Catrina's Garden

A place for gardeners, foodies and garden inspired artists.

Tag: Easter

Early Spring Flowers

Crocus yellow (5)1I’m up early on Easter morning. The snow outside makes it seem like it is still winter, but I’m dreaming of warm, soft breezes and signs of spring.

After the winter it’s natural to look toward the rebirth of spring. Many consider the crocus to be the first spring flower, but there are lots of little bulbs that bloom even earlier.

These little bulbs are sometimes called the “minor bulbs”. They are usually very small. But they can be just as effective as the larger flowering bulbs that come later, like tulips and daffodils. The key is to plant them in mass. Sometimes just one or two here and there are nice too; kind of a little surprise when you take the time to look.

Snowdrops (2)1Little beauties like crocus, snowdrops, glory of the snow and early spring iris are especially important because they give the gardener that little reminder that “spring is coming”, when they need it the most. They effectively extend the season to a time that, here in Wisconsin, sometimes even still has snow on the ground giving us a “jump on spring”.

Just like the later blooming daffodils, the little spring bulbs needed to be purchased and planted in fall. There is always next year; my favorite garden saying. Really, you can plant them any time up until the ground freezes. I think they are easier to plant than the large bulbs because they don’t have to go down as deep, usually about 3 or 4 inches. You can even plant them on top of the other bulbs to save garden space.

Crocus with snow (3)1The biggest mistake that I have made with these little gems is not getting them uncovered early enough. We live in a maple grove so we get a very thick layer of maple leaves in the garden. If you don’t get the leaves off early enough the little cuties will bloom under the leaves and you will never see them. Or, if they do manage to poke their little heads through the leaves they will become spindly and won’t last as long. If you then decide to get the leaves off, when you remember them, you will sadly end up tearing them apart. In recent years I have made a better attempt to get most of the leaves off in fall. It’s a good excuse to get out there and get some exercise. You have to do it sooner or later, and really, don’t you have enough to do in spring? Then in spring it is an easier clean up, really just a touch up to get the ones that blew in over the winter, and you can concentrate on the areas where you know the little bulbs are coming….that is if they aren’t still covered with snow.

Snowdrops with snow (5)1Speaking of snow, don’t worry if they get dumped on. They are used to it and they can take both snow and cold temps. They just close up and wait until the sun comes out again.

Early spring bulbs enjoy sunlight, but it will be fine if you plant them under deciduous trees because they will not have leaves at this time of year.

One other thing to remember; just like the bigger bulbs, don’t remove the foliage when they are done blooming. They need this to store energy for next year. Don’t worry; the rest of your garden will start to grow and you will forget all about them. If you have your bulbs naturalized in the grass, wait a week or two longer to mow the first time. Your spring bulbs will reward you for it. Many times when planting another perennial I dig them up by accident. This is not a problem, just replant them. It probably will help increase them as after they have been in the ground for a few years they tend to grow in clumps.  This way you can divide them.

So let’s look more closely at some of my favorite “minor bulbs”:

  • Scilla mischtschenkoana (2)1Glory-of-the-snow -Chionodoxa luciliae

Glory-of-the-snow comes in blue, white and pink. They are very hardy (zone 3 to 8) and are perfect for naturalizing, along the edge of the border or in rock gardens. The flowers are star shaped with a white or light yellow center. Bloom time is usually late March here in Wisconsin and they only grow to about 4 to 5 inches. The white and pink varieties will be a little taller; up to 8 inches.

  • Snowdrop – Galanthus nivalis

 

Snowdrops1Snowdrops seem to be on their own schedule. If you get a warm snap they may bloom earlier some years than others. Further south they may bloom in January but it is usually late February or March “up-north”. The stems of the common variety are about 4 inches but there are also some slightly bigger varieties. They have solitary, drooping, white flowers with green spots. Plant them near a walk or on a raised bed. Somewhere that you will notice them popping through the snow. It is amazing to see these frosty-white beauties on a sunny, but still cold and snowy afternoon.

  • Dwarf Iris 

There are lots of types of Dwarf Iris and most of them do grow in early spring; some earlier than others. The genus “Iris” was the name of the Greek goddess of the rainbow. I’ll briefly tell you about some of my favorites. As with most early spring flowers they are small; some only 3 inches and most under 8 inches.

Iris cristata is one that steals my heart. This is a native wildflower that spreads by undergrIris Cristata1ound rhizomatous stems. There are different varieties ranging slightly in size and they come in colors from purple to blue to white. They have yellow crested markings…so cute, and are super hardy and carefree. The rhizomes should be planted near or at the surface just like their larger cousins. Mimic their natural wooded habitat, which includes moist, well-draining soil and iris cristata will be happy. Adding a little leaf mold will make them sing.

Iris Reticulata (2)1Iris reticulata is another cute easy to grow miniature iris. These little ones can be purple, white or yellow. Their foliage is grassy. It will grow a little taller after the flowers fade. Lightly-scented flowers are usually violet to purple, although white, yellow, and light-blue cultivars are available. Foliage is delicate and grassy. They multiply rapidly and are excellent for rock gardens and sunny borders. The reticulated iris group consists of a number of small bulbous irises whose bulbs have netted or reticulate bulb coverings (tunics) on the dry bulbs. All species of Katherine Hodgkin Iris1reticulated iris are native to western Asia. Iris reticulata (purple) and Iris danfordiae (yellow) are two of most commonly known species in the reticulated group. My favorite from this group ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ is a reticulated iris hybrid, whose parents are Iris winogradowii (pale yellow flowers) and Iris histrioides (pale blue flowers). Intricately marked pale blue flowers of this hybrid have distinctive deep blue veining with a purple-spotted yellow blotch at the base of each fall. This hybrid was introduced in 1958 by E. B. Anderson and named after the wife of rare bulb enthusiast Eliot Hodgkin. These bulbs tend to generally decline for me. I think there are 2 possible reasons. First many of them, including Katherine, are listed as zone 5. They do however live through the winter and multiply in many years. Or, possibly it is because they don’t like to be wet in summer. They like it moist in spring but then need dry conditions or they will not multiply.

Miniature Dwarf Bearded Iris (MDB) is another favorite of mine. Though they are not really common, there are hundreds of varieties. This is one of the more recent things that I have been collecting, so watch for them to become available from Catrina’s Garden in future years. They are just like the large Standard Dwarf Bearded Iris except that they grow no taller than 8 inches and bloom earlier. Some are only 2 inches tall. Here in WI they bloom in late March or early April. MDB iris does best in climates that are cold in the winter. They are great in rock gardens or raised beds. It is nice to have them raised a bit so that you can smell them, because many of them are fragrant. Here are some of my new babies (click on a picture to see a slide show then click in the gray area to return):

  • Crocus

Crocus Purple 121Crocuses are among one of the most popular of the early spring bloomers. There are many different species and cultivars but there are 3 main groups: C. chrysanthus (Golden Crocus), C. vernus (Dutch Crocus) and the third group is varied types of botanic species crocus. There are Crocus species that flower in autumn also. This is the type of crocus that saffron comes from. Golden crocus are very small and flower the earliest. Dutch crocus have larger flowers that are later and tend to be more pastel. This is the most common type. They naturalize nicely, or can be grown in the rock garden or somewhere that you will see them often. Crocus come in a wide range of colors from different shades of purple, blues, pinks, Crocus White (4)1whites and yellows. There are even striped crocus. The foliage is grass like and some species have a silver strip down the center of each blade. They are actually corms rather than bulbs. Be sure to plant them with the point up and the roots down. Well actually even if you plant them upside down they will adjust. Crocuses love cold climates like zones 3 to 7 and will not do well where it is hotter. They like to be in the sun and will actually close up when it is cloudy. They do best in a sandy or gritty soil; something that will drain well. Animals like voles and mice will sometimes eat crocus. If you have a problem with this planting them away from the house or in areas without a lot of cover may help. Some people that have real problems with this put them inside little wire cages under the ground.

  • Siberian Squill – Scilla Siberic1Siberian Squill – Scilla SibericScilla is one of the earliest spring flowers to bloom. Flowering for a remarkably long time they bear clusters of bloom spikes that offer scented deep, true blue nodding bell shaped flowers. Theay are exquisite when planted under spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, azaleas, rhododendrons, and magnolias. They are also one of the easiest bulbs to naturalize because the foliage matures quickly and is not as sensitive to mowing. They will eventually form large drifts in your lawn because they multiply by seed as well as the little bulbs producing offshoots. They tolerate more shade and a wider range of soil conditions also. You may find them popping up in unexpected places once they are established in your landscape because birds spread the seed.

Crocus with snow (2)1This time of year it seems we can have it all. I enjoy skiing and our ski hill here is still open, and the conditions are amazingly good, but we can also enjoy these little “signs of spring”; just about the time that we begin to think that winter will never end.

 

More pics of Early Spring Bulbs,

Two more early spring beauties: Heartsease and Pasque Flower

Pasque Flower for Easter

Easter is tomorrow. Let’s remember that the resurrection is for the garden too. Spring brings the waking of the natural world after the dead of winter. The tradition and symbolism associated with Easter in the Northern hemisphere is very much a spring festival, and we think of the Christian resurrection, but also of life and rebirth in general.

Easter LilyThe Easter Lily

The Easter lily is the most popular Easter flower in America. Millions are grown each year. They are usually forced in greenhouses to assure that they bloom at the right time. Long before the advent of Christianity, the Lily was considered a symbol of life and was associated with various goddesses of fertility. For Christians, the white lily stands for purity, and the Easter lily has become a symbol for us of the resurrection of Christ. The most commonly grown lily, that is called “Easter Lily” is the Bermuda lily (Lilium longiflorum). However, other white cultivars are also grown as Easter lily. In many areas you can plant your lily outside Lily regale (tetraploid)1after it has served as an “Easter Lily”. In future years it will not flower at Easter time. I guess I don’t personally care for Easter Lilies, and they are not hardy here in far northern Wisconsin. We did, however, have them growing in our garden when we lived in southern Wisconsin. Here is my “Easter Lily”; it is the “Regal Lily” (Lillium Regale). It is much taller than everyone else’s “Easter Lilies” at about 4 feet and has a pink cast. It blooms in late July, not at Easter time. The original “Easter Lily” was probably the exquisite Madonna lily (Lilium candidum), which grows wild in the Mediterranean, but not in Wisconsin. Madonna lily looks a lot like our modern Easter lily but it also is a lot taller.

Pasque flower white (2)1The Pasque Flower

The pasque flower is another plant closely associated with Easter. It is from the genus Pulatilla, which is sometimes considered a subgenus of the Anemone. The pasque flower blooms in the spring and its name comes from the French word “Pasque” which means Easter. It has also been known as the “pash flower” or “passion flower”. Although it is more obscure; for me, this is the best flower for Easter.  It blooms naturally at this time and is fully hardy. There are native and hybrid varieties from Europe but there are also closely related North American natives. The botanical name also has references to Easter, the genus, Pulsatilla, means “beaten” (as in Pasque Flower1beaten by the wind, or “wind-blown”). This may refer to the way that the wind treats these early flowers, but it also reminds us how Jesus was treated. Meanwhile, vulgaris means “common.” European and hybrid varieties can be lavender, dark purple, reddish-purple, cream or white.

Pasque flower or Pulsatilla vulgaris is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunulaceae). Closely related is Pulsatilla Patens (sometimes classified as Pasque flower - Pulsatilla1Anemone Patens) this is the one that is native here in North America. Patens means “spreading”.

It is perennial and grows to only about 8 inches high. Pasque Flower forms a clump that spreads over time, but not quickly. This little beauty is found across the Great Plains and into Alaska and Siberia. The solitary flowers come up first from each basil cluster. There are 5 to 8 petals which are not actually petals but “sepals”. They are fuzzy on the outside but not on the inside. They can be lavender, blue or white. The Pasque Flower 21pistil terminates in what looks like a purple fuzzy button. The color may vary according to the flower color.

This is surrounded by 150 to 200 stamens with yellow anthers. My favorite thing about them is that the leaves, stems and undersides of the flowers are covered with silky hair. These “fuzzy” plants then develop beautiful wispy seed heads that are as nice if not nicer than the flowers.

Another bonus with pasque flowers is that animals like Easter bunnies and deer Pasque Flower 41don’t eat them. There are not very many flowers that bloom this early. Snowdrops, crocus and other spring bulbs compliment the pasque flower and the Lenten rose or hellebore actually precedes it, blooming even earlier than Easter. There is something special about those first flowers to greet you in spring after a long hard winter.  Sometimes they even bloom through the snow here in Wisconsin.

Plant Pasque flower in full sun to part shade. It likes well drained sandy or loamy soil.

Pasque Flower - Pulsatilla patens (2)1The plant is now generally considered to be poisonous and is not recommended to be used externally either as it will raise blisters on the skin. It was, however, used in the past by Native Americans to induce labor and for skin lesions and arthritis. Other medicinal uses are also mentioned by various sources.

Pasque flower is sometimes confused with Prairie Smoke (Geum Triflorum). The seed heads look similar but are more reddish than Pasque flower and the flowers are also reddish.

 

Easter’s coming makes me think of all these flowers popping out. As Christians

Prairie Smoke

Prairie Smoke

celebrate the resurrection of Christ we also mark the return of spring. With more than a foot of snow falling on Holy Wednesday this year it will seem more miraculous and more to be celebrated this year than ever. The flowers were peaking up before the blizzard so when spring finally comes – as soon it will – it will truly seem like a rebirth.

Click here for Early Spring Flowers

For Early Spring Bulbs Click here

Heartsease a favorite spring flower.

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