Category Archives: Spring Color

Plants that star in the spring

More Bulbs Please

A bigger portion of purple please.

Do you do what I do, even though we should know better? Do you get seduced by the bulb catalogs, and then place an order without knowing exactly where you?re going to plant these babies. When the box arrives, will you walk around the garden with sacks of bulbs trying to imagine where you?re going to need jolts of color?

This year it is going to be different.

I am taking images of what my garden looks like now and will continue to do so as the spring progresses. I will make notes. These images and notes will be my reference library when I begin to put my bulb order together. I?m going to take into consideration what perennials and shrubs are also providing early season interest, and plan for partnerships.  No more lonely Hellebores or Galanthus. My goal is for an early spring symphony.

Stachyurus chinensis ‘Celina’ will be in bloom soon, but still waiting for the perennials to emerge.

While we’re waiting for the Hakonechloa and Hosta to emerge , how about some more purple here?

Helleborus multifidus

And don’t you think some little purple tommies will set off the lime green blossoms of this species Hellebore?

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’ with Iris ‘Kathryn Hodgkin’

 Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about!

a young Helleborus ‘Golden Lotus’, looking lonely

 She’s too young to be alone… I think Helleborus ‘Golden Lotus’ would enjoy the company of Corydalis solida...

Corydalis solida will follow as Crocus tommasinianus fades

I have some Snowdrops to move. We forgot their location when we planted a prostrate Chinese Plum Yew, and now they are hidden….

Partially hidden snowdrops…now is a good time to move them.

How about next to a black hellebore?

Helleborus hybridus ‘Slate’ just emerging.

I’ve taken a number of  images for my reference library but won’t bore you with them now.  Next spring I’ll show off my “after” pictures, and let you ooh and ah then.

Epimedium Love

Epimedium ‘Purple Pixie’

Fairy Wings, Bishop’s Cap, Barrenwort, Horny Goatweed; all delightful common names which are applied to the genus Epimedium (well maybe not Barrenwort and Horny Goatweed).   Barrenwort refers to the medicinal properties of Epimedium, reportedly used to suppress pregnancy. I bet you can guess what Horny Goatweed will do for you.  Bishop’s Cap, (referring to the long spurred forms, perhaps?) reminds one of headgear worn by certain religious leaders. My vote for best common name is Fairy Wings. The magical looking blossoms conjure up images of fairy tale flowers carpeting the forest floor. I’ve noticed when children visit our nursery and gardens, they pause as they pass by our Epimedium collection. “What are these?” they ask.  The curiosity factor kicks in: here are plants which do not offer the more familiar flower shapes of daisies, saucers or spikes.

Botanically speaking, Epimedium are members of the barberry family, Berberidaceae, (no, they do not have prickers, but there is a similarity when you observe  the flowers).  There are Epimedium species native to eastern Europe and northern Africa as well as Japan, but the most species are found in China.

The basic Epimedium flower structure is composed of 4 outer sepals, 4 inner sepals (sometimes in the form of spurs) and 4 petals (the “cup” part) inside which you will find the stamens. Of course there are variations, depending on the species or crosses of these species of this large genus.  Some selections have very short outer sepals, some have extra long inner sepals, and vice versa.  Some forms have double sepals. Some forms have sprays of dozens of small flowers per stem, while others boast larger blossoms in both large numbers and small. The more you explore this genus the more subtle or extreme variations you will discover. Over the past 30 years numerous new selections have been hybridized and introduced by Darrel Probst of MA and Robin White of the UK, and we are indebted to both for making more of these great plants available.

Epimedium are easy to grow, but although they are often mentioned as a groundcover they do not spread that rapidly. They prefer a rich humus soil with partial shade, where they will grow most luxuriantly.  That being said, Epimedium are quite adaptable and will perform well in dry conditions in deeper shade, making them useful subjects under trees and shrubs. Most Epimedium like a neutral to slightly alkaline pH, but I’ve been told that the grandiflorum selections prefer slightly acidic soil conditions.  The foliage of Epimedium, besides being deer proof,  is always attractive and offers interesting variations of size and coloring: small, elongated, mottled, banded, serrated and more.  Some species are evergreen in milder climates, but  the hardiest forms are usually deciduous. In either case, it is best to cut back last year’s foliage in early spring, before new growth and flowering shoots emerge, so last year’s blemished leaves do not mar the display. Blooming period, depending on what zone you live in, begins as early as March and continues well into May. Plant height varies depending on which cultivar you are growing, but most form low clumps suitable for the front of the border. Epimedium make excellent companions to spring blooming bulbs and perennials, such as woodland Phlox, hellebores and ferns, There are forms of Epimedium which are hardy into zone 3, but most selections fall into the hardiness ranges of zones 5-8.

Here are a few selections we are enchanted by. Perhaps you will fall in love with them too.

Epimedium ‘Cranberry Splash’

Epimedium ‘Bandit’

Epimedium ‘Domino’, A Darrel Probst selection

Epimedium ‘Pink Elf’, a Robin White selection

Epimedium warleyense

Epimedium x ‘Amber Queen’

Epimedium ‘Pink Champagne’

 We have limited amounts these selections from time to time. If out o stock, click to be notified when they are available next. We acquired many of our selections from Garden Vision, a nursery specializing in Epimedium, begun by Darrell Probst and Karen Perkins. Garden Vision has a new web page . Karen can be contacted at karen@epimediums.com for the current list.

Gardener Portrait: Jonathan Shaw

Jon and Eugenie Shaw

I’ve always been curious about a plant’s namesake.

About half dozen years ago I had acquired a handsome dwarf Rhododendron with brilliant purple flowers named ‘Jonathan Shaw’. As coincidence would have it, not long after I was at a Horticultural Club meeting and heard this name mentioned in a discussion at the next table, and I was all ears. Mr. Jonathan Shaw, a fellow member, was not at that table, but the folks who were had been discussing his fabulous collection of Galanthus (Snowdrops).   Not hundreds of one or two cultivars, but hundreds, thousands of many, many cultivars.  I knew right then that I wanted to meet Jonathan or Jon as he prefers to be called, and perhaps get invited to see this magical collection.

Jon is a soft spoken gentleman with a lifetime of accomplishments in both horticulture and education. His first career was as a teacher and school administrator. His second career, (yes, I tell my sons, you can have more than one) was as an administrator of two Botanic Gardens, first the New England Wildflower Society in Framingham MA, and next, in a totally different locale, the Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida. If you read between the lines you can deduce that horticulture and gardening activities were part of Jon?s life long before his second career began.

Much of Jon’s childhood was spent in Sandwich MA, at the splendid Victorian home that belonged to his great grandmother, and in which Jon and his wife Eugenie now live. There were horticulture genes in his family tree: a great great uncle had a nursery in Boston and acquired some of the first Ginkgo trees in the US (one of which stands 70′ tall in the Shaw Garden in Sandwich), another uncle who was a science editor for Time Magazine  and who presented a young Jonathan with a sapling Metasequoia  (Dawn Redwood) , which up until that time had been considered extinct. And of course there was Jon’s mother, who, like many others, planted a Victory garden during WWII and encouraged Jon to make a plot of his own.

It’s rare that a gardener is interested in only one genus, but often a particular group of plants seduces him or her, and he/she wants to seek out as many examples of this group as possible. Jon admits to be a recovering ‘Rhodoholic’. He has grown and hybridized many Rhododendron cultivars, (although ‘Jonathan Shaw’ was not his selection but one a friend made at his suggestion and named in his and his son’s honor).  When he realized that some of his specimens had reached proportions of 30′ in height and width, he had to accept that space was becoming limited. Jon then moved on to a group of plants with smaller proportions, the genus Galanthus.

Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’, Jon’s Favorite Snowdrop

Jon and his wife Eugenie share gardening duties. Eugenie, who is from Norway, is an enthusiastic vegetable gardener, and is devoted to cultivating her berry crops. Jon tends the vast collection of ornamental plants. A visit to the the Shaw garden in late winter is enchanting: tens of thousands of snowdrops, many quite rare. They carpet the garden under ancient trees, and invite the up and coming Crocus, Iris reticulata and Eranthis to compete for attention. If Jon must pick a favorite, it would have to be Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’, a particularly robust selection.

Galanthus guarding the entrance to the Fairy Door

The Snowdrops in the Shaw garden are a testimony to the promise of a glorious New England Spring. I asked Jon if he had any encouraging words for the novice gardener and this was his reply: “Have fun! Do not make your garden a hospital for sick plants which require constant care and chemical treatments. Dispose of them.  And last but not least, develop a special garden interest and discover all you can about it!”

Galanthus 'Cordelia'

Galanthus ‘Cordelia’

Cornus kousa ‘Wolf Eyes’

Cornus kousa 'Wolf Eyes'As I get older I am so appreciative of all the trees Chris and I have planted over the years, often as little twigs which we acquired from specialty mail order nurseries or the Arboretum Plant Sale. One that has become our favorite is Cornus kousa ‘Wolf Eyes’,  a variegated form of Chinese or Japanese Dogwood.

Wolf Eye’s‘ was selected at Manor View Farm in Monkton MD, and has been declared by plant expert Paul Capiello to be one of the best variegated forms of Cornus kousa. Eventual height depends on siting and hardiness zone (hardy in zones 5-9), but reports range from 10-20′ with equal spread. Our ‘Wolf Eyes’ is a now 12′ x 10′ specimen. The gray green leaves are delicately rimmed with white, and will curl slightly as protective measure when cited in hot sun. What we find remarkable is how well the white “flowers” (really showy bracts) stand out against the white variegation, when it “blooms” in June. As the flowers fade, curious edible fruit begin to form. They look like red raspberries on short sticks when they ripen in early fall. Fall foliage color takes on pinkish red tints.

Site ‘Wolf Eyes’ in full or half day sun, and, no surprise, in a rich well drained but adequately moist soil. Water well in dry spells., but excessive overhead watering from a sprinkler or irrigation system  can cause spotting of the foliage. C. kousa is resistant to Anthracnose, but too much exposure to wetness for extended periods will cause fungal problems.

Intersectional Hybrid Peonies

Paeonia ‘First Arrival’

Who isn’t impressed by the voluptuous blossoms of tree peonies, but daunted by their reputation for fussiness and stingy bloom? Well, plant breeders have been at work in recent decades, crossing the common herbaceous pony with Paeonia suffruiticosa, and in doing so have produced plants that have the best characteristics of both. These new hybrid offer the exquisite paper tissue blossoms of tree peonies, with their handsome but yet disease resistant foliage, and the reliability of herbaceous peonies, which means they die back to the earth to resurface in early spring. What’s more the stems are quite sturdy, sustaining and displaying the showy blossoms without the need for staking.

Paeonia ‘Singing In The Rain’

Intersectional hybrids like to be planted in a rich well drained neutral soil with at least 6 hours of sunlight. If you order plants bare root, you may be confused, as the eyes appear on both the root crowns like a herbaceous peony and along the “dead” stalks, as they would on a tree form. Plant the crown as you would a herbaceous peony, with the eyes just an inch below the soil surface. The eyes or buds along the should stay above ground, and will break the following spring. Once these hybrids are established they will produce a bevy of blossoms for cutting.

PaeoniaBartzella500

Paeonia ‘Bartzella’

We were especially impressed at how well the cultivar ‘Bartzella’s foliage looked all summer, changing into burgundy and red tones in the fall. All cultivars grow well in zones 4-9. Only a few years ago, you couldn’t purchase these beauties for less than a hundred dollars for a small section of root, but with tissue culture and vigorous propagating, plants have become more widely available and the prices are beginning to drop. Plant bare roots in fall, or purchase potted specimens at nurseries during the growing season.

Paeonia ‘Julia Rose’

Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’

Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow'Those of us in northern climates are suspicious when we’re told showy evergreen Euphorbia are hardy for us (zone 6), with good reason. Arctic winds and lack of snow cover often dessicate the foliage and those the early blooms. Well we’ve had mixed results with the fabulous Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’, and what we’ve learned is it’s all about siting. That being said, we’d grow this plant regardless of winter hardiness because it looks good for the entire growing season, from early spring into December.

Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ is a selection of E. x martinii. It boasts beautiful gold and green variegated foliage tinged with coral red, especially on the new growth and when temps are cooler. Multiple red stemmed branches form 18-24″ mounds. Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ blooms on new and old growth, with adorable variegated bracts exposing tiny red flowers. I’ll say this again, this plant looks fabulous the entire growing season here in New England, and because of this it is equally as wonderful in containers as it is in open ground.

Now in regards to siting: we used Ascot Rainbow in container plantings at an urban restaurant, where they looked so fabulous at the end of the winter  that we left them in for the spring display. Really! In this protected spot, surrounded by buildings radiating heat, the Euphorbs were quite happy. In open ground we’ve had mixed results. In a raised bed with good drainage the plants came through, although we had to cut back the sad looking evergreen foliage after the winter. Snow covered much of the ground during the winter of 2010 and 2012  and our plantings came through unscathed. The recommendation: good drainage, protection from wind,  in sun or partial shade.

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Rhododendron diversipilosum ‘Milky Way’

Rhododendron diversipilosum 'Milky Way'

Image courtesy of Briggs Propagators

We thought you might enjoy the subtle charm of this hardy little known Rhododendron (perhaps nomenclature is its problem) . Commonly called Labrador Tea, formerly classified in the genus Ledum, and then later named R. tomentosum, there’s been obvious confusion when gardeners are seeking information. ‘Milky Way’ is a superior clone selected by Steve Hootman. In mid April, it produces trusses of small white starry flowers, which allude to its cultivar name. Fine textured evergreen foliage is small narrow and olive green.

Rhododendron diversipilosum ‘Milky Way’ is quite cold hardy, growing well in zones 3-6. It can take poor soil conditions but will be happiest if given a well drained soil with humus and regular moisture in sun or partial shade. Plants grow to 3′ in height and up to 5′ in width. It would be a great addition to a rock garden planted with early spring Narcissus, Hellebores and Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’.

Corydalis solida

If you don’t already grow this little spring ephemeral, you absolutely should! It is easy, undemanding and disappears into summer dormancy quite quickly. It’s super hardy in zones 3-9.

Corydalis solida, commonly called Fumewort, appears and begins to bloom in early spring, with 6-9″ stems bearing numerous tubular typically lavender flowers. The soft gray green lacy foliage compliments the flowers nicely. C. solida grows well in sun or partial shade in well drained soil and multiplies quite quickly form bulb offsets and self sowing. It is easy enough to lift and move the small bulbs which lie just below the soil surface, should the progeny come up where you don?t need them. And, I repeat, the foliage fades and dies back before you know it, so that the succession of plants that follow soon after are not being affected.

There are several choice cultivars of C. solida available from reputable bulb merchants. We have C. solida ‘George Baker’, a pinky red form in one of our beds, but he has not reproduced much at all.

Better early than late: Spring in February

Iris Katharine Hodgkin'

Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’

February came in like a lamb, and it’s trying to muster a roar as it takes advantage of leap year’s extra day of winter. Signs of green are everywhere, despite the official start to spring still weeks away. Northern gardeners like us know that the joke could be on us if we get too accustomed to this mild weather, before March has played out. But how can we not be giddy when a walk about the garden revealed these beacons of spring heralding the new season?

Galanthus

Nodding Double Snowdrops

Helleborus 'Wester Flisk'

Helleborus ‘Wester Flisk’

Helleborus 'Jade Tiger'

Helleborus ‘Jade Tiger’

Almost Black Helleborus

Almost Black Helleborus

Hamamellis ‘Feuerzauber’

The Galanthus (Snowdrops) are not too big a surprise, but little Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ usually waits until late March to show off. Helleborus foetidus ‘Wester Flisk’ looks rather well this year, thanks to the mild winter.  Helleborus ‘Jade Tiger’  which we planted last year, proudly displays his first flower, but an older clump of an almost black Hellebore is not quite sure if it’s safe yet. For the past 3 weeks, the witchhazel Feuerzauber’ has been emitting the sweetest perfume. What little gems do you have in bloom in your garden right now?

Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’

Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’, in fall

Had to include this plant portrait now because this baby’s fall color is on fire! We had wanted to portray Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon (a.k.a ‘Mellow Yellow’) in a blog post last spring, but there are always so many plants vying for our attention at that time of year. Not that this Spirea doesn’t. As a matter of fact, it is one plant we never tire of, and include it in many of our landscape installation projects.

Unlike most Spirea, this species has narrow willow like foliage that emerges a bright lemon yellow in early mid spring. White flowers adorn the arching branches just prior, and as the leaves unfurl. Although they are sweet enough, they aren’t why you should grow this shrub. Grow this Spirea for the texture and color the foliage provides year round, and which as you can see here, is an especially grand finale of volatile color in November.

Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’ is hardy to minus 20F (zone 5), and grows quickly to a height and width of 4-5′. It’s very happy in full sun, but grows well in partial shade, and seems to withstand poor dry soil conditions without hindering its performance. Like all Spirea it can be cut back hard in the spring if you choose to keep it shorter, but you’ll sacrifice the flowers. We could go on and on about which plants to use in combination with ‘Ogon’, but the list is practically endless. May we suggest Acanthus spinosus, Fothergilla ‘Blue Shadow’, Japanese maples of any form, Geranium ‘Rozanne’.…..(we could go on and on).

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