Sunday, December 17, 2017

Spring Part 2




As spring advances, the number of plants coming into bloom increases exponentially.   Many gardens around here are primarily spring gardens with azaleas and daffodils for example.  I find spring and early summer to be the most floriferous seasons too, but my gardens continue blooming well past first frost.  I get bored easily with simple gardens so I need to make sure I have something new happening every day in my gardens during the growing season.

This is an exquisite and well behaved double version of Ranunculus ficaria.  The wild sort with single yellow flowers is a merciless invasive thug in our area.  While attractive it will carpet the ground to the exclusion of other small plants in areas it has spread into.  I have written on this species before and the problem has worsened over the years in areas along the Bronx river for example.  I wonder what eats them in their European homeland as surely there must be a natural control in its native range.  However there are a number of selections of the species that are far less aggressive and can be grown safely in the garden, this being one of them.  The foliage emerges very early during winter and soon after flowering the whole plant disappears from sight, only to reemerge from the tuberous roots the following winter.

The fragrant double Parma violets, in purple and white, come into bloom after I remove the wood chip mulch.  They are old varieties from Europe and not common around here.  They are said to not be very cold hardy but I find a fairly light cover of wood chips will see them through our winters without issue so far. It does need to be removed as soon as threat of very severe frost is over.
Taraxacum pseudoroseum comes into bloom.  This Russian relative of the common lawn weed T. officinale is very similar in leaf and size but has pink flowers with a golden center.  It does self sow but not to excess so far.   I like weird dandelions and grow a couple of white flowered ones too.  This year I am looking forward to starting seeds of T. lilacena, a lavender flowered one from Xinjiang.

Before April ends the front yard is filled with daffodils I have planted in the former front lawn.  They will become large clumps with time just as they have in my school garden. The red tulips that predate us owning the house also come into bloom (and are very perennial so long as we keep the deer off them) and creeping phlox (Phlox subulata and cvs) spreads ever outwards.  Later I cut out some of the phlox and planted the pieces elsewhere on a small slope.  The magnolia in the background failed to flower a second year in a row, perhaps due to a very cold March, so out it went later in the summer. In general I have been removing common shrubs and trees and replacing them with flowers and.or rarer shrubs.  A lot of what I grow likes good sun so most of the property is quite sunny.


I planted the first daffodils in the front yard two falls before this picture and already this one (they were mixed varieties) is clumping up nicely. I get most of my spring bulbs from Scheepers (aka Van Engelen), Brent and Becky's and sometimes from Colorblends or Easy to Grow Bulbs when they run their sales right around Thanksgiving.  I get good deals but sometimes I regret it as planting 100 big daffodil bulbs in heavy soil when it is cold outside can be hard on these aging bones.  But seeing their cheery flowers in spring makes it worth it.  This year I didnt order so many bulbs since the gardens are filling up and daffodils tend to be forever around here.  Nothing really eats them aside from the Narcissus fly (which is quite rare, I am not sure if I have ever seen it here) and no mammal bothers them due to their toxicity.  They tolerate all kinds of soil and just ask for some decent sun to come back every year in greater quantities.   Occasionally I will find a plant with mottled foliage that appears to be virused and those I remove on sight as I dont want virus spreading to other bulbs.   But I have removed less than a handful so far.


Paeonia caucausica grown from seed comes into bloom early.  It is a brief event but the foliage is kind of nice too and it doesnt flop like the one or two varieties of peony on the property when we got it.  I removed most of those, giving the majority of them to a couple of teachers at my school who helped dig them out.  I am growing several peony species from seed as well as mixed cultivar seeds from the American Peony Society.

Lunaria "Corfu Blue" is neither blue as the name suggests, nor perennial with suckers as the source I got it from states.   Yet it is different than the typical Lunaria annua in that it branches much more and flowers for a longer period of time.  It does seed around like more common forms of the species but it is a nice addition to the spring garden and the seed pods can similarly be dried and used in arrangements.

Packera aurea is a really pretty native species when in bloom but its wandering ways forced me to relocate it after blooming to our border with the neighbor with kids.   There is a bit of a wild patch there that I try to tame periodically, and one way I do this is to plant stuff that might look good and be able to compete with the weeds on their side of the line.  This one would be good as a vigorous ground cover which is splendid in spring when it blooms and decent looking the rest of the year.  But those thin stolons do ensure that it gets around, and where they can't reach the seeds can.

Thalictrum (formerly Anemonella) thalictroides is a native species with white single flowers but this double flowered selection called Cameo is much nicer.  It is a small plant that blooms for a decent period of time but by late summer the foliage is mostly gone, awaiting another spring to rise from the small tuberous roots.
Primula veris is a well known English wild flower and is found elsewhere in Europe too.  It is perhaps the easiest Primula species to grow here and is rather splendid in full bloom.  Then again most primulas are gorgeous plants but most resent our summer heat so are difficult or impossible to grow.  Even this one may need some extra water in summer if we have a dry spell but it perks up when it cools down in fall and come spring it is ready to do its thing all over again.
This is another primula just after an April rain.  It is one of the polyanthus hybrid sorts that I grew from seeds as I have done with nearly all primulas I have.  These are colorful perennials and long lived in decent soil.   Animals seem to avoid them and they make seeds which can be collected to grow even more.  The offspring of this type will be varied in color.   I grow many plants from seeds for several reasons. Its way cheaper than buying plants, the plants are more likely to be pest and disease free (nurseries do try their best but sometimes a plant brings unwanted pests with it into the garden), and the adventurous gardener has access to a much wider range of plants than if one were to only purchase plants.  The various plant society seed exchanges are a great place to get lots of seeds for a pittance really.  I belong to the North Amercan Rock Garden Society and the Scottish Rock Garden Club, both of which have extensive seed lists that come out in December.  Seeds are donated by members, (I am a regular donor to both societies) and then one can order them in a "first round" (donors get first pick) then there are second rounds for both as well (but they are done differently by each).  Both have plenty of choice species after the first rounds anyway, and NARGS sends all leftover seeds after the second round to the various local chapters including the two that I belong to (Hudson Valley and Berkshire chapters).  Sadly most people seem intimidated by seeds so I often take most of the leftovers and store them in my refrigerator then plant them out in containers later on.   I have gotten many good things this way that I would never have thought to try growing.   Sometimes seeds are misidentified or not viable but that is a small percentage and at least in my case when I help out with the seed packing (the packing of the seeds is divided among several chapters each year) I will discard non viable seed rather than let someone end up disappointed.  As the numbers of specialty plant nurseries continue to decrease, it becomes even more important to grow things from seeds.  Seeds can also be stored in most cases for very long periods of time in a refrigerator, such treatment greatly extends the time they remain viable in my experience. More than once I have grown something from my refrigerated seeds that was no longer available commercially or otherwise.
I got this Viola lanceolata years ago from the wildflower curator at the NYBG when I worked there, I think it was coming up in another plant's pot.  It is attractive though and I took some to our current house when we moved.  It does spread fairly aggressively so every now and then I have to remove some but I always leave some so I can enjoy the delicately lined blossoms each spring.
Before April ends the hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus) are in full bloom.  I have over a hundred of them here, almost all grown from seeds from one of three sources: a hellebore nursery in Tasmania that no longer grows them since a neighbor sprayed herbicide that drifted onto their property and killed them, Pine Knot Farms (they dont always sell seeds, but always have plants,  but I brought 100 seeds from them one year and every one of them seemed to grow) and the NARGS seedlist.  Now there is a trick to growing hellebores from seeds--the seeds must be fresh (not more than a month or so old) or "moist packed".  The latter means they are packed in a tiny plastic zip lock bag with moist (not soppy wet) vermiculate or sphagnum moss).  It turns out that the seeds ripen in June or so, then fall to the ground where they need a few months of warm and reasonably moist conditions to be primed to germinate when temperatures drop.  Roots emerge in late fall followed by the cotyledons and first leaves in spring.   In the case of the seeds from Tasmania, they moist packed them after harvest (around December) and by the time I got them they were ready to pop into the refrigerator where they would begin to sprout after a few weeks.  I then removed them and planted them up in pots during mid spring when it was still cool enough for them to establish well.  The seeds I got from Pine Knot farms were even easier to deal with, they sent them out in June and I planted them in a spot directly into the ground and watered and weeded as needed.  Lots of them appeared the following spring and I separated them out the spring after that.  Hellebores bloom at three years of age at the earliest in my conditions and many will wait another year or two.   I still have many unflowered ones that are maturing so next spring I should see quite a variety of them in bloom.  Plus the ones I have self sow so there are always extra plants to give away or bring to sales.  They are also forever plants, they just do not die and nothing eats them.  I once found aphids on a few plants but a single spraying maked quick work of them.   The Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, is a white flowered species that flowers earlier and I have found it much harder to grow, to the point that I am still trying.  But Helleborus x hybridus is easy in shade or partial sun and tolerates dry or moist soil.  Some come in brighter more showy colors and patterns than in the past, and some have more outfacing rather than the typical down facing flowers.  Buying such plants will set your wallet back a bit but if you grow enough from seeds you will get some equally good plants. And even the most homely hellebore looks pretty nice in late winter or early spring when they start blooming and not much else is around.
Tulipa sylvestris is one of the wild species that seems to persist well in gardens,which is not something all tulips do.  It also has leaves which start coming up in fall so the ends may be burned by frost by the time they flower.  The yellow flowers are graceful things that bend and have recurving tepals.  As with all tulips they will open more in sunshine but I like them even when they are closed as seen here.
The tight foliage of Asarum takaoi make an attractive clump which hides the brownish flowers underneath.  I had trouble growing most asarums in the old house but here they do great.  This one was given to me by a friend when he had to give up his garden when he moved to an apartment and it has done very well since it got here so that I have several clumps of it by now.


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