Category Archives: Spring Color

Plants that star in the spring

Paeonia ‘Bartzella’

We seldom use the phrase “to die for” (such a price!) but this is an apt descriptive phrase for the gorgeous Paeonia ‘Bartzella’. It is one of the Intersectional or Itoh hybrids, named for the hybridizer Toichi Itoh who was the first to create crosses of tree peonies with herbaceous ones. The resulting plants are herbaceous, but with foliage and flower forms characteristic of tree peonies. They command a pretty price because supplies are limited.

‘Bartzella’ boasts large (to 9″) semi double to double warm yellow blossoms with just a hint of red at the base of some of the petals in late spring. The blossoms emit a spicy scent and are borne on sturdy stems that do their best to support such humungous bounty. The foliage remarkably remains fresh and clean all summer. Eventual height and spread should be about 3′. Plants appreciate a well drained neutral soil in full sun or partial shade (some shade is preferable in warmer climates). Care should be taken when planting the roots that the eyes should face upwards and not more than an inch below the soil surface (including mulch). Plants may take a year to bloom, but we were ecstatic when we were blessed with at least a half dozen blossoms the first year after planting. Hardiness range is zones 4-7.

Peonies are available barefoot in mid autumn, and grown in containers at better nurseries for year round sale.

Paeonia mlokosewitschii

Paeonia mlokosewitchiiCommonly known as “Molly the Witch” (its specific name is a mouthful, try to pronounce mlock-oh-zih-VITCH-ee-eye three times) this species peony is early to bloom, which in our neck of the woods, means late April through the beginning of May. It emerges with attractive biternate glaucous foliage with a red tint. The single soft yellow chalice blossoms are 3-4″ across and in varying shades of pale lemon through buttery yellow. Plants usually reach a height of 2′, and are an unusual showy accent plant for mid spring.

“Molly the Witch” is native to the Caucasus, and is hardy in zones 6-8 ( some accounts say colder, but we like to err on the safe side). It appreciates a rich, but well drained neutral to slightly acidic soil in a spot that gets a good 4-6 hours of sun or more. Its scarcity in the trade is due to the fact that plants are very slow to increase . This means a limited number of divisions. Propagation from seed is slow. It often takes a year or more from sowing  to germination, and then may take up to 4-5 years from germination to flower.

Rhododendron ‘New Century’

‘New Century’ is another tidy compact Rhododendron, with pale citron yellow blossoms. It has a very full foliage appearance due to the fact it holds its evergreen leaves for 3 years, rather than just 2 like most other rhodies. It grows to a well behaved 4′ x 4′ size and is quite hardy for a yellow form, (to minus 15F).

Grow this selection in a spot protected from drying winter winds. Morning suns and afternoon shade is ideal, but plants can take more sun if well irrigated during drier conditions. Like all Rhododendrons, ‘New Century’ appreciates a humus rich soil that remains moist but well drained. 

Rhododendron ‘Blue Baron’

Handsome violet blue blossoms in late April/early May distinguish this welcome addition to the mid spring garden. Introduced by Weston Nursery of Hopkinton MA, Rhododendron ‘Blue Baron’ falls into the lepidote group of Rhodies, which with a few exceptions, have smaller leaves, smaller more open trusses and prefer to grow in a more sunny spot. ‘Blue Baron’ has a compact habit,and is often listed as growing to 3-4′ in height and width, but at maturity can reach 6?. His fine textured elliptical foliage is glossy green in summer but takes on a bronzy cast in colder months.

Grow ‘Blue Baron’ in humus rich soil in full or part sun, and morning sun with some afternoon shade has proven ideal . He can tolerate a bit of wind, but we recommend using an anti-dessicant if winter winds are harsh. Like all Rhododendrons, ‘Blue Baron’ is shallow rooted, and will need irrigating during dry spells. Hardy to minus 10F.

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Phlox divaricata ‘Blue Moon’

The best selection of Woodland Phlox, in our opinion, is this lovely cultivar introduced by Bill Cullina, of Coastal Maine Botanical Garden. Abundant deep sky blue flowers on 12″ stems perfume the May garden, and when planted en masse create ethereal drifts. It makes an excellent companion for woodland poppies and late blooming narcissus

‘Blue Moon’ grows best in light shade in a rich humusy soil that is moist yet well drained, forming clumps 2-3′ across. After the blossoms fade, cut back the spent flowering stems for a neater appearance. It is hardy in zone 4-8.

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Clematis macropetala ‘Lagoon’

Here on High Hill Road, much of the winter is spent searching for sources of the most promising new plants available in the horticultural market.  We’re always optimistic, but we hold all newcomers to the standards set by great plants introduced in the past.  Clematis macropetala ‘Lagoon’ introduced in 1958 by George Jackman and Son, has been on the market 52 years. Wow!  This is comparable to the career of BB King and just as blue, but “the thrill is not gone”.

We planted Clematis m. ‘Lagoon’ at the base of a mop-headed silver leaved Capulin Cherry, Prunus salicifolia. That “bad-hair-day” cherry’s branches bowed down and insisted on giving ‘Lagoon’ a ride. As early as April, this vigorous clematis beguiles nursery visitors with blue blossoms as it adorns the branches of its silvery companion. “What is that blue flowering tree out near the parking area?” we are asked. You won’t need a tree to enjoy this 6 to 10′ vine, as it would do equally well climbing a trellis or arbor.

Clematis macropetala ‘Lagoon?’ needs little pruning.  If it does get too rambunctious where it is planted, it can be pruned back in late June or July, after it has finished flowering, since it blooms early on old wood. Clematis like a slightly alkaline soil, so scratching in a handful of dolomitic limestone will keep it happy if your soils tend to be acidic. It is very hardy, growing well in USDA hardiness zones 3-8.

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Primula auricula show hybrids

Primula-New-MoonPerhaps you first noticed this primrose depicted in one of those classic 17th c. still life paintings, one of many plants in an opulent ensemble that one would never find blooming all at once in nature. Primula auricula in its purest form is native to the alpine regions of central Europe, growing in sharply drained soil on craggy slopes, enhanced by moist mountain air. The species often display cheerful yellow flowers that extend on 4-6″ stems and are hardy through zone 4.

British gardeners have made collecting and growing Primula auricula a springtime passion and, over the years, have hybridized and selected forms with larger flowers, sturdier stems, and unusual colors ranging from mustard, tan, yellow and green through red, purple and almost black, sometimes accented with white picotee edges. Often a powdering coating called “meal” dusts the flowers, leaves and stems. These “show hybrids” are best grown in pots rather than open ground, where their need for well drained soil that still remains adequately hydrated can more easily be met.