Tag Archive: Spring Flowers

  1. Spring Bulb Design: Beautiful Pairings

    Tulips, daffodils and smaller bulbs pair well as long as their heights and bloom times are complementary. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    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.

    The Earliest Spring Bulbs

    Snowdrops and winter aconite make great early spring partners in the garden. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    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.

    February Gold daffodils are surrounded by small blue Siberian squill and glory-od-the-snow. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    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 crocus naturalize to create blankets of color that complements early blooming shrubs.

    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 sun.  ‘Arnold’ grows to 10 to 15 feet tall and wide, so give it room!

    Early to Late Spring Bulbs

    Narcissus ‘Stratosphere’ looks great planted alongside Camassia and grape hyacinth. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    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 and daffodils are one of the best bulb combinations if you choose varieties that bloom together.

    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.

    Spring Bulb Containers

    Pansies are a great compliment to tulip containers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    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.

    Bulb Care and Planting

    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 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!

    Tulipa tarda and Muscari latifolium bloom together in beautiful harmony. (Image by Jessie Keith)

     

  2. Native Spring Wildflowers for the Garden

    Hepatica acutiloba

    The vibrant blooms of Hepatica acutiloba peer up from the forest floor.

    Eastern U.S. gardeners in search of spring color can find plenty of inspiration and possibilities right here at home. Many of the wildflowers that brighten our fields and forests in spring also make wonderful and easy garden plants (and quite a few of them are available from reputable plant and seed merchants).

    Among the earliest and most exquisite wildflowers are the hepaticas, two of which occur in woodlands throughout eastern and central North America. Both round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica americana) and sharp-leaved hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) grow into dainty clumps of leathery, semi-evergreen, three-lobed leaves that are often strikingly marbled with contrasting hues. The blue (or sometimes pink or white), starry flowers face up from erect, somewhat furry stems in earliest spring. Hepaticas are lovely Natural and Organicin a partly shaded garden niche protected from the encroachment of larger, more rampant plants. If they’re in a place where passersby can easily admire their early-season display, so much the better. Some botanists place all hepaticas in the genus Anemone, but horticulturists and gardeners will no doubt continue to use the traditional name.

    The delicate white flowers and broad, lobed, bluish green leaves of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) arise soon after the hepaticas come into bloom, with the flowers usually shattering seemingly hours after opening. The spellbinding double blooms of the cultivar ‘Multiplex’, however, keep their exotic beauty for a week or more, looking for all the world like ruffled waterlilies. This is one of those plants that once seen, must be possessed. Native to moist woodlands over much of North America, bloodroot does best in humus-rich soil and partial shade. For this, and many other spring wildflowers, we suggest amending wooded beds with Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost.

    Phlox stolonifera 'Home Fires'

    The pinkish rose Phlox stolonifera ‘Home Fires’.

    For mid-spring display, almost any garden planting could benefit from a few native Phlox. Wild sweet William, Phlox divaricata, is among the most essential. Its sprays of five-petaled, lilac-blue (but occasionally white, purple, or pink) flowers on foot-tall stems spangle woodlands from Quebec to Texas in early or mid-spring. Plants self-sow readily in partly shaded, moist habitats, both in the wild and in the garden. Another eastern U.S. woodlander, Phlox stolonifera, lifts its flower clusters on 8-inch stems about a week after Phlox divaricata commences bloom. Flowers vary in hue, with ‘Bruce’s White’, ‘Blue Ridge’, ‘Sherwood Purple’, and the lilac-pink ‘Home Fires’ representing some of the color range. The species’ common name, creeping phlox, refers to the ground-hugging mats of spoon-shaped, evergreen leaves, which spread rather rapidly in moist acid soil and partial shade.

    Phlox divaricata

    Phlox divaricata spreads across the forest floor to create a sweep of blooms.

    Other phlox, including the Eastern and Midwestern native Phlox subulata, favor harsher, sunnier niches. Moss phlox’s adaptability to arid, sun-parched sites has made it something of a cliché in challenging suburban habitats such as traffic medians and gas station islands. It’s equally well suited, however, for naturalistic “habitat garden” plantings, where its needle-like foliage and colorful early spring blooms combine splendidly with other tough, sun-loving U.S. natives such as bearberry, little bluestem, Missouri primrose, lowbush blueberry, prickly pear, and purple lovegrass. Numerous cultivars of moss phlox are available, flowering in a rainbow of colors from lavender to pink to white. Gardeners looking for a less ubiquitous needle-leaved species might want to consider sand phlox (Phlox bifida), a Plains native whose petals are elegantly cleft into narrow lobes.

    Phlox stolonifera 'Sherwood Purple'

    Phlox stolonifera ‘Sherwood Purple’ is an attractive variety for the garden.

    Among the best companions for woodland phlox is celandine poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum, which inhabits fertile woodlands throughout much of the East and Midwest. Its bright yellow, mid-spring “poppies” on 15-inch plants provide a splashy contrast to the blues of Phlox divaricata and Phlox stolonifera, and its bold, deeply lobed leaves complement their relatively dainty foliage. Both celandine poppy and Phlox divaricata self-sow moderately in partial shade, making them a perfect pair for naturalizing together.

    Sanguinaria canadensis 'Multiplex'

    The double flowers if bloodroot ‘Multiplex’ last for nearly a week!

    They also form a perfect trio with Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica, named for its baby-blue flowers (opening from soft pink buds) that indeed resemble tiny hand bells. The flowers are borne in coiled clusters that elongate on 16-inch stems in late April and May. Prolific self-sowing can occur in moist, partly shaded sites. The large, tongue shaped leaves of this New York to Kansas native die back early summer, as does celandine poppy’s foliage.

    All the above, and many more native plants besides, offer both beautiful blooms and a connection to this place we call home, with little or no fuss involved. What more could a North American gardener want?

  3. Corydalis: A Charming Spring Shade Perennial

    Corydalis malkensis

    Large swan-white blooms grace the cheerful Corydalis malkensis.

    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.

    Corydalis rainbow (3)

    Corydalis come in a veritable rainbow of colors.

    Spring Corydalis

    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.

    Corydalis ornata

    Delicate blue flowers grace Corydalis ornata in spring.

    Native to woodlands from southern Scandinavia to northern Spain to the Ural Mountains to northern Greece, Corydalis solida assumes a dizzying variety of colors and forms across its vast natural range. Until relatively recently, gardeners had to settle for the most common, rather nondescript purple-flowered forms. No longer. A wealth of cultivars in a broad and tantalizing range of hues now populate the pages of bulb catalogs. Among the oldest and most renowned of these new-wave corydali is the brick-red ‘George Baker’, one of a pack of red- and pink-flowered selections hailing from the mountains of Transylvania. (Caveat emptor – bargain-priced tubers sold under Mr. Baker’s name are often imposter seedlings bearing dingy-red blooms.) Other outstanding cultivars from the sunset side of the Corydalis solida color range include deep rose-red ‘Cantata’, rich lilac-pink ‘Sixtus’, and soft creamy-pink ‘Blushing Girl’. At the violet end of the spectrum are pale-lilac ‘Ballade’, denim-blue ‘Compact’, icy bluish-white ‘Evening Dream’, and the aptly named ‘Purple Beauty’. Milky-flowered ‘Snowstorm’ and the floriferous, late-blooming ‘White Knight’ are among the best white-flowered selections.

    Corydalis solida 'George Baker'

    The bright red flowers of Corydalis solida ‘George Baker’ are a real standout.

    Most Corydalis solida cultivars readily self-sow (with the assistance of seed-dispersing ants), their seedlings often reverting to the muddy purple floral tones of the wild species. Remove such seedlings to keep them from crowding out their more colorful parents.

    The world awaits a yellow-flowered Corydalis solida (reputedly such forms exist in the wild). Crosses with the sulfur-bloomed Siberian native Corydalis bracteata sometimes occur, however, their offspring (known horticulturally as Corydalis × allenii) producing pale creamy-yellow, lilac-brushed blooms and fetching, deeply cleft leaves. Corydalis bracteata and its fellow Siberian Corydalis gracilis also make excellent yellow-flowered garden subjects for areas that have long, cold, snow-locked winters.

    Woodland Corydalis are habit-forming. Once you’ve discovered Corydalis solida and its hybrids, you’ll want to have a go at the many other garden-worthy species – perhaps Corydalis malkensis, with its voluptuous, gaping, swan-white blooms; or Corydalis kusnetzovii, which flowers in a beguiling shades of pale pink; or one of the brilliant-blue-flowered East Asian species (such as Corydalis ornata and Corydalis turtschaninovii). All thrive in partial shade and humus-rich soil; amend sandy or heavy soils with a good compost such as Fafard Premium Organic Compost or Fafard Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss.

    Real corydalis addicts will also want to explore some of the Central Asian species, which are typified by pink or white, chocolate-nosed flowers, blue-green foliage, and a preference for sunny, gritty-soiled niches that stay relatively dry in summer (such as a rock garden or trough). As with the woodland Corydalis, they present a wealth of delightful possibilities for the early spring garden.

    The pretty Corydalis x allenii 'Enno' is a subdued but attractive variety for the spring garden.

    The pretty Corydalis x allenii ‘Enno’ is a subdued but attractive variety for the spring garden.