The days are growing longer. The nights are shorter. Yay! Despite the bitter temperatures and snow falling outside my window as I write this spring is inexorably on her way.
It will soon be time to look for the harbingers of warmer weather, especially the hybrid witch hazels and the snowdrops. Witch hazels such as “Jelena” and “Arnold Promise” bloom in the dead of winter, their bright yellow or orange thread-like blossoms casting intriguing fragrance about the yard and garden. Site these large shrubs at the edge of the woodland. Give them decent soil and adequate moisture and they’ll be a standout in the understory for decades.
Tiny, delicate snowdrops on the other hand need to be placed close to a doorway, where they can be admired. Give them neutral, rich soil with good drainage and perhaps tuck them into a protected corner for earliest bloom. They also look attractive in a woodland setting and will grow well in the humus there. For best bloom be sure they receive enough sunlight.
The hardy bulbs are originally from Europe and Asia Minor, and produce signature pure white, foot- tall, honey-scented flowers with a scalloped green edge. Plant them in the autumn, 3 inches deep and 3 inches apart, in groups of at least twenty. They’ll welcome good soil in either sun or shade. And as with all bulbs, let the foliage wither away. Do not cut, bind, wrap, or torture in any manner. Some snowdrops, such as “Sam Arnot” are fragrant, but all are elegant and easy.
There are two ways to get started with snowdrops. Purchase the bulbs in autumn and plant as you would any hardy bulb, or beg a clump in full bloom from a gardening pal. Yes, unlike most bulbs, they are best transplanted in full bloom.
Try to plant in drifts. A tiny dab of snowdrops lies somewhere between unnoticeable and nonexistent. It won’t make much of an impression, and impression is what a gardener needs in the depths of winter. After the leaves wither, mark the spot where the beauties grew. You don’t want to make the mistake of slicing into or upending them while gardening later in the season.
Believe it or not, there are 1,000 different types of cultivated snowdrops, though most of us dirt gardeners grow only the common form, Galanthus nivalis. One intriguing type is the Sochi snowdrop, so called because early in the 20th century it was discovered in the mountains and forests above Sochi, Russia where the 2014 Winter Olympics are soon to convene. This Russian snowdrop is known for its ability to thrive in a multitude of conditions, from rocky slopes to riverbanks, from deep in deciduous forests or tucked in among evergreen conifers. It boasts leaves of glossy green, as opposed to the green-blue foliage of other snowdrops. Its foliage persists longer than most, creating a lovely but temporary ground cover.
I personally covet the common snowdrop double form, “Flore Pleno”. These little guys produce masses of ruffled emerald-green and white blooms atop sturdy stems. Though they set no seed, they spread rapidly by vegetative means. To my eye the blooms are a bit wider, with a fluffier appearance. Like all snowdrops, they are virtually deer-proof.
Wherever they hail from, whatever their form, there’s nothing humdrum about these elegant little portents of spring. The petite member of the amaryllis family cheers us on when we despair of spring ever materializing in our winter-weary yards.
January 11th, 2014
Did you know there is a color of the year? Yes, indeed, and for 2014 the Pantone Color Institute has decreed it to be “Radiant Orchid”, described as “a captivating, magical, enigmatic purple, with fuchsia and pink undertones.” The Institute studies how color influences human thought processes, emotions and physical reactions. It then searches for color direction in the arts, entertainment, technology, and sciences. The selection of color winner for the year subsequently influences product development in multiple industries including fashion, beauty, home and industrial design.
And, I might add, in the garden.
Now, I can’t grow a genuine orchid to save my soul, but the color purple with all its permutations is right up my alley. Thankfully it and its kissing cousins of lavender, fuchsia, magenta, mauve and plum are easy colors to showcase in the ornamental garden. Let’s wander, shall we, through the garden year in search of purple hues.
In early spring, look for purple in iris reticulata and tones of lavender, pink and deep purple among the crocus, and in “Attila” and “Blueberry Ripple” tulips. Don’t forget fragrant hyacinths, which come in a variety of pinks and magentas as well as traditional blues and whites. Later are the grape hyacinths, also adorned in blue, purple and lavender.
We all know and love the old-fashioned purple lilac cultivars “Ludwig von Spathe” and “President Lincoln” but don’t forget the innovative, re-blooming types such as “Bloomerang”. These newbies are smaller, better-behaved and smell just as delicious as their predecessors.
Gently-scented native woodland phlox comes in pale lavender, and appreciates shady conditions. Later on, many alliums present in classic purple shades. And when these ornamental onions fade, keep the interest going by spray painting them whatever color you wish.
Moving deeper into the gardening year, we can sample rhododendron “Orchid Lights”, and “Karl Rosenfield” peony. But don’t miss rose “Wild Blue Yonder”, a fluffy grandiflora from Weeks which is exquisitely fragrant. Add in the classic “Barbara Streisand” and “Angel Face” for a sumptuous bed of roses.
Regal German bearded iris commands attention in the June garden with its alluring purple blooms. Good fall cleanup is essential with these rhizomes, however, to prevent the dreaded iris borer.
Native liatris announces its appearance by blooming from the top down. It’s a butterfly magnet, but a tad tall. Try the smaller “Kobold”, which is appropriately sized for today’s gardens.
Who could omit hydrangea from a listing of purple flowers? Look for “Glowing Embers”, an old-fashioned mophead which retains its vivid color upon drying. Also check out the dwarf “Pia” and the lacecap “Blue Bird”.
Butterfly bush comes in (and often reverts to) a shade of medium purple. The shrub draws in the butterflies and hummingbirds but is gaining a reputation as a rampant self-sower. Consider purchasing dwarf forms such as “Blue Chip”. These remain small and don’t wantonly disperse their progeny.
Finish off the season with the charming, sturdy flowers of hardy cyclamen, which pops up in the shade garden when you least expect it.
In terms of annuals the choice is vast. Waiting for the January thaw to show their pretty cat faces are the Johnny jump ups. Come spring, six packs of petunias will be available in a plethora of purple, pink, lavender and blue. Some are even fragrant! Don’t forget morning glories. Look past the standard “Heavenly Blue” to 16 foot “Grandpa Ott” and tricolor, heritage “Yelta”. Deep purple heliotrope possesses a well-deserved reputation for fragrance, but give a sniff test first. Not all are not created equal.
As you can see, we could wander on and on in purple-flower heaven. There’s tall garden phlox, perennial geranium, bee balm, thyme, hosta, dahlia and many more. Purple (and its relatives) is a color I’ve always loved, in the garden and in my home. At age thirteen my childhood bedroom was papered in purple-lilac-sprigged wallpaper, complemented by a Sears Roebuck 3-tone lavender ruffled bedspread. I thought that bedroom prettier than a smile. And since I recall it so vividly 50 years later, perhaps it was.
December 22nd, 2013
The Bluestone Perennials catalog arrived yesterday. This Ohio nursery (www.bluestoneperennials.com) is my favorite mail order perennial source, but gosh, it seemed just a tad early to land in my mailbox. The same mailbox, I might add, which is also stuffed with Christmas shopping opportunities designed to separate me from my money.
Be that as it may, the advent of the garden catalogs, those mouth-watering purveyors of all things horticultural puts me in mind of garden design. The depths of a New England winter is prime time to plan your flower bed for next year. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Location: Place your flower bed where you can see and enjoy it and where it’s easy to care for. Close to the front door, beside the shed, visible out a large window, off the deck, near the driveway. Wherever you spend time is best.
Site: If your yard is shaded by trees you most likely will have a shade garden. If you are gifted with ample afternoon sunshine it’s a sunny garden. Choose plants accordingly. A sun-loving sedum will sulk in shade, and a hosta will be hostile in hot sunshine. Likewise check drainage. Most plants appreciate moist, well-drained soil. Plants such as clethra and astilbe tolerate wet feet.
Preparation: If you are fortunate to have a plot with black, crumbly soil, feel free to go ahead and plant (but a soil test is always advisable. http://www.soiltest.uconn.edu ) If you are not blessed with such riches, consider “lasagna gardening”. This no-dig method entails covering the chosen spot with as much organic material as possible and letting Mother Nature do the work. Simply pile up shredded leaves, leftover mulch, old compost and wait for the earthworms, rain, frost and sun to break the stuff down into friable soil. It takes some months, but saves the back.
Plants: To give as much interest as possible, think long-blooming perennials such as hellebore and coneflower, foliage plants such as heuchera, and annuals such as marigolds or begonias. If there’s room, add flowering vines like clematis or morning glory.
Paths: All gardens need maintenance and pathways make this task easier. They also allow for strolling and admiring your handiwork. Mark paths with landscaper paint first and place stepping stones, or other hardscape to allow access.
Structure. Trees and flowering shrubs add interest, height and structure to any garden. They will also bring in nesting birds and increase winter appeal. Think about spanning the growing season with blooming shrubs, starting with the powerfully sweet-smelling hybrid witch hazels, then Korean spice viburnum, moving on to lilacs, roses, hydrangea, and bringing up the rear with spectacular foliage of itea and fothergilla.
Layers: A garden is more attractive with high, middle and low elements. Trees, shrubs and vertical supports add height. Mid-level focus can be provided by large perennials such as asters, foxglove and ostrich fern. Low-growing ground covers such as lamium and viola create a decorative edge.
Harmony: What colors make you happy? What colors do you wear? These may well be the colors you wish represented in your garden. The catalogs are full of flowers of every hue.
Ornamentation: Most gardens can do with a dash of ornament. Think benches, large containers, obelisks and statuary. But be careful…a little goes a long way.
So treasure those nursery catalogs. Use their alluring descriptions, fabulous photos and garden plans to help you while away the short winter days. Spring will be here before we know it!