Wildseed Farm in FredericksburgOctober 2014
San Antonio Our Kids Magazine
Beauty Blooms in TexasOctober 2014
Thomas began with a turf seeding business but adapted to wildflowers when the housing business began to slow down. His challenge was to develop a special planter for the tiny wildflower seeds and a machine that could harvest the seeds.
“A lot of people have tried to grow wildflowers, but not on a large scale,” Thomas says. “Wildflower seeds are difficult to find.”
Thomas has developed three divisions at the farm. First is the bulk seed division, which produces seeds in 50-pound bags that are sold to groups like highway departments. Then there is the mail order catalog, which gets seeds into the hands of homeowners who want to enjoy wildflowers. Lastly, there is agritourism at the farm. The farm is open daily and includes acres of flowers and a butterfly garden for visitors to explore, as well as food offerings and hundreds of garden items that customers can buy to grow their own wildflowers.
“When customers come, they see a real, live working flower farm with tractors harvesting or planting,” Thomas says. “They see how we grow the seed from start to finish. It’s an educational center, as well as a place to see blooms.” Plantings are done every two weeks to guarantee fresh blossoms from spring through fall for the more than 300,000 visitors to the farm. “We’ll plant other flowers as well like sunflowers and later-blooming wildflowers,” Thomas says. Thomas’ favorite flower is still the Texas bluebonnet. “People can get out in the production fields and take photos, purchase seeds, see flowers growing, even have a glass of wine and relax. I like to say, come for the flowers and stay for the atmosphere.”
Sowing SeedsOctober 2014
And while it’s a treat to wander through those intoxicating blue and purple fields in the springtime, in my opinion the best time to experience Wildseed Farms is in the fall. That’s because fall is the season to sow wildflower seeds for a springtime bloom.
“When people see the beautiful colors in the spring, they think, ‘I want to plant some for myself,’” says John Thomas, Wildseed Farms’ founder and president. “But by spring, it’s too late. You’ve got to plant them in the fall.”
John has been in the wildflower business for 38 years. A native Texan with calloused hands and a friendly drawl, John was running a small turf-seeding business when he realized that there were few sources to supply the wildflower seeds in demand by landscape contractors, the public, and government entities seeking to beautify the roadsides. So, in 1983 John and his wife, Marilyn, set out to create a business that over time has become the industry leader in wildflower seed sales.
Wildseed Farms has contributed seeds for planting thousands of acres in Texas, and hosts more than 350,000 people each year at the center. Despite its walking trails, butterfly garden and event space, it is not a botanical center. It’s a working farm, and that’s part of the experience.
In the fall, it is an especially busy farm, buzzing with the activity of planting season. Out in the production fields, you’ll see farmers hard at work alongside two pieces of equipment invented by John himself: the J-Thom 42 Wildseeder, which can plant up to 14 varieties of wildflowers at the same time, and the Vacuum Seed Retriever, which harvests ripened seeds. Both were instrumental in John’s commercial success, by making the seeds available in bulk quantities.
Except for in the dead of winter, the farm is in bloom throughout the year, and in September and October, yellow and orange flowers are the stars of the show. Tall rows of sunflowers and yellow cosmos line the walking trails, as do informative placards with details about each flower’s season and ideal growing conditions. Shaded wooden benches along the trails are placed strategically to offer quintessential Hill Country views. You can sit for a moment and gaze over the riot of color and then follow the expanse of farmland to the hills and the horizon beyond. You could bring a book, but why would you want to?
At the 7,000-square-foot outdoor marketplace, visitors load carts full of herbs, cacti, and succulents before moving on to browse the diverse selection of painted pots and planters. Fall colors dominate the vegetable rows, which overflow with gourds, squashes, and pumpkins—and where you’ll likely find a few of the two dozen farm cats lounging.
Inside, the wood-paneled gift and seed shop feels festive, with decorative orange and yellow wreaths, pumpkin accessories, and Halloween gifts offered for sale. There’s an old-timey, endearingly scattered feel to the shop—on one shelf, vintage Bingo boards are displayed next to a crooked, handwritten sign: “Play Old Fashioned Bingo!!!! With your Kids and Grandkids.”
Gardeners, take note: The back room is where it gets serious. Devoted entirely to seed sales, the semicircular room houses more than 90 varieties of wildflower seeds, plus several special mixes organized by region of the country. Wall-to-wall shelves hold small, paper seed packets organized by variety and labeled by thumbnail photographs of the flower in bloom. If you’ve got a big property, or a ranch, look for the 50-pound burlap bags of seeds; Wildseed Farms sells these to more than 28 different highway departments around the United States.
After planning and buying seeds for your own springtime wildflower garden, treat yourself to a beer, glass of Texas wine, or a frozen peach Bellini from the Brewbonnet Biergarten, an expansion of the gift shop that features soft-serve ice cream, specials like “German tacos” (sausage topped with sauerkraut and wrapped in flour tortillas), and rows upon rows of pickles and gourmet jams and jellies—all available for sampling.
And don’t stress about the planting: John promises it’s “real simple.” Wait until October or November, he says, then find a spot where the seed is sure to hit the soil (mow any tall grass) and will get plenty of sunlight, and then “just cast it out, and pray for rain."
Texas Highways - The Travel Magazine of Texas
Our Trip to Wildseed Farms May 28, 2011
They say this is the largest wildflower farm in the entire country, and it is a mecca for garden-lovers. There are acres of wildflowers blooming at any given time: poppies, sunflowers, roses, purple coneflowers, too many to list!
As you stroll along the trails, the hundreds of butterflies accenting the masses of color make a pretty spectacular sight. The farm sells all kinds of plants and everything garden-related: pottery, sculpture, tools, outdoor decor and bird-feeders. If you’re inspired by the flowers, there are seeds from these fields for sale, as well as regional seed mixes.
All that sightseeing can work up an appetite, so there’s a Brew-bonnet Biergarten on hand, offering snacks, sandwiches, peach ice cream, and of course, beer. There are several shops on the premises. The one above was filled with local products, like Texas wine, olive oil, jams and jellies, honey, salsas and more. The huge shop below offered garden products, plus soaps, candles, all kinds of home decor.
They’ve replaced the Butterfly Haus with a butterfly garden, an area specially planted with flowers that attract the beautiful fluttering insects. There are tips on starting your own butterfly garden at home.Wayout West Austin
Wildseed Farms InterviewApril 19, 2012
Lauren Osborn of KCWX talks to John Thomas of Wildseed Farms about all the beautiful flowers they grow there in the hill country, and how you can grow some of your own!YouTube
Planting WildflowersMarch 23, 2011
Wildflowers are becoming an increasingly popular landscape alternative in this region ... they add color and natural beauty to any area. Unlike European-style formal gardens with straight lines, square corners and manicured edges, low maintenance wildflower gardens require little water or mowing once established.
But that doesn't mean wildflowers are easily grown from seed. Indeed, while some species require little more effort than casting seeds on the soil, most require specific soil and temperature conditions, a certain degree of ongoing attention and, most of all, patience. Wildseed Farms in Fredricksburg has a Web site that ranks the most popular species with an average "planting success" rate, using a scale of 10-100 percent. Species with a lower percentage ratio may require more time and attention, but they will be well worth your effort. Additional information about the temperament of each species is also included at the site.
Unlike ornamental flower or vegetable seeds, most of wildflower seeds have not been genetically altered to achieve specific traits such as rapid germination, height, color or adaptation to specific soil types or climates. As wildflower enthusiasts, we want to produce in two to three years a display of color to match what has taken Mother Nature hundreds of years to achieve. Nature plays an important role in the success or failure of all wildflower plantings.
Adverse weather conditions such as drought, hail or excessive rainfall may seriously affect your success. If you want things like Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes in your landscape in the spring, you need to plant seeds in October and November. Many species will quickly germinate after planting in order to allow the seedling enough time to establish a healthy root system before going dormant for the winter. Some seeds may not germinate if the ground temperature is below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Those will remain dormant until early spring and will begin to emerge under more favorable conditions. Keep in mind the two main keys to success when sowing wildflowers: the seeds need to be in contact with soil, and you've got to keep a handle on weeds.GardenLine