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The Recorder - Early spring bloomers

Published: 2/8/2020 7:00:15 AM

Punxitawny Phil did not see his shadow this morning, which could mean an early spring is on its way, and I am looking forward to more bright sun that has already been teasing me.

I’ve enjoyed brilliant sunlight shining on my yellow twig dogwood, but I know there will be more snow and more cold weather before I can think about getting down on my knees in the garden. Because I am always so eager for spring flowers, I have managed to have a number of early bloomers to cheer and encourage me.

The earliest bloomer I had in Heath was the snowdrop. I had planted a few in what I called the “orchard,” which was four apple trees set in the grass at the end of my “rose walk.” Every year, more and more snow drops spread in the grass.

Snowdrops grow from small bulbs and should be planted in the fall. However, I have been known to dig up a clump of blooming snowdrops and move a clump “in the green” and plant them where I wanted them to continue spreading.

Another early bloomer, grape hyacinths, Muscari, are even more vigorous spreaders than snowdrops. In the fall of 2017, I planted a bunch of bulbs in the flower bed that is the view from my Greenfield kitchen window. I wanted to see flowers in the spring as early as possible. I had wonderful bloom in the spring of 2018. As expected, the flowers died and so did the foliage. They bloomed again beautifully in 2019 and had spread quite a bit. Then, in the fall when I was weeding, I noticed little green shoots. What were they? They were quite scattered. I had no idea what they were and wondered if it was some noxious weed I should be pulling. I did pull up a couple of shoots and realized I was pulling up little bulbs. As it turns out, grape hyacinths that have been in the ground for at least a year, will then and thereafter send up shoots every fall and last through the winter, until the flowers come into bloom.

I always say there are many mysteries in the garden.

Bloodroot, Sangunaria canadensis, is another very early spring bloomer. Visitors to the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls will see double bloodroots blooming by the first of May. Bloodroot flowers are a brilliant white with large, deeply cleft leaves 12 inches high. The single variety has a golden center and the double variety has a full pompom of white petals.

These bright white flowers got the name bloodroot from the red sap of the rhizomes. That sap has some medicinal uses, but I wouldn’t try any of them. It is also used as a natural red or orange dye.

Another bright white flower is the trillium. Trilliums are native plants that grow in the shade in wooded areas. It is an elegant flower with its three petals, three sepals and three leaves. If you are walking through the woods and come across a trillium, you should never pick it and never dig it up. They spread by rhizomes, which will make a thick mat. Digging them up will cut that mat of rhizomes and kill the plant. Fortunately, there are now special nurseries that sell trilliums. Hillside Nursery in Shelburne specializes in growing and selling special native plants. They sell most of their plants, including trillium, in the fall, when conditions are most amenable for survival. Check their website, hillsidenursery.biz, for more information.

I first loved the epimedium’s heart-shaped foliage growing under trees and shrubs in friends’ gardens. I loved the delicate blooms in various shades of white, yellow, pink and purple. I now have more than a dozen epimediums growing and spreading in my front garden. A large swathe of these plants is beautiful when they are in and out of bloom. I have dug up sections to let them spread in other spots and I have shared divisions with other gardeners, which is always a pleasure.

Garden Visions Epimediums in Templeton has the largest collection of epimediums in the United States, I have gotten some of my plants from them. They have Open Nursery Days on May 1 to May 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Rain or shine. Epimediums look very delicate but in fact they are sturdy and long-lived.

The cover of my new American Gardener magazine featured bleeding hearts, which is an early bloomer as well. The article that accompanied photographs of the bleeding hearts surprised me because I did not realize there were so many varieties. There are bleeding hearts with white flowers, bleeding hearts with pink flowers and golden foliage, pink flowers with familiar green foliage and small pink fringed bleeding hearts with a feathery foliage and 18 other varieties.

When we first saw our current house in Greenfield, I was thrilled to see the fringed bleeding hearts (Dicentra exima) growing up against the house foundation. They are delicate and sweet and happy in the sun.

After we had been living in the house for a couple of years, adding more and more soil to make raised beds for my plantings, I planted the Goldheart bleeding heart with its gold foliage. This plant gets sun for part of the day, but it also gets a lot of shade and still thrives.

What early bloomers do you have? Crocus? Or other perennials like mine?

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website: commonweeder.com.

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