Tag Archives: early spring

Spring/Winter Flipflop

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Snow-kissed Magnolia Buds

Argghhh! So much for an early Spring in New England. March began with May temperatures, but the weather decided to chill out after April Fool’s.  Trouble is… all those  warm days and mild nights encouraged the garden to wake up early.

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Early April Buds 2016/End of April Glory 2015

Normally, the plants in our gardens know when they are being teased with a few mild days, and hold off bursting prematurely.  The image above left was taken 4-4-16, the one on the right: 4-28-15.

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The show from Jeffersonia dubia probably won’t continue after this cold

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Maybe this cloche will help.

Jeffersonia dubia , the Asian form of Twin Leaf, became too excited and emerged with color last week. The next few nights will have temperatures dipping into the mid teens, and we have  one cloche on hand to add a little protection. Trouble is, we can’t do this for every early bloomer.  And, unfortunately, there is not enough snowfall so far (more is predicted, but…) to insulate before the arctic cold blows through.

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Epimedium, budded and shivering.

Epimedium, with new foliage and budded flower stems….we’re not too optimistic for a later show, but we can only wait and see.

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Helleborus viridus will take it in stride.

Hellebores and the bulbs not yet in bloom will take this in stride, but the Narcissus and Grape Hyacinth which are already showing color might not be focal points  after this big chill is over.

Buttoned Up, with blankets and heat.

Buttoned Up, with blankets and heat.

In the nursery,  many plants have started to leaf out with tender new growth.  For added protection, we’ve covered them with microfoam blankets and added portable heaters inside our frost frames to counter the low night temperatures.

Gardeners are always being challenged by the weather. It will be interesting to see which plants come through this cold snap unfazed. How is your garden faring with the early start to spring?

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.

In bloom: Tender Succulents

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Flowers of Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’

Most of us select our ‘tender” succulents by virtue of their unique forms or foliage in desert tints of sage green, blue gray, dusty rose, plum, khaki gold. A few put out flowers during our northern hemisphere summers, but many warm winter succulents bloom when the day length is shorter…mid-late fall, winter, and early spring.  These succulents add astonishing color to a windowsill display while we wait for spring to really settle in.

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A peak at some of our Aloes in bloom.

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Gasteraloe ‘Green Ice’…a cross between an Aloe and Gasteria

I’ve been collecting “tender succulents” for more than 15 years, and one of the frustrating things I constantly come across are mislabeled plants. We now have an excuse to visit southern CA more frequently as one of our sons is living there, and since this is where more succulents are grown than anywhere else, I have made it my mission to visit botanical gardens and nurseries from Santa Barbara to San Diego in search of proper names. The most common succulent genera are Aloe, Crassula, Echeveria, Gasteria, Graptopetalum, Kalanchoe, Pachyphytum and Sedum.

What makes things very curious is that there’s been a lot of inter breeding going on, and by that I mean crossing one genus with another. For example, Echeveria crossed with Sedum becomes Sedeveria.  Because these genera are so closely related (many are in the Crassulaceae family) this works, and some interesting new plants have been introduced. This does however complicate identifying misnamed plants. The foliage isn’t always the tell tale sign; the flower formation can give better clues, but even then…take for example Graptoveria ‘Moonglow’, a cross between Graptopetalum and Echeveria.

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Graptoveria ‘Moonglow’

The flowers of Echeveria tend to be bell shaped with many variations: tightly closed, flared, chunky, narrow and are held on short or even tall stems that can be terminated with a few blossoms or multi branched. Graptopetalum blossoms are star shaped with prominent stamens and are held on upright stems in branches of a few to many flowers. The flowers of Sedum are held in terminating clusters of star shaped inflorescences. The intergeneric crosses display a mix of these flower formations, and here is where further research is required. I plan to continue to study the differences.

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Sedum ‘Limeglow’

Photo documentation is essential in keying identity. I now have a set up for plant portrait taking, and will continue to photograph the various flower forms as  plants continue to open bud.  Here are a few photos of various succulents in flower.

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Echeveria ‘Dondo’

Mystery Echeveria…purchased as 'Fleur Blanc'

Mystery Echeveria…purchased as ‘Fleur Blanc’

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Mystery Echeveria…also purchased as ‘Fleur Blanc’

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Pachyphytum oviferum…or “Moonstones”

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Echeveria ‘Lola’

Echeveria parva

Echeveria parva

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Sedeveria ‘Harry Butterfield’

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Mystery Sedeveria

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Sedeveria blossom

I have yet to find an authoritative source, online or in print, documenting and clarifying information on succulents. It is a challenging task, for sure. Do you have a resource or guide you refer to? Please share if you do.

 

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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Hopeful Assessments

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Helleborus multifidus ready to unfurl

If you’’re like me, once the snow has retreated, you walk about your garden searching for hints of growth. For me the first signs of spring come with the snowdrops, then the crocus begin showing color, as well as the narcissus which are sending forth their green pencil shoots. We’’ve cut back the old Epimedium and Helleborus hybridus foliage, and yes they are there, the tightly curled flower buds just waiting for a bout of milder temperatures.

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Trochodendron aralioides (Wheel Tree)

Our conifers are all looking okay, and right now the tropical looking Trochodendron we planted last summer is looking pretty darn good (fingers are crossed). On the other hand the Bamboos, both the Fargesia rufa and Phyllostyachys aureasulcata, took a real beating. The browned foliage will be replenished with new growth, but the thing is that won’’t happen until mid May…. can we really stand looking at it for that long? We have no choice but to live with our brown Phyllostachys forest, but we may just have to cut the Fargesia to the ground and spare ourselves the view of winter’s scourge. It means we’’ll sacrifice some height this year, but I’’m sure we’’ll get at least 3’’ of it back this summer, and next year the Fargesia should reach 6’’ or more.

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Fargesia rufa ‘Green Panda’, the one that suffered the least this winter.

It’’s still too soon to tell with most perennials. Unless the evidence is an obviously mushy crown, it’ is really just a wait and see. We’’ve had many a plant resurrect itself from deep roots in late spring, once the earth has sufficiently warmed.  Good news is the Beesia deltophylla, covered with a blanket of fallen leaves for the winter is promising growth.

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Beesia deltophylla shoots looking promising.

Here’’s a recommendation. Take pictures of the what your garden looks like now, and then document again in 6-8 weeks. Keep these images as a record  of reference for the future, so when things look skeptical in early spring, you keep the faith.

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.

Salix chaenomeloides ‘Mt Aso’

Salix chaenomeloides ‘Mt Aso’

Even though the sun was shining today, I was still feeling discouraged by yesterday’s snowfall. As I went out to make sure all the greenhouses were properly closed for the day I caught a glimpse of pink, shimmering in the late afternoon light. Greeting me with optimistic charm was the pink pussy willow Salix chaenomeloides ‘Mt Aso’ . I had planted one last fall, and it was set off quite dramatically by the freshly fallen snow.

Salix chaenomeloides is the Latin name for giant pussy willow. It is native to Japan but adapts well to a wide range of garden situations including sandy, average and even quite moist soil. Plants can get quite large, 15′ or more, but in order to have a steady supply of branches which will bear the rosy red catkins (which are male flowers by the way, are you surprised?) you should coppice (cut back to 1-2′ above ground) every 2 or 3 years. This will keep plant size a more reasonable 6-8′, and provide you with an ample supply of cut branches for winter arrangements

Salix chaenomeloides ‘Mt Aso’ is hardy to zone 4. You know you want one. Go for it. I guarantee that if you plant  ‘Mt. Aso’ this year, you’ll be smiling next March, even if “return to winter” weather tends to make you grumpy.

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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?