Category Archives: Spring Color

Plants that star in the spring

Smitten by Solomon’s Seal

Polygonatum x hybridum 'Striatum'

Polygonatum x hybridum ‘Striatum’

Unfurling

Other forms….Unfurling

Dancing

Dancing

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Dangling

Just a few images to share….loving the various species and  forms in the genus Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal).  We currently have about 15 selections, ranging in size from tiny 6″ Polygonatum humile to  6′ selections of P. biflorum. and are always seeking out more.

quick facts: Solomon Seals is in the family Asparagaceae. Most forms are hardy in zones 5-8, (a few in zones 3 & 4). They slowly spread by jointed rhizomes, and enjoy well drained soil in partial to full shade. Long lived and almost indestructible, Solomon’s Seal is one of those plants that holds its good looks with little care all season.

Early Spring Blues at Wave Hill

wave_hill_blues72Hey New Yorkers, you shouldn’t miss this scene. All at once and everywhere, Glory of the Snow, Chinonodoxa sardensis, has created carpets of  blue on the grounds of beautiful Wave Hill in Riverdale. I had an hour or so to wander the grounds before my talk in the city on Wednesday, and was able to capture a few images.

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On the slope behind the building that houses the Glyndor Gallery, there were easily a gazillion bulbs just beginning to open.  I have no idea how many were originally planted, but over the past 50 years (guessing) Chionodoxa  has self sown with total abandon. Take note: it is deer resistant so it is the perfect bulb for naturalizing in a woodland garden.

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Chionodoxa sardensis

From each bulb rise 4-6″ stems bearing 5-10 starry blue flowers accented with white centers which give quite a jolt of color.  Plant where you won’t mind the foliage lingering while it stores energy before dying back. Glory of the Snow starts blooming just as Crocus begin to fade and is a good companion bulb to the earliest daffodils, Adonis and Hellebores.  Hardy in zones 3-8.

Not Just Fall Color: Enkianthus campanulatus

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Enkianthus fall foliage

Redvein Enkianthus is about to betray its quiet charms any day now, with a display of technicolor fall foliage in shades of gold, orange, fiery red through purple. In mid to late spring it delights in a more soft-spoken way, bearing dainty clusters of white or red bells, depending on the cultivar. E. ‘Lipstick’ has white bells delicately edged in brick red, ‘Red Bells’ are colored, as the name suggests, coral red, and ‘Showy Lantern’. A slow growing shrub at first, it is often listed at growing from 6-8′ tall and 4-5′ wide, but with age it can easily reach 15′ or more with a wider reach. In fact, Enkianthus campanulatus can be pruned to from a lovely small tree. It is a perfect candidate for the partially shaded garden, both large and small.

Enkianthus campanulatus

Enkianthus campanulatus

Enkianthus 'Lipstick'

Enkianthus ‘Lipstick’

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Enkianthus c. ‘Red Bells’

Enkianthus c. 'Showy Lantern'

Enkianthus c. ‘Showy Lantern’

Grow Redvein Enkianthus in full sun or partial shade. It enjoys an enriched, well drained, acidic soil that stays evenly moist, although we have found it to be quite forgiving of dry spells, once established. It is deer resistant, but please note that deer will eat almost anything if hungry enough. Perfectly hardy in zones 5-8, with some reporting success growing it in zone 4B.

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Anemone sylvestris

anemonesylvestrisweb Anemone sylvestris, is simply lovely and so innocent-looking, but perhaps it should be introduced to you as a potential ground cover. Commonly known as Snowdrop Anemone, this super hardy gem begins blooming in mid-late spring, producing nodding buds which open to 5 petaled white blossoms centered with a ring of yellow stamens. The blossoms, buoyantly dance on 12-18” stems, which are good for cutting, emit a soft early spring fragrance.   Although it is a European native, it looks right at home in naturalistic landscapes here in the US, spreading vigorously by rhizomes, and it is very effective for disguising early spring bulb foliage. The wooly seed heads that develop once the blossoms fade add visual interest later in the summer.  Occasionally, a small flush of flowering in takes place early fall.

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Anemone sylvestris is happiest in a rich well drained soil, and is hardy in zones 4-8. It is not fond of extreme heat, so best to hold off in southern gardens. There are no serious insect or disease problems and it is deer resistant.

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Mukdenia rossii ‘Karasuba’

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Mukdenia should be grown in more gardens and I will speculate why it is not; it has had the misfortune of having more than one Latin name, which gets confusing. For awhile the taxonomists declared it should be called Aceriphyllum rossii, which makes sense (Acer = maple) and the foliage does have exquisite rounded maple like leaves. The cultivar name has a translation that would be easy to remember as well, ‘Crimson Fans’.

I am sweet on its blossoms. In mid spring, Mukdenia produces sturdy 15-18” stems bearing rounded panicles of starry white flowers, just before and as the foliage appears, welcoming the bees into the garden. Mukdenia makes pleasant company for early blooming bulbs and Epimedium. The somewhat glossy, somewhat velvety, dark green foliage forms tight clumps to 12” tall, keeping their good looks all summer, then change vividly to brilliant shades of red when cool temperatures arrive in autumn. We’ve found that Mukdenia grows best with afternoon shade in a soil that has good drainage yet is fertile and adequately moist. You will be pleased to know it is hardy in zones 4-8 and is also deer resistant.

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Symphytum x uplandicum ‘Axminster Gold’

symxagLooking for a bold foliage plant that is cold hardy through zone 5, deer resistant and is one of the first to show signs of life in the spring? Meet this form of Variegated Russian Comfrey,  a naturally occurring hybrid of S. officinale x  S. asperum.  ‘Axminster Gold’ will form 18-24″ tall robust clumps of 14″ creamy yellow edged lanceolate leaves, which grow 2-3′ wide. In late spring and early summer, pink and lavender “bluebell-like” flowers will bloom on nodding 4′ stems, attracting a myriad of butterflies. Once the blooming period is over, do remove the aging stalks to promote fresh foliar growth.  Last summer we saw ‘Axminster Gold’ in a garden paired with Periscaria ‘Firetails’, and want to duplicate this combination.

 Grow ‘Axminster Gold’ in full sun or partial shade in a soil that is rich and somewhat moisture retentive.  Axminster Gold’ can be quite vigorous once established in the garden but is somewhat scarce in the trade due to propagating difficulty. For some reason plants propagated from root cuttings will be solid green , so divisions must be taken from the central crown in order to ensure you’ll be getting the gold variegation.

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Daphne x ‘Lawrence Crocker’

DAPLAWWould you like to meet ‘Lawrence Crocker’, the easiest little Daphne we know and grow? It was discovered and named for one of the founders of Siskyou Rare Plant Nursery,  and thought to be a hybrid of D. arbuscula and  D. collinaDaphne ‘Lawrence Crocker’ is a little gem for the tiny urban garden, alpine or otherwise, as long as you can provide it a well drained soil, adequate moisture to establish and at least a half day of sun. Lawrence Crocker’ was one of the first specimens we planted in our rockery (20 years ago, at least), and it continues to charm us each spring with its fragrant dark pink blossoms.

Remember this is a diminutive plant.  It is suitable for trough gardens, but in the open garden it can grow up to 12″ tall and up to 18″ wide. It has proven durable and hardy for us in zone 6A.

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Almost Spring, at Filoli

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It’s hard not to have an inferiority complex when you are visiting the West Coast. Everything happens so much earlier here. We took an opportunity to escape New England’s enduring winter, and discovered signs of spring at Filoli, a beautiful estate garden just south of San Francisco in Woodside CA.  We were able to get in some picture taking in between the downpours.

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filoli_narcissuspotsfiloli_tulipsfiloli-spireaSome history.  William Bowers Bourn II, owner of one of California’s richest gold mines and president of the Spring Valley Water Company, which supplied water to the city if San Francisco, built Filoli between 1915 and 1917.  The Georgian style dwelling sits on an estate of 654 acres, of which  6 acres are cultivated gardens. Ownership changed hands in 1936 when Mr. and Mrs. William P. Roth (Lurline Matson, heir of the Matson Navigation Company) purchased the property. Mrs. Roth saw to the establishment of many of the gardens we see today. She added the woodland copse, the swimming pool garden and the screened-in teahouse, and built Filoli’s botanic collections of camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas.

Lucky for us, Mrs. Roth donated the estate in its entirety to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1975, including a healthy endowment to help support operating expenses. It is open to the public February through October, 10-3:30 pm. Filoli is closed on Mondays. For more info visit their website.

In Praise of Baptisia

Baptisia ‘Twilight’ adding height in the background, with Allium and Euphorbia

I often like to tempt you with plants which I suspect you may be unfamiliar with, but a walk about the garden convinced me to laud praise on our garden stalwarts. In particular I’d like to reacquaint you with my old perennial favorite, Baptisia, and its recent reincarnations.

Baptisia, commonly known as False Indigo or False Lupine, was one of the perennials we planted in our first garden 25 years ago, and that same B. australis, introduced as a young seedling, still surges forth each spring with vigor and good looks.  Baptisia is not a only long lived plant, it is also one of the first perennials which add height to the late spring border, shooting up to and eventually forming clumps of 3? or more. The early size factor adds greatly to it?s value. The flowers are displayed on showy spires and resemble lupines. It is a great compliment to the other late spring stars: Peonies, Iris, Euphorbia and late bulbs like Allium.

The most common species you’ll encounter is B. australis, with typically violet blue flowers and a height of 3-4′ and equal width. Other species you may commonly encounter include B. alba, (with white flowers) and B. sphaerocarpa (yellow), and to some extent B. bracteata. In recent years hybrids have been made crossing the species, alternating host and pollen plants. Ron Gardner introduced ‘Carolina Moonlight’ after  successfully crossing B. alba and B. sphaerocarpa in 2002.  Jim Ault of the Chicago Garden has developed a number of great cultivars by crossing B. australis and sphaerocarpa resulting in named forms B. ‘Solar Flare’, ‘Twilight, and Midnight Prairie Blues’. Hans Hansen has developed more crosses are becoming available such as ‘Lemon Meringue’and ‘Dutch Chocolate’.

Baptisia ‘Midnight Prairie Blues’

Baptisia ‘Solar Flare’

A form we grow in our gardens which always draws comment for it’s compact habit is Baptisia australis var minor. It forms a low 2”mound of dense blue green foliage with typical large blue violet flowers, but long after the flowers fade, B. australis var minor  shows off with its tidy appearance . Another excellent but slow growing form is a selection made by Brian Megowan of the legendary Blue Meadow Farm: B. ‘Esther’, with her white flowers born on dusky slate stems. We’re rooting stem cuttings of her now, in hopes of having young plants for sale next spring.

Baptisia australis var minor

Baptisia ‘Esther’

Some things to note. Baptisia are prairie plants and like a sunny well drained soil. Baptisia australis is the hardiest of the group, tolerating cold zone 3 winters. Baptisia alba and sphaerocarpa are hardy through zone 5. The hybrids seem to fall right in the middle with hardiness tolerance of zones 4-9. Baptisia species can be grown from seed, but her clones are vegetatively propagated. Baptisia develop deep tap roots, so division isn’t easy, although it can be done, but expect some die back and a slow recovery.