So many of the earliest spring bloomers are diminutive in size, and invite you to kneel or even lie on your belly for the best viewing. Blooming with the early Crocus, the lovely and demure Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ first appears as a pale yellow-green shoot, and then begins to unfurl to display falls and standards in the most ethereal shade of pale aqua etched with baby blue. Pastel orange-yellow markings accent the falls, and as her flower ages, ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ fades to delicious shades of blue-gray.
Although it is often sold as I. reticulata, Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ is in fact a cross between 2 species, I. histroides, native to Turkey and I. winogradowii native to the Caucasus. She is a hardy soul, surviving in zones 4-9, and grows 4-8″ tall, preferring a well drained sunny situation that gets adequate moisture in late winter and dryness in summer. Planting and dividing is best done in the fall, but mark then spot, because she goes dormant in early summer.
There are rare colors in the plant world, and black is certainly one of them. This new selection of Lenten Rose, from the hybridizing efforts of Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne, is one of the darkest shades we’ve seen. New growth emerges in early March here in New England, gradually sending forth flowering shoots as kinder weather warms the earth. The nodding single rose shaped flowers begin to fade in early May, after which the swollen ovules will burst, dispersing the ripened seed. Seed most likely will not germinate until the following spring, and the seedlings will likely differ in color from the parent plant, as this is a hybrid. New foliage will continue to develop as the flowers fade and the handsome leathery leaves persist through the winter.
Hellebores appreciate being grown in a partially shaded, well drained, fertile, slightly alkaline soil (pH of 7-6). Individual plants usually grow 18-20″ tall, forming sizable clumps over the years, and will withstand temperatures to -20 degrees F.
Perhaps 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.