The plants which stay green under the snow give the first bright colour in the garden in early spring, when the sun warms the beds. Looking for newly exposed perennials, like Campanula (bellflower) and Helleborus, gives me an incentive to explore the garden. I’m always surprised that a plant which isn’t a conifer can survive over winter in zone 3, while retaining its foliage. Most broad leafed plants in a cold climate wisely drop their leaves in the fall as a survival strategy. However, perennials which keep their foliage over winter give a head start to spring gardening. These steadfast plants are green and growing, before the first shoots of the new perennials appear.
The long-lasting foliage of Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ is surprisingly fresh as the surrounding glacier retreats. I’m torn between getting out my hair dryer to melt the rest of the snow around the perennials, or throwing more snow over the plants to protect them from the cold weather that we are sure to have still this spring. The tenacious hellebores may not have blooms yet, but I’ll settle for some promising green leaves for now. These Helleborus will start collecting the sun’s energy, before the trees leaf out and shade this garden bed. I admire how the red stems on ‘Ivory Prince’ contrast with the stiff evergreen leaves. The silver shadings on the leaves are not as conspicuous now as they were in the fall. It’s a very striking plant, which will shine when the beautiful blooms appear. This hybrid is Helleborus ‘walhelivor’, but marketed under ‘Ivory Prince’.
The willow tree overhead has done its best to help insulate the perennials, dropping a thick layer of leaves in the fall, and then futilely dropping numerous twigs over the winter. After the snow has fully melted, I’ll have to start my spring gardening cleanup by collecting all of the branches and twigs, as I play the willow tree’s favourite game, Pick up Sticks. I’ll keep the leaves on the garden beds for now. They will help insulate the plants until the weather gets more consistently warm.
Two magpies have been very busy pulling long twigs off of the willow to make a nest. One hopeful bird had a twig about 60 cm (2 feet) long, and could barely fly, until it landed on the fence. They are great fun to watch. My next gardening task will be training them to pick the twigs off of the ground.
Two resolute Campanula kept their foliage through the winter too. Campanula rotundifolia (harebell) has little rosettes of green leaves right now. The basal leaves at the bottom of this perennial are rounded, whereas the leaves on the taller stalks are linear. Later in the spring, when the stems grow, these basal leaves are barely noticeable underneath the plant. Then it’s harder to see how it got its name, rotundifolia, meaning rounded leaves. When it flowers in June, with dainty blue bell-shaped blooms, it’s easy to see how it got one of its common names, bluebells of Scotland. The pretty blue flowers then bloom off and on until frost.
The Campanula portenschlagiana ‘Hoffman’s Blue’ (Dalmatian bellflower) has kept its leaves in good condition throughout winter too. In fact one plant has kept the wilted little blue flowers since December under the snow, and in -35 C (-31F) temperatures, as if preserved in dry ice. They might look like small pieces of wet tissues, but they are blue wet tissues. All the other garden perennials follow the natural cycle of fading to brown in the fall. I’m not sure why this Campanula retains the bright blue until spring, but it is uplifting to see the lingering flower colour in the garden after so long.
As the ice melts from my patio, even the moss underneath is green. It’s flourishing in the melt water. I like how the moss runs between the patio stones, filling the openings between bricks with a soft, living pattern all season.
We are sure to get some more snow flurries before the warmer spring gardening weather arrives, but it is heartening to see the snow melt in patches, and the lingering green leaves exposed in the garden. The moist earth is starting to smell like gardening season. In a few weeks, the bulbs will emerge, and the early perennials will rise from the damp soil. The sight of persistent leaves, showing above the mud and snow, is encouraging until then.
What is the earliest green that shows on plants in your garden?