Thursday, May 1, 2014
For those of us who live in New England, spring has certainly been slow in coming this year. On the bright side we've had more than ample rainfall and although the cool weather has delayed flowering, it has also extended the bloom time of many early season favorites like the Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia Virginica) pictured below.
I first encountered this delightful shade lover in Bennington, Vermont, where I discovered the nodding bells under a stand of sugar maples on a client's property. In my garden they flourish beneath the deciduous branches of a large oak leaf hydrangea in the corner of my Blue and White garden. Over the past decade three small plants have multiplied rapidly and now cover a substantial area. Sadly, Virginia Bluebells go dormant quite early in the summer, but by then their browning foliage is hidden by the hydrangea's dense canopy. Pulmonaria Highdown (pictured below) is another spring bloomer featuring pink buds that open to reveal much coveted blue flowers.
Pulmonarias or Lungworts, as they're more commonly known, are also shade lovers that thrive in moist, acidic, woodland conditions. Unlike Virginia Bluebells, however, their leaves remain attractive until autumn. Highdown has spotted leaves, but there are newer varieties with even showier, silver foliage that veritably glows in the shade. As the leaves are covered in a rather prickly fur the plants aren't bothered by snail or slugs, a huge plus as far as I'm concerned. In my garden I've combined pulmonarias with hostas, ferns and astilbes to good effect.
Erythronium Pagoda (pictured above) sports some of the largest flowers in the Trout Lily clan. When grown in part shade, this bulb spreads to produce a dense mat and shows to great advantage when planted at the base of tulips. Like many other spring bulbs it goes dormant in the heat of the summer. Still, I wouldn't be without the cheerful yellow flowers that dangle above it's lovely mottled basal leaves.
I love the smell of hyacinths, but find the common varieties better suited to pot culture. Out of doors their heavy, flower stems look clunky and tend to break easily. A few years ago, I discovered multi-flowering Festival Hyacinths and I've quickly become a fan. Each bulb produces a number of flower stems, with fewer more delicate flowers but the same wonderful fragrance. The pink, white or blue blossoms are also wonderful in bouquets and since they are produced in abundance, I don't feel guilty about cutting them.
Of course if I could only plant one type of spring bulb it would be the narcissus or daffodil. There are countless varieties with a tremendous range of colors, sizes, and flower forms.
And unlike tulips which must be replanted every few years, daffodils seem to last forever, producing more flowers each spring.
My only regret is that I'm almost at full capacity and am quickly running out of places to plant them. Never the less, I'll probably order a few more this fall. After all, even my self control has its limits.