Winter winds leave an untidy legacy in the early spring garden. Cleaning up those broken branches and dead leaves is a chore, but the job is a lot more pleasant if you have another kind of “wind” tickling the toes of your garden clogs—windflowers or spring anemones. Planted in borders or containers, they emerge just as the garden gets going.
All anemones are members of the buttercup or Ranunculaceae family. Several species sprout from fall-planted rhizomes and spread politely when they are happy. The blooms can be demure or relatively showy, with foliage that is most often attractively dissected. Deer tend to leave anemones alone, but early spring pollinators, who use the flowers as a much-needed food source, love them all.
Little Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda) is often the earliest riser among the windflowers, generally appearing in late March or early April. Growing only 6 to 9 inches tall, blanda anemones are so tough that they can even be planted beneath black walnut trees. The flowers look more like daisies than buttercups, with nine to twelve petal-like sepals in shades of violet-blue, pink, or white. The leaves are almost fern-like in appearance and add a flourish to the flowers.
Grecian windflowers rhizomes are most often available in mixed assortments, but with a little hunting, you can also buy single colors. An old favorite variety, ‘White Splendor’, bears clean white sepals that harmonize well with other spring flowers, and the classic Blue Shades mix comes in pretty shades of violet blue. Grecian windflowers are very effective planted in drifts or naturalized in wooded areas and coexist well with other plants. This is a bonus, given their ephemeral nature. Once the plant has bloomed and set seed, it fades away completely until the following spring.
A Different Kind of Snowdrop
Snowdrop windflower (Anemone sylvestris) is another April bloomer. The flowers sit atop stems that may reach up to 18 inches tall. Each delicate flower has slightly ruffled white sepals that surround prominent yellow stamens. The petals are followed up by distinctive, fuzzy white seed heads later on. Sometimes snowdrop windflowers give an encore performance in the fall. With their longer stems and sweet fragrance, these anemones also make good cut flowers.
Wind in the Woods
In April and May, wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) emerges. The plants are a little taller than Grecian windflowers, with darker green, dissected foliage and erect stems that rise between 6 and 18 inches. Those dainty petal-like sepals are generally white, at least on the wild form. Sometimes they are tinged pink or palest blue. Specialty nurseries carry more unusual forms of wood anemone, including some with blue, pink or even yellow-green flowers. Double-petaled forms, like ‘Alba Plena’ are only an Internet search away.
Showy in the Spring
Poppy anemones (Anemone coronaria) are the showiest of the spring bloomers and tend to appear a little later in spring. Deep blue, red, pink, or white petal-like sepals surround dramatic black or blue-black centers on flowers that bloom atop stalks up to 18 inches tall. Because of their bold good looks, poppy anemones have long been favorites of flower arranging.
Among the most popular poppy anemone varieties are the de Caen types, which bear single flowers and are usually sold in mixed-color assortments. Other old favorites include the deep blue-purple ‘Mr. Fokker’ and pristine white ‘Mount Everest’, which has semi-double flowers.
Unlike other spring-blooming anemones, coronaria varieties are only reliably hardy within USDA plant hardiness zones 7-10 (though some cultivars like ‘Mr. Fokker’ are reportedly hardier), so the tubers cannot be planted outside in cold-winter climates. If you have an unheated sun porch or cold frame, plant them in pots in the fall, place in the frost free spaces, and bring them outside in the spring. Otherwise, plant in very early spring for late spring or early summer bloom.
All spring-blooming anemones like rich, well-drained soil. Wood and snowdrop varieties prefer partially shady situations, while Grecian and poppy anemones relish more sunshine. If your soil is poor or poorly frost-free end it with a high-quality product like Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Soak the tuberous rhizomes of Grecian, snowdrop, and wood anemones overnight before planting. If you are planting Grecian windflowers naturalizing, place the rhizomes close together, and they will eventually spread on their own.
You can find windflowers alongside the tulip and daffodil bulbs on retailers’ shelves starting in early fall. Poppy anemones are generally available for spring shipment.
Spring-blooming bulbs are one of gardening’s cheapest and easiest thrills. Not only do they provide loads of flowers at a minimum of cost they also make splendid partners for other spring-blooming perennials and bulbs. Here are some beautiful partnerships to consider as you plan (and plant) for spring.
Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) and winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) are clump-forming woodlanders that burst into bloom during the first mild days of the year, often before the last patches of snow have melted. The strappy leaves and white, green-blotched flowers of snowdrops grow from small, daffodil-like bulbs that repel rodents. The nobbly underground tubers of winter aconites are also pest-resistant, while their sunny-yellow buttercup blooms attract bees. Purchased Eranthis tubers are often hopelessly desiccated, so it pays to shop around for a reliable source. A more sure-fire way of establishing winter aconites is to scatter freshly collected seed in early summer.
Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa spp.), and early daffodils (Narcissus spp.). Lavish drifts of small blue flowers carpet the ground under spreading branches laden with purple-pink, waterlily blooms. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Although individually small, Siberian squill and glory of the snow self-sow into large, carefree colonies that flower in tandem with Magnolia × soulangiana and early daffodils such as ‘February Gold’, forming a classic early-spring garden scene. These little bulbs also partner splendidly with the white flowers of star magnolia (Magnolia kobus var. stellata) and the yellow blooms of early daffodils (including ‘Little Gem’). They’re at their best in full to partial sun and humus-rich soil.
Tommy crocuses (Crocus tommasinianus), Arnold Promise witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’), and hellebores (Helleborus spp.). Most crocuses are squirrel fodder. One notable exception is the Tommy crocus, which not only persists in the garden but naturally spreads via self-sowing. It’s also one of the earliest crocuses, opening its silver-blue flowers in late winter, at the same time that the spidery yellow petals of Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ unfurl. These early-blooming crocus flourish in light shade and humus-rich soil and glow most brightly when backlit by the sun. ‘Arnold’ grows to 10 to 15 feet tall and wide, so give it room!
Grape hyacinths (Muscari spp.), daffodils (Narcissus spp.), and camass (Camassia spp.). The chubby, sky-blue, steepled flowers of grape hyacinths are the perfect foil for the cheerful, dancing blooms of daffodils. This pest-free, sun-loving combo hits its stride in April with the midseason daffodils (such as ‘Minnow’ and ‘Fortissimo’) and continues into May as the Jonquilla hybrids and other late daffs make their entrance. To keep the blue-and-yellow theme going through mid-May, add some camassias (such as Camassia cusickii or Camassia leichtlinii).
Tulips (Tulipa spp.) and daffodils (Narcissus spp.) are perfect for pairing, as long as the cultivars chosen bloom at the same time (good bulb catalogs will indicate bloom times). Tulips are anything but pest-free, attracting bulb-eating rodents and bud-munching deer. One of the best ways of limiting the carnage is to densely interplant them with daffodils, which most pests actively dislike. Of course, the primary reason for combining the two is that they make such beautiful music together. Starting in very early spring with the early daffodils and “species tulips”, and continuing until the late double-flowered tulips and Jonquilla hybrids bow out in May, they offer any number of enchanting combinations for sunny sites.
Another way to protect and combine tulips is to grow them in pots, which can be mixed and matched with containers of other spring-bloomers, such as pansies and small daffodils. Plant the bulbs an inch or two below the surface in Fafard Ultra Outdoor Potting Mix in late fall or early winter. When sub-30 temperatures arrive, move the pots to a protected location (such as an attached garage) where temperatures stay mostly between 30 and 50 degrees. Water lightly whenever the soil appears dry. For added protection from rodents, place the pots in a critter-proof crate or cover them with hardware cloth (or something equally chew-proof). Move them to an unprotected location in late winter when low temperatures are no longer dipping into the low 20s. Once they’ve re-adapted to the outdoors, combine them with other spring-bloomers in a larger container for a custom-designed display.
Extra-deep planting sometimes works as a tulip-protection strategy. Rather than the usual 4- or 5-inches deep, plant the bulbs with their tops 8 or more inches below the surface. Better yet, dig a 10-inch-deep trench, place the bulbs, bury them under a couple of inches of soil, and install a barrier of hardware cloth before backfilling. Mulch the area with leaves or pine needles to mask the freshly disturbed soil from inquisitive squirrels. It’s a lot of work, but if it allows you to grow and combine tulips such as ‘Queen of the Night’ and ‘Blue Heron’ with impunity, it may be worth it.
A bit of dreaming and bulb-planting in fall can result in glorious garden displays for many springs to come!
Endearing little sprites that carry flocks of dainty, spurred blooms above clumps of ferny divided leaves, tuberous Corydalis (crested larks) are among the most valuable early-spring “bulbs” for shade. These low-growing perennials have long been known to horticulture: the most familiar of the tribe, Corydalis solida, has been kicking around gardens since at least the sixteenth century. But in the last few decades, a multi-hued array of new species and cultivars has entered cultivation, taking the genus into exciting new territory.
The genus Corydalis also has a non-tuberous side, comprising several dozen perennials or annuals that grow from fibrous roots (rather than from swollen underground stems) and that remain in leaf all season (rather than disappearing shortly after bloom). These fibrous-rooted corydali include several species that are well worth a place in the ornamental garden – among them Corydalis lutea (now Pseudofumaria lutea), known for its profusion of yellow blooms and self-sown seedlings; and Corydalis flexuosa, whose luminous blue flowers and notorious heat intolerance have caused much lusting and despair among eastern North American plant enthusiasts. None of them, however, blooms in in early spring in hues ranging from blue to purple to bright red to pale yellow to white. For that, you’ll need Corydalis with tubers – especially Corydalis solida.
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