Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gardening Flowery Plants

It's so heartening to see signs of spring all around, after the long and cold winter. Flower buds are swelling on the forsythia and bridal-wreath spires; daffodils are ready to bloom in a few days and the Lenten roses, snowdrops and early crocuses have been in bloom a week or two on my south-facing hillside.

An entire lawn flowers blooming. They were a light purple, or lilac, color and look just like some I have blooming under a dogwood tree on a sunny slope. They're a variety of the very-early flowering (sometimes called winter flowering) crocuses, which are smaller than the usual "Dutch type", but have the advantage of blooming earlier and increasing better. The catalogs that specialize in bulbs will usually have several different colors of these earlier ones, as well as the usual kinds. The new catalogs will come out later this summer or in early fall, because spring-blooming bulbs need to be planted in the fall.

Plant crocus bulbs in the lawn, except for the deer; they'll eat the leaves and flower buds as soon as they come up, unless they're sprayed with a repellant. That job is much easier if they're in one bed, instead of scattered over a wide area. This year, sprayed them just twice and they've been left alone. Use the milk-and-water solution, one part milk to five parts water.

Collect many more of the snowdrops and daffodils because the deer never bother them. It's so satisfying to be able to put these bulbs anywhere we want them and never have to worry about spraying them, and save the space behind the fence for things they do eat.

The other plant blooming now is the Lenten rose (helleborus orientalis or hybridus). It's close kin to the Christmas rose, which has white flowers and blooms even earlier. Pink flowers were brought from Tennessee, who had bought an older home, where the Lenten roses had spread by seed.

They'll soon be replaced by new leaves, which will stay healthy and green through next winter. Of course they aren't actually roses (but who wants to go around saying helleborus); they are perennial plants that bloom just once a year, but those blooms will last several weeks, just when we need cheering up. They grow fine in a partly-shaded location and spread by seeds (slowly), but large plants can be divided in late summer by digging the whole thing up and carefully cutting apart the root system to leave at least three buds on each piece. Replant immediately in good soil with rotted humus or peat moss dug into it, and keep watered all fall, in dry spells.

It's not hard to have some outdoor flowers, at this time of year, by planting some that come up and bloom early, even in deer country. Just plant things they don't eat: snowdrops, daffodils and helleborus, soon to be followed by forsythia and bridal-wreath.