.

    1. Love your favorites Jason. And so very true that our flowers start as wildflowers. I think that is why I love them so….you would love the book and its stories.

  7. I love wildflowers, and I love the look of your blog and your beautiful photos! Are you like me? Are you getting more stir crazy this winter than other winters? It has been so cold, I haven’t even gone outside much. That must change in the months ahead! Cheers, Donna, and thanks for the book review!

    1. Beth I think I go stir crazy every winter as I age. I am so glad you like the blog look and book review. I hope we get another break in the weather without the rain so I can get outside.

    1. Indeed Michelle it is quite a winter again…frigid here today and rest of the week. Stay warm and so glad you are helping the birds.

  8. It so happens, Donna, that I am a HUGE HUGE HUGE lover of wildflowers and would probably grow only them if I had my own garden…unless, of course, I found out that was impossible? That tells you what I know (and don’t know)!

    At our family cottage in Michigan tiger lilies grow wild all along the dirt driveway entrance. They thrill me to no end every time I see them. Who would have known they could/would grow wild with no human intervention!

    1. Ginnie what a sight that must be to see those gorgeous lilies growing wild. I too marvel at how the flowers grow in stunning arrays in the wild.

    1. Definitely in the right setting in their country of origin Carole. But here they have become a menace killing our native wildflowers in the wetlands…too bad since they are pretty.

  9. I am now reading a book called Backyard Medicine. It also has many of the information that you have mentioned. It’s a great book to have if one wants a garden that helps both nature, birds, animals and humans.

    It seems like many of the non-native species of the US were brought in my early settlers and now they have naturalized here, and thus have become indistinguishable from native species.

    Do you have a handy list of all the native plants that you have or know about? I would like to have that list, follow it and buy accordingly. Thanks.

    1. I do not have a handy list but I can give you some reference websites to help you with your NJ natives. I am working on a list for my garden to see what I have growing.

      I like the sound of the book you are reading….so I will check it out.

  10. I’ll have to look for this book. I have tons of wildflower books and still learn something new every day. My favorite wildflower I guess would be Green Gentian. It is rather rare (in my area it’s only on our property in a good sized colony) and it is a monocarp. It is not a well known wildflower tho. It is native to the US for sure. I am sort of trying to keep our new farm mostly native with the wildflowers. Choosing wildflowers for the meadow was an exercise in restraint for sure.

    1. Your favorite wildflower sounds gorgeous and special Tina. And I applaud your efforts to keep your farm native. I think you would like this book.

  11. Charmed by your wildflower images as you review the book, Donna. Wish I had a meadow as I think my favourite are all of them together growing in a wild bunch. English bluebells are hard to beat even though they are not pleasant to eat – though used in concoctions for bladder and v*g*n*l problems. Useful info about Loosestrife – our natives are other’s pests! Had to look up what eats it.

    1. I love your bluebells Laura and always wished I could grow them. And fascinating info about your natives. Amazing the story behind our wildflowers no matter where we live.

  12. I’ve read this book. I am more interested in wildflowers than “cultivated”. My fave wildflower is Aquilegia canadensis (Canadian columbine).

  13. I love books like this with lots of background information – and the pictures sound wonderful. In the UK our birdwatch is this next weekend – counting the species in one hour. Last year the birds were all in hiding!

  14. I guess the book wouldn’t be for me because a wildflower is a native plant. Never in my wildest dreams would I include purple loosestrife, a plant that was originally purchased in garden centers and escaped to the wild to do more damage than any other plant. It is illegal in most eastern states. Perhaps the author includes it just to point this out? I know you know all this, but since I run an invasive plant removal program, I am very touchy :-).

    1. I completely understand and agree Carolyn. Many people see non-natives that grow along roadsides and in meadows as wildflowers because they grow wild everywhere. They don’t understand how invasive and problematic they can be. So the author includes them to clear up their story and to let people know they are not native wildflowers.

  15. Many of our perennials had their start in meadows as native plants, so some are not a far stretch from being a wildflower. I do prefer my wildflowers actually wild in a natural meadow, but have many of the same cultivars in my garden. I have to agree with Carolyn that this book would not be one that would interest me. Wildflowers should be native.

  16. After reading your review and a few of the comments I am realizing that I haven’t paid enough attention to the difference between a wildflower and a native flower. I sometimes get confused about what is a “native” flower. For me a modern cultivar of echinacea is not a true “native”. Obviously I need to read and learn more! This book sounds interesting. I especially like the fact that it also includes folklore and history.

    1. Jennifer when I first learned about wildflowers I realized the same thing…many are not native. So I have been learning a lot through books, blogs and websites. Glad you liked the review.

  17. So many gardeners are getting into wild flowers and meadows these days. Your wonderful book review will come in very useful.
    I have to say Donna, there was little wrong with the old look of your blog but your new set up is totally professional, as is the content of course.

    1. Oh Alistair you are too kind. I loved my original theme too Alistair, but I just wanted a bit of a change…glad you like it.

  18. I love wild flowers and books about wild flowers. This book sounds particularly fascinating because your wild flowers are so different, they sound really exotic to me.

  19. Hi Donna, i love wildflowers, but when it comes to their beauty i agree ours are not as big and as lovely as those in the temperate climates.

      1. Yes Donna, you’re right. And by the way, i wonder why i cannot open your link on beautiful wildflower garden. I’ve tried so many times, but cannot. thanks.

  20. Hi Donna, very smart new look fr your site. I had hoped to give mine a revamp this winter but I have been to tied up in other things. The books sounds just about perfect for you and your passion for wildflowers, I wonder if there is an equialent for British natives.

  21. I have loved wildflowers as long as I can remember, and I came to gardening by way of wildflowers. I used to think of “native plants” as equal to wildflowers, but now I realize just how many of the flowers I think of as local wildflowers are actually exotics that escaped from gardens. Thanks for reviewing this book; I think I would enjoy it.

    1. I have learned the difference as well Jean as I have read and researched wildflowers. I am sure you would love this book.

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