Monday, June 05, 2017

Here's a piece I wrote for The North Star  Monthly in early March when I was thinking about gardening but was seeing nothing but "white" in the gardens. Read on.

Spring Flowers

A dark morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. The day after Town Meeting Day and almost with the same cadence that townspeople marched to the meeting place, redwing blackbirds and cowbirds arrived in great numbers at our birdfeeders, looking as if they had just returned from a southern vacation and wanting to settle back in. There’s still plenty of snow here but by the time you read this, the grass should be greening up and shrubs and flowers should be blooming. For today, it’s a nice thought to explore.

I stopped at the flower farm the other day and immediately noticed that the Japanese fantail willows and the yellow curly willows were in full bloom. If Gail had seen them she would have been after me to cut some for her and friends. The bloom should not be a surprise in view of the number of days of warm weather we have had. I bought these willows, now 18-20 feet tall, as cuttings six years ago to plant at the edge of the hosta display area. That garden was always very wet and willows love water. The plantings have worked well there and I have sold enough cuttings to pay for the initial expense and keep the project going. Willows are useful for streambank management and some creative folks have used them to fashion living arbors, arches, play structures, and furniture. Besides the decorative and streambank uses, I planted them for early spring pollinators including my honeybees to use. The flowers open in great numbers and honey bees love such an abundant food source when few other trees and shrubs are coming into bloom. If you are interested in willows, you need to meet Michael Dodge either in person or via his website Michael lives up Fairfield way and grows over 125 varieties of willow. In a previous time, he worked at White Flower Farm in Litchfield, CT.

Spring is known for daffodils, tulips, crocus, allium and many other flowering bulbs. These are typically planted in late summer on into fall and welcome us to spring with wonderful color. Sometimes we are disappointed with our tulips and crocus not because they don’t do well but because white tailed deer like them more than we do. This is part of living in Vermont.

Galanthus, commonly known as snowdrops, have been popular in Europe forever but are now regaining in popularity here. Over the years, even modest initial plantings become wide swaths of small white flowers although some have yellow and green included in their blooms. They generate a lot of smiles!

Pulmonarias are a perennial that come in dozens and dozens of varieties and are often blooming when snow is still on the ground. I remember when we first moved here, Amanda Legare from Cabot gave me a rusty pink pulmonaria that is a vigorous grower and blooms the end of April, with or without the snow still on the ground. It came without a name but I have always loved it because it is in full bloom by the 5th of May when the hummingbirds return to our house. I call it a hummingbird magnet because even though I don’t hear that well anymore, I always know where to look to see hummingbirds feeding when they have returned “home”.

Primulas, yes primroses, are another perennial that is regaining the popularity they shared in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. They come is a variety of colors and bloom configurations, as singles, doubles, multiples and they self-seed with regularity and give the early summer color we are always looking for. I can recommend a couple resources: The American Primrose Society has a great website and a Facebook Page too. Try And in Montpelier, Vermont one of my favorite gardeners, Arlene Perkins, has one of the nicest primrose collections I know of and she most often opens her gardens during their prime time. This affords a chance to see many plants in a garden that includes orchids, trilliums and many other wild and domestic flowers.

Finally, there are epimediums and hellebores. Both offer abundant flowers and both are Vermont hardy. Hellebores are often blooming in early April, sometimes while still surrounded by snowdrifts. Epimediums have wirelike stems full of small, spider-like flowers in a wide variety of colors and sizes. They are grown as much for their leaf colors and variegations as their flowers but they deserve your review too.

So despite a strange winter with ice challenges and bad driving, spring is here and our gardens are making us smile. Think through what plants I have mentioned and consider if they are right for adding to your gardens this summer for color and enjoyment next year this time. I know you will enjoy any of them!

Writing from Peacham Pond Road where an irruption of evening grosbeaks just arrived in such numbers that they will not fit on the feeders. Before I know it I’ll be spending rainy evenings checking out amphibian migrations and looking for spotted salamanders. Maybe you will too.

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