Category Archives: Spring Color

Plants that star in the spring

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).

Buy online

Fothergilla x ‘Blue Shadow’

With Halloween just weeks away, it’s fitting that we take a look at a very colorful Witch Alder. The Witch Alders, as you may guess, are closely related to Witch Hazels, and are native to the southeastern US.  They are multi season plants, with honey scented white bottle brush flowers emerging in early spring (just before and as the plants leaf out), plus attractive form and outstanding fall color. One we are pleased to be growing is Fothergilla x ‘Blue Shadow’ notable for the lovely glaucous blue foliage it displays all summer.

Fothergilla x ‘Blue Shadow’ was discovered by Gary Handy of Boring OR, when he noticed this very blue leaved sport on another fine cultivar, Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’. It’s a vigorous but compact grower, with an upright habit at first, then becoming thicker with age, and finally achieving 5-6′ in height and width. ‘Blue Shadow’ grows well in full sun or partial shade, prefers a reasonably moist but well drained slightly acidic soil, and is quite hardy in zones 4-8. It can be used as a focal point, or planted en masse at the edge of a woodland. So many plants would make great companions. For spring interest, pair with dwarf Rhododendrons; for summer, Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Peewee’ , and for fall the golden Leucosceptrum  and Carex ‘Blue Bunny’ to compliment ‘Blue Shadow’s technicolor display.

Buy online

Viburnum plicatum ‘Summer Snowflake’

Viburnum 'Summer Snowflake'There are many good Viburnum selections on the market, but this cultivar of Double File Viburnum  gets high marks from us. It is laden with white lacecap blossoms in early June, like all the rest, but this particular form continues to produce blossoms on new growth all summer into fall. It is especially striking in autumn, when the white blossoms are set off  by foliage that takes on wine tones.

Early info about the size of this plant reaching only 4-6′ was inaccurate. In our garden our specimen quickly reached 8′ tall, and as much in width. We’ve pruned our ‘Summer Snowflake’ to have a single leader with a more open habit. Plant ‘Summer Snowflake’ in good well drained soil where it will receive 6-8 jours of sun.  Birds love take cover in it’s branches. Deer find them unappealing for the most part.

Buy online

Weeping with Wisteria…

Wisteria floribunda 'Blue Eyes'It’s the third week in May, and the Wisteria floribunda ‘Blue Eyes’ which covers our pergola has begun to drip with fragrant blossoms. It’s certainly a sight, and elicits ooh’s and ahh’s from nursery visitors. Conversation immediately turns to pruning advice, and the question we hear over and over again, “Why hasn’t my Wisteria ever bloomed?”

We’ll cover extensive pruning Wisteria advice in a later blog posting, but let me address the flowering question. Wisteria often take several years to bloom after transplanting as it  is concentrating energy on establishing a firm root system, but there are other points to consider. First, plants should receive a good 6 hours or more of sunlight. Also, do not fertilize with a high nitrogen fertilizer. Wisteria are in the legume family, and fix their own nitrogen from soil. Select a fertilizer with a high phosphorus # (the middle number) such as 5-10-10, 5-10-5, or  Espoma’s FlowerTone which is a 3-4-5.

It is advisable to select named clones which have been propagated from productive flowering stock. Wisteria grown from seed are quite variable in their blossom production, and some have been known to never produce a bud. Another thing to consider is that Wisteria sets buds on old wood, and should be pruned  in late spring after flowering (or when it should have flowered) to about 6″ from main branches. One other trick is root pruning in early spring. Using a sharp a spade, dig in about a 2′ radius from the base of the vine. This will sever the roots and may shock the plants into flowering.

More bulbs

Apricot Daffs with Corydalis solida and Sedum ‘Angelina’

Are you walking around your garden now and kicking yourself for not planting more bulbs last fall? Or, did you plant bulbs and now that they are up, are realizing that you need a bit more to create the impact you had planned? Well don’t be so hard on yourself. Act now. Go out with your camera and take shots of the areas you want to amend. These images will be helpful reminders of what the areas looked like. Next, consider what other bulbs bloom at the same time, and what perennials are appearing on the scene to compliment the show, so that you can create cheerful vignettes. After you’ve made your list, go for it. Go online and visit a quality bulb merchant. Think in large numbers. Bulb merchants give quantity pricing, so splurge and go for 100 rather than 25. Yes, that’s alot of bulb planting, but you will be so pleased with yourself next spring.

Euphorbia myrsinites

Lime green, chartreuse, acid green, take your pick. The strong shades of Euphorbia myrsinites bracts scream out that it’s spring! It’s a shade that demands to be paired with vibrant tones: rich violet, deep red, hot pink, and flaming orange. Tulips! Primroses! Fritallaries!

Euphorbia, for the most part, is native to the lands along the Mediterranean, but we often associate this group of perennials with British gardens. Several Euphorbia species are the earliest bloomers in the garden, right after the Hellebores. The lovely evergreen forms, hybrids of E. wulfenii and amygdaloides, can be disappointing in cold climate gardens, as they often get damaged by our harsh winters. Still there are a couple of species that are reliable performers in zones 5 and 6. One is Euphorbia myrsinites or Donkey Tail Spurge, and it has its place in the sunny dry garden. Its wandering habit, with its trailing stems clothed in blue grey foliage, snake along the soil surface and terminate in clusters of chartreuse bracts and tiny yellow flowers. We like the picture painted when these stems emerge through clumps of purple leaved Labrador Violets.

Some things you should note. Plants self sow where happy, (sunny dry soil) and occasionally in milder climates, their numerous progeny can be a nuisance. Another word of warning: the milky sap of cut stems may cause a rash and should be avoided by those with sensitive skin.

 

Disporum flavens

Disporum flavumSo easy, so stunning, so underplanted. A dozen years ago, our plant buddy Margie Mott visited us bearing gifts, including a clump of this beauty from one of the gardens she tended. She informed us that we needed to grow this plant, and she was so right! Disporum flavens emerges gracefully in early mid spring with stiff arching 18-24″ stalks adorned with apple green leaves and nodding lemon yellow bells in May. The floral display carries on for a couple of weeks, after which the foliage remains attractive and well behaved.

The common names for Disporum vary. We’ve heard it referred to as Yellow Mandarin and Yellow Fairy Bells. It is in the Colchichum family, which also include two hundred plus species of herbaceous perennials which grow from roots that form rhizomes and corms. Disporum flavens is slow to increase, but forms dense clumps over time and is very long lived. It prefers soil that is rich with humus but well drained soil in partial shade and is hardy to minus 20F (zone 5). Great companion plants are dark flowered Hellebores such as ‘Midnight Ruffles’ ,  Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ and  Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea?’, as well as any Hosta.

Buy online

Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’

Double Blood RootSanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’, commonly known as Double Blood Root is one of the eastern seaboard’s most lovely spring ephemerals, (that is to say, perennials which emerge with the first sweep of warm weather, and almost as quickly pass, retreating over the next few months into summer dormancy). Here in New England, Double Blood Root begins to poke through the brown earth in mid April, displaying pristine white multi petaled water lily shaped blossoms cupped in barely visible blue green leaves. We always hope that the weather conditions will not be too hot and relatively calm when our Blood Root opens. Too much wind or warm temperatures will shorten the floral display.

Double Blood Root stands on short stems reaching just under 6″ tall. It grows best in rich, humusy, but well drained soil in a partial to deeply shaded site.  The rhizomes slowly spread to from dense clumps over time and when severed, exude a deep red liquid, hence the common name (sanguine = bloody). As the blossoms fade, the attractive blue green kidney shaped foliage grows larger in size, photosynthesizing to store energy for the roots below. It is advisable to mark the spot where Blood Root is growing. By mid summer, these attractive leaves will begin to fade into dormancy, and you might easily disturb the area by over planting. Good companion plants for Sanguinaria are mid season bulbs, Tillium, Podophylllum, AsarumEpimedium, Iris cristata, Woodland Phlox, and Brunnera.