More Reasons To Plant Containers For Spring

Spring flowersPlanting containers for spring is a great idea. To follow are some of my favorites.

spring container plantings

stock and alyssum

favorite spring pots

bok choy in containers

May containers

lavender in a basket

chard and pansies

 spring pots

spring trough

small spring containers

a bucket full of spring flowers

favorite spring pots

baskets and tubs 005

persian queen geranium and lobeliaMy recommendation for containers this 17th of May in Michigan?  Do not be thinking coleus, New Guinea impatiens, begonias, licorice in any of its forms, sweet potato vine, cannas – the list of summer container tropical that do not tolerate cold soil is long. Annual plants that are greenhouse grown for summer containers will not like our cold soil, or the cold air.  Refrain from planting these cold sensitive plants until the soil and the air temperatures warm up. Containers planted with spring and cold tolerant plants deliver every bit of three months, and will happily accompany your spring garden coming on. Choose to be in real time. The choices are many.

spring container in mid MayThe tropical annuals that are greenhouse grown for summer containers are living in a warm world right now. Everything regarding their culture is right as rain.  They have great soil. They have been fertilized. They are growing in a warm environment. Their place on a greenhouse bench is an ideal world. A greenhouse, on a sunny day in March, gets very warm, as in upwards of 80 degrees.  Those sunny days in April push those plants with tropical origins into very active growth.  A greenhouse crop of container plants is usually available for purchase way ahead of predictably warm weather outdoors. The transition from a hot house to your garden can be a huge shock to those plants. If you do not have a glass house to protect annual topical plants from the late spring Michigan weather, focus on what the spring has to offer.

viola potI understand the idea to shop now. Every serious gardener wants to purchase the best from a big collection. I would only suggest that your awesome early picks need to be, at the very least, housed in the garage until the night temperatures are reliably over 50 degrees. It can be heartbreaking, getting ahead of the weather.  At this moment, I am trying to stay focused on all thing spring.

Grape Hyacinths

Muscari_armeniacum2In my opinion, a drift of grape hyacinths in full bloom is one of spring’s  crowning moments. They may be small, but they pack a big visual punch. The muscari group is one of the most charming and most reliable of all of the small spring flowering bulbs. The tiny corm, planted only 3″ below the surface of the soil in the fall, will give rise to a pair of thin strappy white striped leaves, and a flowering raceme the most brilliant shade of cobalt blue.  That blue makes a spring garden worth growing.

grape hyacinths (2)From my  favorite on line horticultural reference for the Midwest, the Missouri Botanic Garden Plant Finder, I read the following:

“Muscari armeniacum, commonly called grape hyacinth, is an early spring-blooming bulbous perennial that is native to southeastern Europe (including Armenia). It features conical racemes of slightly fragrant, tightly packed, deep violet blue, urn-shaped flowers atop scapes rising to 8” tall in early spring. Each bulb produces 1-3 scapes with 20-40 flowers per scape. Each flower has a thin white line around the rim. Dense inflorescence purportedly resembles an elongated, upside-down bunch of grapes, hence the common name. Scapes rise up from somewhat floppy clumps of narrow, fleshy, basal, green leaves (to 12” long) that appear in autumn and live through the cold St. Louis winter to spring when the plants flower.”

This description tells me that Muscari will grow well in my garden, but I would like to add that they are simple to plant. All you need is some decent friable soil, and a finger to push them below ground. I have seen corms left laying on the surface send a few roots into the soil, and bloom on their sides the following spring. They are willing.

grape hyacinths (3)Grape hyacinths will come up and thrive just about anywhere you plant them.  I would avoid soggy soil that would rot the corms, and dark places fit only for ferns. They come up through a lawn without complaint. They are incredibly hardy. I have never done anything to mine, except plant and enjoy. They are persistent year after year, and can make substantial clumps. The only difficulty?  You have to buy and plant them in the fall.  Preferably in 50’s or 100’s. If you are willing and able, they will be too.

DSC_5201A new landscape project I am about to install involves the installation of a fairly large partial shade garden. My clients are very fond of blue flowering plants, and especially blue spring flowering bulbs. The rustic stone walk was finished in late October.  The coast was clear to plant bulbs, which we did fairly late in November.  It was cold, but as long as the ground is not frozen, spring flowering bulbs can be planted. Since the planting would be late, we stored the bulbs in a cool place, so they would not suffer from being out of the ground so long. Muscari cultivars seldom grow talled than 8″, so planting them near the walk made sense.

DSC_5204We planted a variety of muscari cultivars, all the the blue and white range. We planted the tried and true muscari armeniacum, and  Blue Magic, Atlantic muscari, Magical Mixture, and superstar. Lots of cobalt blue, light blue, with a smattering of white. We also planted several types of camassia, and chionodoxa forbesii Blue Giant, to extend the blue spring bloom period. Later yet, there will be some smaller growing alliums.  These muscari blooming make a quite a statement, even though they are blooming in an ocean of bare dirt.

DSC_5199The planting of this woodland garden got a head start last fall.  The locations of these bulbs will direct the height and bloom season of what I plant with them. We will plant sweet woodriff and European ginger. Were the soil not so sandy, I would plant forget me nots. I will plant more Virginia bluebells to the patch that is existing, Jack in the pulpit, Dutchman’s britches, anemone sylvestris, campanula porscharskyana, lamium white nancy, and so on.

DSC_5197We also have planned for a few Venus dogwoods in the sunniest places, a few witch hazel, and a few Canadian hemlocks. Blue leaved hostas, big and small. If we plant any astilbe, it will be a loose and airy growing version. A stand of goatsbeard is a good choice for the back of the shady border. Like snakeroot,  they take some time to establish and grow – but they are well worth the trouble.

DSC_5196Right now, this is a garden of possibilities.  What a pleasure to be at that point, in early spring. If you are planning a garden in our zone right now, check out the Missouri Botanic Gardens opinion about your choices. And leave some spaces and places for grape hyacinths.

the Plant Finder

Hellebore Hardy

hellebore hardy (1)Would that every plant in my garden could be hellebore hardy. Hellebore hardy? Hellebore hardy is that state of plant being which is as tough as nails, bud and bloom hardy, every day in hostile weather, as in every crappy spring wild card day hardy. We have had crazy cold and blustery weather the first 12 days of April. As in daytime highs of 28 degrees, and some night time lows at 19 degrees.  If it were January, or February, or even the first part of March, these temperatures would not bother anything in my garden.  At that time, every plant is dormant, and oblivious to the day to day changes in temperature. This kind of cold in the spring can damage emerging flowers and leaves. Our espaliered fruit trees are very close to blooming.  I am hoping they hold off for a week, as below freezing temperatures can easily damage or wipe out those flowers. The flowering stalks of my hellebores emerged from the ground a month ago. The have been growing steadily, in spite of a lengthy bout of really cold and windy weather.

hellebore hardy (3)The flowering stalks of the hellebores usually come out of the ground in my zone in mid March. They are programmed to come out of the ground, fighting. How they fight to bloom enchants me. March and April are politely known as transitional months in Michigan.  As in 2.5 parts winter dueling fiercely with .5 parts of spring.  Hellebores bloom in spite of that conflict-  I admire that cheekiness about them. Their ability to withstand cold, snow, ice, freezing rain and wind when they have broken dormancy and begun to grow is remarkable.  All the more extraordinary is their ability to shrug off this hostile weather while in full bloom. This picture was taken at the end of the day on April 10. I was worried that every flower would be at least damaged, if not obliterated by morning.

hellebore hardy (2)It was not an idle worry. My white flowered magnolia stellata is full of white flowers gone to brown mush.  The early flowering magnolias are not hellebore hardy. Their flowering can be laid low and obliterated by cold April weather.  I don’t love them less for this.  I just know that a tumultuous spring has its disappointments, and its survivors. My stellata blooms well 2 out of 5 years.

hellebore hardy (8)The hellebores are survivors.  They do not need any help from me if the beginning of spring is deadly cold. They never ask for much of anything, actually. As for April 11, my hellebores revived. Once the snow and ice melted, and the air temperatures warmed up, my hellebores got back to the business of blooming. My old clumps are sensational this year.

hellebore hardy (12)This big clump, one of many of the old Royal Heritage strain that I grow, is unfazed by inclement weather.

hellebore hardy (5)It is hard to believe that these flowers survived night temperatures ranging from 19 to 27 degrees, over a period of almost 2 weeks.

hellebore hardy (6)Hellebore flowers are big and showy.  What is just as showy is how they handle the late winter weather. Showier still is that these plants are still growing strong, despite their age.  Most of my original group was planted well over a decade ago. I do not often see the Royal Heritage strain offered for sale – pity that.

hellebore hardy (9)To follow are some pictures of my hellebores – both old and new.  I appreciate every one of them, especially given that most of the rest of the garden is still biding its time, hoping for a clearer sign that spring is here.

hellebore hardy (7)Royal heritage strain

hellebore hardy (17)Conny is a newer variety.  This is its 3rd spring.

hellebore hardy (10)Royal Heritage strain

hellebore hardy (11)Royal heritage strain

hellebore hardy (14)Royal Heritage strain

hellebore hardy (18)This spotted double is a newer variety whose name I cannot remember. Lovely, and sparse.

hellebore hardy (16)My newest group of more recently bred hellebore hybrids are gawky and thin. I am hoping to see them put on some weight this year. It is too soon to determine whether they will form big and persistent clumps. The Royal Heritage Mix may not have the interesting shapes and the clearer colors as the newest varieties that are available, but they are reliable. Should you have an interest in this discussion regarding hellebores persistence, I would invite you to read an essay from the well known English gardener and garden writer, Noel Kingbury. His column is a regular read for me. He worries that the new cultivars are not as vigorous as the old fashioned varieties.  His life is a world away from mine, but his commentary on the garden is of interest to me.   http://noels-garden.blogspot.com/2016/02/hellebore-troubles.html

Thinking Spring: The First Of The Small Flowering Bulbs

first crocusThe first spring flower in my garden is always a snowdrop, but the crocus are never far behind. This year, they are early. I suppose an unusually mild winter and a decent string of warmish days account for that. Last year, spring begrudging arrived in late April.  My crocus had barely been in bloom a day before one bitterly cold late April night knocked them to the ground. A gardener’s life is much about moments – some of which are very brief. I am more than a week into the crocus blooming-this is a good year for them. This first crocus is blooming through the remains of an old clump of lady’s mantle. I only do the most rudimentary of fall cleanups. I like a garden to have a winter blanket. Still, that crocus bloom pushing its way up through the matted mess of roots and decaying leaves, is a testament to the persistence of life.

FullSizeRender (5)My crocus do not seem mind the thicket of baltic ivy that covers the ground where they emerge every spring.  There is more to this than meets the eye.  Baltic ivy on the surface is a tangled mess of vines.  But underground the roots are stout and unbelievably thick. If you have ever tried to remove a patch of Baltic ivy, I am sure you threw aside your trowel for a sharp bladed trenching shovel. A mature stand of ivy slated for removal takes the sharpest and biggest tool, a steely amount of determination, and a will to overcome. Add to this a lot of sweat and time, and you will get the picture.  My crocus does not mind the ivy. They thrive, in spite of it.

IMG_0144They push through what is underground, and emerge above ground-effortlessly. Gracefully. They manage their life with equal parts of grace and tenacity. It could be that my most favorite part of the crocus blooming is how they make me get down on the ground to see them. Being close to ground level is an experience of nature like no other. Ground level in a garden is an experience of a living city that is thriving. That experience is what keeps me gardening.

FullSizeRender (3)The story of the earth, and all of the life teeming just below and just above the surface, is a tale that delights each and every gardener. I am sure that what makes gardeners such a close but equally diverse group is their respect for the miracle that is nature. Everyone experiences gardening differently. Those differences make for lots of stories that get passed around.  The respect that every gardener feels for that incredible force that we call nature is what glues us all together. On the flip side, I am just about unglued waiting for our winter to end. The crocus is making that easier to bear.

IMG_2853So my story, this 23rd of March, is that I have crocus in full bloom. Crocus are incredibly beautiful. They are a member of the iris family.  The white stripe at the center of the leaves is typical. Crocus bulbs are planted in the fall. The corms are small, and not very expensive. They take next to no effort to get them planted 3 inches below ground. Even on a cold November day, planting crocus is doable.

DApril-16a-2013SC_0040-9-620x416When they bloom, there is an explosion of color. The blooms are large and showy. They populate an area readily and without any intervention from me. I have never done anything to them, except plant and enjoy. I greatly admire how they shrug off the late winter weather. The coming of the crocus tell me that spring is on the way.

IMG_2856The beginning of spring is not always so easy to detect. One spring day, the birds start singing. That is my first sign. The dormant garden has nothing much to say, but for the crocus.  The crocus emerge and go on to bloom during that time when nature is not entirely sure it is ready to swing in to spring. If you are a gardener, transitional blooming early spring bulbs might jump start your spring.

crocusCrocus are not native to North America. The first species crocus bulbs reputedly made their way to the Netherlands in the mid 16th century from Turkey. This photograph of crocus tommasinianus blooming, via Wikipedia, provides ample evidence that the species crocus are just as lovely as the more readily available giant Dutch hybrids –  derived from the species crocus vernus. Crocus_longiflorus5 from wikipediaCrocus longiflorus, photograph from Wikipedia

crocus blue pearlCrocus chrysanthus Blue Pearl  blooming around a fence post, from Wikipedia

crocus bed jbparkers.co.ukThis photograph of a crocus lawn in bloom is from jbparkers.co.uk. It is a gardening moment that stops me dead in my tracks. How enchanting is this? Happy spring to you.