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Spring Color (Anticipation)

March 3, 2013

april garden gburgNo, I do not have much in the way of spring color in my garden; it’s too early for that. But I was interviewed this week for an article at about spring color in the garden, and the subject got me dreaming about the spring color to come.

For those of us who garden in climates with a fairly long period of winter dormancy, spring emphasizes the benefits of mixed plantings that combine herbaceous perennials with woody perennials (shrubs), bulbs, and annuals. The first splashes of spring color in my garden come from flowering shrubs and spring bulbs. Right now, the flowers of witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) are putting on a show outside my office window. In my own garden, the first big color show will come from the bright yellow flowers of forsythia. While I might not find this bold, brassy yellow so attractive later in the season, its vibrancy provides an emotional lift after months of winter white. Later in the spring (mid-late May), another major source of color in my garden is the large rhododendron (species unknown) that covers the back slope with its pink flowers.

rhododendron in bloom

crocus bloomsAbout the same time the bright flowers of forsythia open in my garden, the first flowering blubs appear. For me, these are flowers of crocus, daffodils and hyacinths. (Snowdrops bloom earlier, but white flowers are not what my color-starved brain yearns for after months of snow cover in my Maine garden.) Recently, I’ve planted some dwarf iris (Iris reticulata) to join the display of early flowering bulbs. Another favorite spring bulb is grape hyacinth (Muscari). I used to have these growing in my Maine garden, but they petered out. Planting them anew will be a task for my first year of retirement. Another of the “little bulbs” (as Elizabeth Lawrence called them) that I want to add to my garden is Siberian squill (Scilla sibirica). I am hoping to naturalize these in the grassy area between my back garden and the serenity garden and have them bloom in a carpet of brilliant blue each spring.

pink seasonBy the time the forsythia and early spring bulbs bloom, the green shoots of perennials have started to push up in my garden. In my Gettysburg garden, the first perennials (Phlox subulata and Pulmonaria) usually bloom in April, and these are quickly followed by bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis), Brunnera, volunteer columbines (Aquilegia), and early species of hardy geranium. My Maine garden follows a similar sequence, with patches of bright pink moss phlox appearing in late April or early May, followed by bleeding hearts, columbines, and geraniums. Last year, I added hellebores to my Maine garden, and it will be interesting to see whether these become the earliest perennials to bloom in my garden.

In thinking about spring color in the garden, I would be remiss not to mention foliage. Especially in Maine where there are usually several months of snow cover, all those shades of green in spring are dazzling! But foliage also comes in other colors. The red leaves of some varieties of Heuchera and the chartreuse foliage of Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ provide vibrant splashes of color in spring. One of my favorite plants for colorful spring foliage is the mass of Spirea x ‘Magic Carpet’ that grows at the far end of the deck border. Its new leaves first open in spring as red, then turn to gold, and finally mature to chartreuse.

spirea foliage in spring

So much spring color to look forward to! In just a few weeks, I will be enjoying these colorful plants in the real garden and not just in the virtual garden.

25 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2013 2:52 am

    Jean your rhododendron is beautiful 🙂
    Thank you for a lovely spring walk around your garden, it lifts the spirits somewhat and prepares me for a day of blandness that os my own garden lol. Nothing is even showing signs of waking up just yet 😦

    • March 8, 2013 4:55 pm

      Linda, Nothing happening yet in my garden either. The rhododendron will actually look like that in late May — something to look forward to.

  2. March 4, 2013 8:47 am

    I’m a fan of iris reticulata also. I love the various shades of blue, plus the creatures don’t seem to eat it (unlike crocus and grape hyacinth). “Georgia Blue” spike speedwell is another great blue that I like for early spring color.

    • March 8, 2013 4:57 pm

      Sarah, I’m generally a fan of iris at any time, but those blues are extra special after the color-starved months. I’ll check out the speedwell; thanks for the tip.

  3. March 4, 2013 10:58 am

    Your pictures are lovely, a bold splash of spring colour is very encouraging at this time of year

    • March 11, 2013 10:45 pm

      Maureen, I need to make do with virtual spring for a few more weeks — but it does provide encouragement that the real thing is coming.

  4. March 4, 2013 11:11 am

    reading your post, I needed to comapre to what spring means in a Mediterranean island, I thought that the need for color here would be less urgent since there are small wild flowers covering grounds or walls almost all winter long. But I change my mind when I saw some days ago the first almond trees fully covered in white or shell pink flowers, Then I really decided I needed spring color! I am looking forward to what is next in the calendar here!

    • March 11, 2013 10:45 pm

      Lula, It must be fun to be discovering spring in a new place. I enjoyed your blooming almond tree photos.

  5. March 4, 2013 5:34 pm

    Hi Jean. I am not surprised that we have many of the same favorites. Crocus, Squill, Brunnera, Bleeding Heart, Columbine … I am not a Rhododendron person, though, which is just as well as they do not grow happily here. For the first time in many years, it looks like our spring thaw may come late this year. Here’s to hanging on until the colors arrive!

    • March 11, 2013 10:49 pm

      Jason, I don’t know if I ever would have thought to grow rhododendron if my mother hadn’t gifted me with this one; her next door neighbor dug it up as a seedling or sucker from the woods behind their house. This plant seems to thrive in defiance of the “right plant in the right place” rule — since, in my total ignorance, I took it from its woodland origins and planted it in full sun on a sandy slope.

  6. March 4, 2013 11:39 pm

    Your photos are making me long for spring! It can’t get here soon enough for me.

    • March 11, 2013 10:50 pm

      Jean, I can almost taste it. I’ve been out wandering around my Maine garden in the snow peering at the ground for signs of life.

  7. March 5, 2013 1:51 pm

    Jean, this post made me consider why I like to use so many white-flowering plants. I can totally understand why someone who had stared at snow for five months wouldn’t be enchanted with white tulips in the spring. We don’t get snow in this part of California but I did grow up in a northern climate and I am often nostalgic for the snow – a state of being that is easier to achieve when you don’t have to shovel it or drive in it every year, I know. Anyway, thanks for opening my eyes to a new perspective.

    • March 11, 2013 10:52 pm

      Chad, I hadn’t thought about white flowers as a substitute for snow. But I love the ones I have blooming in August, when I feel as though they make everything look cool and fresh. I lived in southern California (Ventura County) for a couple years after college; maybe if I had stayed on there I would have a garden full of white flowers.

  8. March 5, 2013 5:50 pm

    I guess I will forgive you that unflattering reference to snowdrops!. I have found that glory-of-the-snow is a much better naturalizer than Siberian squill but I don’t know if that is true in Maine.

    • March 11, 2013 10:54 pm

      Carolyn, Thanks for the tip about glory-of-the-snow. I think I’ll plant both it and squill and see what happens. I did plant Scilla bulbs once before, but in unimproved sand in my front yard; it’s probably not surprising that they were never heard from again.

  9. March 5, 2013 8:01 pm

    Such a great idea making sure to plant for early spring colour. I haven’t planted nearly enough bulbs in my yard and each spring I’m antsy with excitement waiting for some colour. I worked harder on that last fall knowing I would be wistfully looking for blooms come spring. Hopefully this year some early daffodils will welcome me come spring.

    • March 11, 2013 10:56 pm

      Marguerite, Part of my planning for retirement has been to plant more early spring and late fall blooming plants in my Maine garden. Of course, it’s a little frustrating not to be here to see the crocus and iris reticulata bloom — but I’m hoping they’ll be well established and putting on a great show by the time I get to see them do it in spring 2015!

  10. March 5, 2013 8:02 pm

    Spring bulbs and forsythia are a marvelous combination.

    I enjoyed your look forward to spring.

    • March 11, 2013 10:57 pm

      I’m hoping to see the real forsythia and spring bulbs in the next couple of weeks.

  11. March 7, 2013 9:02 pm

    Jean it is interesting to see what blooms first in your garden…mine is all bulbs for at least a month and then some perennials especially wildflowers show up…similar flowers on a different schedule.

    • March 11, 2013 10:59 pm

      Donna, I think the crocus bulbs bloom at about the same time as the forsythia in my garden, with the hyacinths and daffodils not far behind. This year, I’ve planted four different varieties of tulips in a half-barrel in front of my townhouse in Gettysburg, so I’m looking forward to seeing them along with the bleeding hearts and pulmonaria.

  12. March 10, 2013 1:22 pm

    Happy Birthday – Hope you have a good day and get to spend some of it in a garden
    Best wishes

    • March 11, 2013 11:02 pm

      Does wandering around the garden in the snow count? It was a mild day, and I did enjoy it — even if its too early for new spring growth here.

  13. March 27, 2013 2:14 am

    I really love dwarf iris as beautiful shades of blue and purple. However, other varieties are not equally easy to locate. For the less common varieties.

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