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Early Risers

Don’t just wait for spring. Do something about it.



Got a mean case of cabin fever? If spring’s arrival right around the corner isn’t soon enough for you, there is a solution. All you need is a trowel, some thawed soil, a few minutes, and you could be crouching on the ground staring snowdrops in the face. 

These seemingly delicate white flowers forge ahead when the rest of nature is still under the covers. Custom-made for arriving precociously early, snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are fitted with leaves that have sharp, sturdy blades for piercing through the snow. They quickly produce nodding flowers that dangle down to protect their reproductive parts from snow and wind, and the petals flare open or fold closed depending on the temperature. Even if a snowstorm dumps a blanket of snow on them, they’re usually fine.

Best of all, you can rustle some snowdrops for your own garden as soon as they appear. Unlike most bulbs, snowdrops prefer transplanting while they are green and growing. Cozy up to a generous friend with a few extra clusters of snowdrops, and be thankful that you’re spreading the wealth. When you dig the cluster, keep in mind that those tiny bulbs have deep roots.

Find a shady location to relocate your small blizzard-busters where the snow melts early and you walk frequently (situating a colony on the path to the garage will make your morning commute more scenic). Granted, the flowers are tiny, but every little bit helps. 

Other spring bulbs follow fast on snowdrops’ heels. From the earliest crocus to bright sailor-blue scillas and carnival-colored hyacinths, spring bulbs flower with the robins’ return. Planning ahead will be necessary as most spring bulbs must be planted in autumn or early winter because they require a period of cold. Get those scillas and hyacinths installed in fall, and you’ll reap the benefits when you really need a lift after the dog days of winter. 

Daffodils are famous for breezing in early, too. You can push their appearance by selecting dwarf types such as ‘Tête-à-Tête’ or ‘Jetfire.’ Not fond of school-bus yellow? Try white and butter-yellow ‘Toto,’ ‘February Silver,’ and ‘Topolino.’ Or plant early tulips, spraying the sprouts and flower buds as they emerge with deer repellent, and you will be wallowing in a rainbow of color by mid-April.

Where would we be without hellebores? In a snowless winter, they can begin their flowering performance mid-season, producing clusters of rose-like blossoms in cream, green, and burgundy. Cut last year’s weather-beaten foliage back as the buds begin to emerge, and the flowers that follow will stop traffic. In my town, my hellebore collection is the delight of local dog walkers. A handful of hellebores in late February are worth a whole garden filled with flowers later on.

Primroses are impetuous, especially the drumstick types (Primula denticulata). They come and go fairly quickly, but there’s nothing like these little balls of magenta or purple annuals, available even at grocery stores, to perk up a garden at the last minute. Ditto for Icelandic poppies (Papaver nudicaule), the difference being that these flamboyant orange, white, yellow or red blooms are perennial. Best of all, they keep right on sending up the buds throughout summer. In my experience, Icelandic poppies don’t perennialize well, but a full season of performance from a meager investment isn’t bad, right? 

More fleeting but indispensable when you need them most are pasque flowers (Pulsatilla vernalis and P. vulgaris). They come up like a shot with rosettes of fuzzy, parsley-like leaves and open relatively large-sized, star-like flowers of bluish purple with orange centers—the Easter flower. The blooms come and go in a snap, but the seed heads that linger are like silken plumes. After winter, even a brief blast of color is welcome.

Lungworts produce a sustained show. The moment after the snow melts, they begin sending up their handsome, speckled, ground-hugging leaves, but that’s just the start. Buds follow immediately, opening to periwinkle-blue blossoms that linger over the long haul.

Get ye to a nursery, purchase some plants, pop them in the ground the moment that inserting a trowel is possible, and you will be surrounded by the majesty of this low-growing stalwart from spring’s blossoms into late summer. In my garden, the speckled leaves remain evergreen until they are smothered in snow. 

Add a background of forsythias, some of the most persistent shrubs of all, and your world will be bathed in golden yellows. Unlike magnolias, they can take a late frost or two without batting an eyelash. We need that sort of courage in spring. So do your part and get planting!

 

 

 

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November 2018

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