Nothing is more emblematic of the lazy dog days of summer than a field bursting with the colors of wildflowers.
On any given summer evening, we need go no farther to enjoy that idyllic image than Homestead Metro Park, 4675 Cosgray Road in Hilliard.
As evidenced by the number of photographers, walkers and chatter on social media, few places in Hilliard have become more popular and captured the imagination of so many as the wildflower garden at Homestead.
Just a few years ago, Homestead Park featured a wide-open expanse of lawn that commonly is found in other pastoral-style parks.
Franklin County Metro Parks leaders take a more "naturalistic" view of park design and so, when they took over operations of the park, the most immediate and noticeable change was the tilling up of a large chunk of that lawn space to begin a new wildflower-habitat garden.
According to park manager Bryan Knowles, there were many other advantages to making this switch: reduced maintenance, increasing soil permeability to improve stormwater retention, creation of wildlife habitat and of course, improved aesthetics because the space is visible from Cosgray Road.
As with all native wildflower plantings, it takes two to three years before the native perennial species take off. To keep the area attractive during this early phase when it may have otherwise appeared weedy, non-native annual flowers were incorporated in the mix, including dianthus, cornflowers, painted daisies, poppies and, of course, the pink explosion of cosmos that took off and captured the eye of every passerby that first summer and fall.
In this third year since the initial planting, the native species are starting to take over.
These include black-eyed Susans, purple coneflowers, gray-headed coneflowers, wild bee balms and downy sunflowers.
Native grasses were not included in the planting because they would have rapidly overrun the flowering perennials.
By focusing on native species, Metro Parks has created a vibrant habitat for insects, birds and small mammals.
Native pollinators, bees and butterflies, along with praying mantis and numerous species of beetles, are ever present in the garden.
Sparrows, goldfinches, hummingbirds and eastern bluebirds are all avian species that can be seen frequently. Late in the year, you likely will see some birds of prey hunting as the foliage that hid the small mammals begins to die.
Although this garden eventually will save time on maintenance, there initially is a lot more upkeep than meets the eye.
Aggressive weeds, such as pokeweed and thistle, are removed, primarily by hand, in order to prevent them from taking over.
In a natural setting, fire would be the best process by which weeds are eliminated and native perennials encouraged. Because that is not ideal in a city setting, the next best practice is mowing the area.
According to Knowles, Metro Parks cuts only one time, in late fall or winter, at a height of 8 inches so as not to disturb young mammals and nesting areas for birds. After the garden fully is established, mowing takes place only once every few years.
As this garden matures, we will continue to see changes in the dominant plant species and likely even more wildlife attracted to the habitat.
This beautiful and ever-changing garden most certainly will remain a favorite summer destination in Hilliard for many years to come.
Hilliard City Councilman Pete Marsh is the council liaison to the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission.