Sunday, February 14, 2010

Upcoming Garden Treasures

Here in Illinois, we still have mounds of snow in the yards and streets and icicles on the eaves, but we're starting to think ahead about the possibility of winter being over. So here's a quick preview (photos from last year in our garden or my friend Frank Cooper's wonderful garden) of what might be expected in a few short weeks.

One of the very first perennials to bloom for us is the Adonis vernalis. It's cheery bright yellow flowers sometimes appear as early as the end of February or the beginning of March, even poking through some leftover snow. It's one of those plants that has a great day before there is much competition and then disappears completely when the show is over. So you have to be careful and keep track of where it is (we always remember because it's close by a much-loved lip fern clump) so you don't accidentally dig up the roots while it's dormant.

The perennial Corydalis solida (also called "fumewort") that are planted as small bulbuls are another group of bright and early bloomers. In addition to the well-known yellow one (Corydalis lutea), there are some lovely hybrids with purple, pink, and rose blossoms. Again, these start early and don't last long, leaving no trace behind, so enjoy them while you can and keep track of their location.

The corydalis prefer a more shady, humusy location compared to the adonis, which likes full sun and well-drained soil. There are some gorgeous blue ones that are grown out in the Pacific Northwest (and England, of course), but we have had no luck with those here because of heat and humidity.

Of course, early bulbs of all sorts are the essence of spring, beginning with the snowdrops in February, soon followed by the earliest snow crocus, like these "tommies" -- the beloved Crocus tommasinianus that grow in enormous naturalized drifts in England. There are a few hybrid varieties of tommies, and all are lovely and fairly easy to grow. It does takes a few years to get generous clumps, and it's important to wait on mowing until the foliage has had a chance to replenish the nourishment used by the bulb's blooming.

Crocus of all kinds are so very cheerful, in my opinion. Some years, they are ruined by late frosts and early spring rains, however, so don't forget to check for them before you leave for a day at work. The tiny early crocus bees do their job, buzzing into each brilliant orange center and out again. Later in the day, when the bees are finished, the blooms close up. That's a nice thing about being semi-retired and working at home -- I can check on the crocus and get a chance to see them while they're open -- even if they don't last very long into the spring before the next wave of later spring bulbs comes on. Everything has its season, and some are short (in both time and height) but appreciated greatly.

The snow crocuses come in pale yellow, pure white, butter yellow, purple, and variations of all those. The hybrid Dutch crocus come a little later or overlap, just beginning when the snow crocus are finishing. They are quite similar but a bit larger. There's a great striped purple and white one; it's called "Pickwick," I think.

Our crocus aren't really turning into the fantastic huge drifts we imagined (always shown that way in glossy gardening catalogues, of course) because it takes a long time, full sun (which we don't really have), great soil (like in our prior garden at the old house, where the topsoil hadn't all been removed when the house was built), and a more reliable climate than we usually have in Illinois.

These are just a few of the treasures to come. We just have to be patient and put up with a few more weeks of snow, cold, and frost. But what a relief when the winter is finally over, huh? Spring, as you can tell, is my very favorite season, a time of renewal and freshness and beauty that rejuvenates us all!


  1. So beautifully photographed and makes me want to plant somthing. Really nice blog. I am now your follower. My blog is about flowers once in a while, and a little about the old property we live on. I like to say it ain't for sissies. Thanks, Keri

  2. Hi Keri! Welcome aboard. Glad you liked the flower pics. I checked out your blog too ... very nice photo of your beautiful home!

  3. Susan, those flower photos make me long for spring. Hopefully spring will be early this year. Wouldn't that be nice?