April 24, 2019

The Perfect Spring

Primula elatior, the English Oxlip simple yet so rarely seen in American gardens. If you want your garden to look like the hundred acre wood, this is the plant to seek out. Will you find it? Probably not unless you raise it from seed or join the American Primrose Society. It isn't rare. Just hard to find as commercial growers ignore it.  There is no Proven Winners Primula elatior. Popular in Shakesperian England, and still common there today.   I grow mine from seed bought online from Jelitto in Germany. The easiest of all the primula, I think. Sow indoors or under glass in February, grow on and set out in early summer and they'll bloom next spring. Very cold hardy perhaps to zone 4. or even 3.

Gardeners love to complain about the weather. New Englanders love to complain about the weather, but this year, dare I admit that it is indeed the perfect spring, at least here in New England, and at least, for the plants.  What is 'a perfect spring'? A long, slow and gradual thaw (with no surprise freezes which here in the Northeast still can happen until mid-May) and few extreme fluctuations. I can add no drought, although we are about 2" over our average rainfall. With all of this, the native plants are emerging slowly and steadily, and the imports (remember, so many of our ornamental plants are Asian) are gradually opening up.

The giant Butterbur or Petasites japonicus ssp. giganteus just emerged two weeks ago with cobs of purple flowers. Now, a couple of weeks later, the flowers are extending upwards and the giant leaves - which will gradually expand to nearly 3 feet across, are all on schedule.

Last week I spoke in Denver at the Denver Botanic Gardens for two days. - landing in snow or what they called a Bomb Cyclone, our plane was the last to land before they closed the airport, and what I experienced is very much the sort of spring we usually get here just outside of Boston. That would be a spring with surprise snow storms, ice and freezing temperatures that make mush out of magnolia flowers and bend over even tulips and hyacinths. Here? The primula species are emerging just as if they were growing in the Himalaya, or in the French Alps. The Asiatic species of garden perennials like the Rodgersia, Lilium and even the Petasites japonica are coming out of the ground and blooming later than normal, but nice and slow. The way it should be.

I am always picking up rare plants at plant sales or getting some as gifts. Here is one I completely forgot that I had (and there are two clumps!). Galucidium palmatum. Sometimes it's just nice to see everything before it opens up.

We had a mild winter here in Massachusetts but that didn't help our rampant population of bamboo which has become so invasive. This Sasa veitchii (the brown leaves at the bottom of the image) is now everywhere in our garden, and with culms and roots that reach down deep (nearly 2 feet) I cannot get rid of it. I am open to any suggestions. Please.

While often challenging as a bulb plant, the mostly native North American Dog'sToothViolet can be highly collectible and highly challenging. But this one isn't. Erythronium 'Pagoda' is a commercially (Dutch) grown common selection that is hardy and easy. You can get the look of an alpine meadow in the Cascades without spending 35 dollars a bulb.

I know, I know. Lots of invasives, but this native Podophyllum peltatum, our local and family Mayapple, is always a welcome sight in the spring. It never grew here on our family property and woodlands, but it was from a clump in a wild colony that Joe and I found back in the 1980's near his parents' house in Northborough, MA. Seeing it always reminds me of him digging a bunch and filling up the trunk of my new 1984 Fiero. Shut up.

We're all native now. Our native bloodroot, Sanguinaria is often overlooked for the fancier and showier double forms, but this one - again, from a wild-collected stock that I got while I was in College at UMASS. Of course, in the late 1970s and as a 18 year old, digging something from the wild wasn't frowned upon. In fact, our professor encouraged it. At least I still have the colony.

I guess digging from the wild is a theme here. Clearly don't do it boys and girls. Never dig in the wild. I was kid and not very responsible. Plus, I was a plant nerd and there was no stopping me.  We now know better. Protecting our native and wild populations is what we are all about. Really. Still, there is a story here. This was collected by Joe and I around 1987 when we lived in upstate New York near Tuxedo Park and I was working in the city. Dutchman's Breeches or Dicentra cucullaria was running all over our property. Now, this population has spread throughout our woodlands. 

Epimedium. This one from my friend Darrell Probst is from western China, but I include it because in today's gardens we often combine wildflowers from similar climates elsewhere in the world. Collected? Yep. But carefully propagated from seed not plants, and just like our diverse human population, our gardens can and often are just as diverse.

Even though I've been very busy with my new job in Boston, I need to be creative in finding any free time as I am still speaking on most weekends on my book tour. Not to mention that I am writing another book which has had to have it's deadline slightly extended (no worries, it will still come out next February). A book a year. - that's my goal. Here, English Spencer Sweet Peas are set out into the garden, this time in a column of pea brush (fothergilla).  I chose 6 shades of purple and blue for this collumn. Curated colors look best.

I'm growing many annual poppies again, but remember -Irish Terriers rule the land here. I am being clever and using chicken wire and netting to keep these tiny seedlings safe. Sown a few weeks ago just as the snow melted, these Shirley Poppies were sown with sand and seed mixed together, and then sifted through a kitchen sieve onto lightly raked soil. They look big here but believe me they are tiny. This lot will need to be thinned soon, with the excess tossed because one cannot transplant poppies.

The classic Matt Mattus shot, right?  I need new props.   Oh...I. bought one - look in the photo below and see if you can see the new flat black Haws English watering can from Terrain. (it was an exclusive and limited edition color!).

Last year I started training some red-flowered rosemary into globes using armature wire. They are looking fine now. A classic English method that one can see at Great Dixter, and now here in Wormtown, MA.

Oh, Genista canariensis. You make the greenhouse so lemony! Really - true story. For my entire life, I could never smell this but Joe would always tell me that it scented the entire greenhouse with a rich lemon Pledge furniture Polish scent, yetI could never smell it. At all. Nothing. Yet, this year? I can smell it. Weird, right? Although, I would say that it smells like lemon scented Lestoil floor cleaner. Not exactly a yummy lemon flavor, but still somewhat an artificial lemon scent.

My pots of what are some of my most favorite bulbs. - Rhodohypoxis baurii are beginning to bloom again in the sand beds inside the greenhouse. 

I am growing many hard-to-find annuals this year. Flowers that one can rarely find anywhere (mostly for my book, but many for clients who might be interested in trying some). This Malope (in the hibiscus or mallow family) should be lovely with bright pink, wide flowers all summer long on bushy plants. 

A bit of rarity and joy. Agepetes blooms on some very long and vine-like branches.  I've been waiting 2 years for this to bloom.

We acquired some very rare Primroses from Japan. Primula sieboldii is hard enough to find, but these are very special and while I can't say too much about them as the grower made us promise not to sell or share them (they are very precious in Japan), I felt that I could show some here. This double is called 'Elegant'.

This P .sieboldii double is a cultivar named 'Oni. Gokko'

This double with an odd flower is named 'Maimomiji'. I think we have about 60 but they are small, and I am waiting for the others to bloom.

There are so many nice begonias available now. I zipped down to Logee's last Friday to stock up for myself and clients for summer containers, summer porch displays and,well, OK, yes, for myself too.

Lily bulbs are beginning to be shipped in spring as well by some lily nurseries. I had been looking for the large, orange and rust colored trumpet lily named 'African Queen' and found a (secret, sorry) source. I ordered 20 bulbs for one giant clump. OK, I got them from the Lily Nook, in Canada.  They ship to the US, but typically in late autumn.

It's going to be a fragrant summer!  Trumpet lilies can grow 6-7 feet tall with many blossoms. Planted in clumps of 10 or 20 (as they grow in the wilds of western China) is how they look best. Extravagant?Maybe, but they take up about the same space as a hydrangea does but who in your neighborhood does this?  Imagine how it will look!