Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Time for Renewal

What a wonderful time of year! All over Champaign-Urbana, the star magnolias (the small, early white ones with the delicate flowers), the saucer magnolias (the pink, big-flowered hardy ones), the yellow forsythia bushes, daffodils of all sorts, and early squills and tulips are all in bloom. The trees have started their new growth as well, with the maple's red buds emerging brightly. Squirrels are racing around, and robins are moving out of the woods and back into the backyards.

We have a "bird clock" that plays bird song at each hour, and I've been used to listening for it to help me remind my husband about his medications. But now there's bird song in between hours -- coming in the open windows from the outside!
As you can see, the blue squills (Scilla siberica) are so charming and bright right now. In some places, I've seen "drifts" of them that have spread across lawns over the years. We have a couple of areas in our yard where the squills are blooming.
Yellow is a dominant color now, too, with the appearance of the miniature narcissus or daffodil called tete-a-tete ("head to head" in French, used to describe an intimate getogether). It's only about eight inches tall, but oh so cute! These little guys are a bit less reliable in terms of returning every year than their full-sized cousins, but they are so early and adorable that I couldn't resist planting some, and quite a few of them returned in fact.
The bulbs are small and so it's best to group them into clusters (fewer holes to dig that way :) We have several groupings in the north yard, where it's sunny now but shady later on.
As you can see, we have a lot of twigs and leaves in the north yard, so it's a little bit difficult to get around. But our gardening helper plans to come soon and do some early cleanup.
Remember the pink giant "glory of the snow" from the prior post? Well, here's a related bulb from the same genus (i.e., first name) -- Chionodoxa sardensis (Sardinian chionodoxa). I've never been to Sardinia, but I really love these pale blue stars with the white centers. They are a petite delight, blooming at the same time as the miniature daffodils.
Again, they are best planted in clusters. And this year I've noticed that they are starting to seed around here and there, sometimes fairly far away from the central groupings, so they are good naturalizers.
The full-sized daffodils are coming on now too, thanks to several warm days in a row. Fortunately, this spring we are still having some cool nights so they don't all bloom and then fry in a day or two, as they have some years. There is cyclone fence along the whole east side of the yard, and, fifteen years ago, we planted collections of daffodils on both sides of the fence line. Most of them are still returning every year.
For the full-sized daffs, the bulbs are as big as onions and are sometimes doubles, so a big (and deep) hole is needed. I like to plant them quite deep (at least eight inches) so that they don't bloom too early and get nipped by spring frosts. We bought a gizmo that looks like a big metal corkscrew that attaches to a power drill. It's a great way to get deep and even holes. Then we put a handful of sand at the bottom before placing each bulb.
Of course, they are prettiest when viewed from the side of the fence that they are blooming on! This one is a trumpet narcissus with white "perianth" (i.e., outer petals) and a frilled short "cup." There are lots of different kinds of hardy narcissus: long and short cups, contrasting or same color perianths, doubles, nodding bell-shaped flowers, big trumpets, and so on.

I took a few of these inside for a bouquet on the dining room table. They are lovely, but they don't last very long. Also, they may have been pulled out of the vase by feline friends. I try to keep them away from the daffs, however, because I think I read somewhere that they are poisonous if eaten.

Besides checking for things coming into bloom and others just starting to show color, I always look in on the plants that are finishing up. You can see from this photo of the adonis (see earlier posts for full bloom) that, as the blooms get smaller and more closed up,  the foliage grows quite a bit before it disappears completely for the year.
The big tulips that people are most familiar with are all hybrids that were bred over long centuries from the small, short so-called species tulips, many of which come from high altitude rocky soil in the Middle East. For example, the charming white and yellow tulip pictured here, Tulipa turkestanica, comes from Turkey. It's a small bulb that blooms earlier than the giant Darwin tulips from Holland. It's only six or eight inches tall and the blooms close at the end of the afternoon. But this is a reliable one that returns year after year, whereas most of the big tulips need to be renewed each year here in Illinois where the drainage for bulbs isn't always ideal.
I mentioned the hellebores in an earlier post, long-lived hardy shade-loving plants that bloom early. Some species and especially the newer hybrids have tall stems and upright flowers, but I still like these old-fashioned garden hellebores (sometimes called "Christmas rose" or "Lenten rose") with their drooping flowers.
It seems that the hellebores' color varies with the weather somewhat. Some years, mine are mostly white or greenish-purple. But this spring, the pink really came out strongly, and the purple ones were bright as well.
Blood root (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a true woodland delight. I first learned to identify it in early springs in the Illinois woods. The name comes from the blood-red sap, which was used as a dye by Native Americans. The brilliant white flowers close up at the end of the afternoon, and once the bloom has finished for the year, the leaves become quite large. I have several clusters of it in two shady beds under trees, and a very small plant of the rare double bloodroot (will try for a picture later this week). Frank the Supergardener has an even rarer pink one. BTW, the variegated leaves you see among the bloodroot are Lamiastrum galeobdolon (yellow archangel), a weedy creeper that blooms with yellow flowers later on (and takes over the whole bed!).
The little blue anemones (Anemone blanda) are starting to bloom in the bed under the ash tree. They are cheerful, like small blue daisies. They are a bit hard to get going. The bulbs, actually "tubers," are small and hard and irregular in shape, so you need to soak them in warm water before planting in the fall and plant them on their ends because it's not easy to tell which way is up. I originally put one hundred of these small beauties in this bed. For several years, there were a lot of blooms each spring, but they seem to be reducing in numbers the past few springs. Even a few are very welcome!

There are already many more daffodils, some fragrant pink hyacinths, and some other early tulips that have come into bloom since I took these photos, so expect more to come soon in the spring flower series of posts. Hope you enjoy them! What's blooming in your yard now? I'd love to get some comments.


  1. Those spring flowers are so beautiful, just warming the heart! Thank you for sharing, I did enjoy your photos very much!
    Have a happy Easter!

  2. Thanks so much, Yael. I'm glad you liked the photos. We have a beautiful day here today in the garden!