Spring Gardening Reveals Early Green Foliage

Helleborus 'Ivory prince' rain washed spring leaves
Helleborus 'Ivory prince' rain washed spring leaves

There are more glimpses of green foliage around the garden now that spring is here.  We had a good thunderstorm, that helped wash away almost all  of the snow piles. The rain also cleaned the perennial leaves that had emerged early from under the melted snow, and I’m sure it will encourage the growth of new sprouts. The sounds of pouring rain, mixing with the crash of thunder and flashes of lightening, are a welcome signal of a new,  more exciting season. Spring has arrived.

As I started my spring gardening, the Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ stand out as the most prominent plant of the early spring. These perennials emerged from under the snow with almost all of the foliage in excellent shape, well before the first bulbs. I think the consistent snow cover we get kept them in good shape. The patch of 6 hellebore are clearly visible from across the yard and from the house, rising up from the fallen tree leaves. As the snow melted, it left dusty water spots on the Helleborus leaves. I was almost tempted to wash them off, to help them look their best, but Nature was a better housekeeper than me. It sent a rainstorm to wash them clean, and now they gleam in the sunlight. When the willow tree leaves appear, this bed will be back to mostly shady.

Helleborus Ivory Prince new buds and leaves
Helleborus Ivory Prince new buds and leaves

In addition to the well preserved foliage from last fall, new Helleborus sprouts are growing. The recent growth was in suspended animation for the past week, but now it is unfurling, and showing miniature leaves in tiny groups of five.

Dianthus caryophyllus grenadin early spring 2009
Dianthus caryophyllus grenadin early spring 2009

Dianthus caryophyllus ‘Grenadin’ (carnations) are another perennial  that were already displaying green leaves when the snow melted. This plant doesn’t seem to have any problems with the cold. I’ve had these for 3 or 4 years, so I should take some cuttings to keep them going, as Dianthus are usually short lived. The grayish green foliage of the carnation looks great right past frost, but the wonderfully scented pink flowers are my favourite trait.

The dwarf Campanula (bellflowers) are showing plenty of green too. I found some more left-over blue flowers on another type of bellflower, the Campanula rotundifolia (harebells). I’m still amazed that the blue colour of these flowers could have lasted for 5 months under the snow. It was  a welcome surprise to see the vivid colour against the backdrop of earth tones.

Asarum europaeum (European ginger) early spring in snow
Asarum europaeum (European ginger) early spring in snow

The Asarum europaeum (European ginger) have mostly kept their leaves too, except the ones that I planted late last fall. The ginger that were planted early last season are green, despite the ice around them. The leaves are very thick, which is a good trait for surviving the cold. This perennial is starting to show the shiny texture that makes it so appealing. The extra glossy Asarum looks especially good in the shade. In the early spring light, this groundcover gets to reflect some sunlight, before the trees casts their shade.

Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) new sprout
Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) new sprout

The Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) is showing its first new shoot. Although it is only a cm (less than an inch) tall right now in early spring, in two months it will tower at 2 m (6 feet). This shade perennial will send up a number of stems, and will spread out about 1.5 m (4 feet), looking more like a shrub. It’s a good thing the Astilbe and Convallaria (lily of the valley) around it don’t care about the shade it casts.

willow tree branches in red light
willow tree branches in red light

Here is my favourite tree in the garden, the willow. You can see by the tangle of branches, that it has not been tamed much by pruning, and is more of a free range tree. When it leafs out in May,  it makes a wall of green in this corner of the garden. I adore the intricate pattern of branches, the way it whips around in the wind, and how it shades a good part of my garden. I have a hard time spotting the birds when the tree is in full leaf, but I can hear them busy within.

willow branches on ground
willow branches on ground

The ground underneath the tree is a tangle of branches too, like the crown.  My first spring  gardening job on Friday was to pick up the winter’s accumulation of fallen twigs. You can see hints of green from the Asarum europaeum (European ginger), half buried in the brown tree leaves near the birdbath.

ladybugs in leaves spring
ladybugs in leaves spring

As I worked in the garden for the last 2 days, an army of ladybugs kept me company. Frequently, when I turned a leaf, or trimmed away dead foliage, a little red speck would be slowly plodding along the edge of it. Since there were hundreds crawling everywhere, I carefully shook out each piece of debris removed from a garden bed. The garden could benefit from  every voracious aphid-eating machine it can get.

7 spotted lady bug
7 spotted lady bug

This is the seven spotted ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata). They are  not native to Alberta, but were imported to North America from Europe.

Even in spring, we can still have some good snowfall. Last year we had about 30 cm (a foot)  in the third week of April, as the first garden photo shows. I imagine the ladybugs crawl back under any remaining leaf litter when that happens.

The signs of spring are everywhere in the garden, from the fresh green foliage, to red tipped sprouts, to black  spotted ladybugs. I’m finally able to do more than poke around the garden, investigating  small bare areas.  I spent the last two days cleaning up the garden beds, stretching, bending, and noticing each new sign of growth.  As I work around the yard, I’m picturing how I’ll extend a corner bed, and pondering the new shade plants I might put there. Are you making plans as you work in the garden?

53 thoughts on “Spring Gardening Reveals Early Green Foliage”

  1. It’s wonderful to see that Spring is slowly coming into your garden. ‘Ivory Prince’ is a true regal beauty with such wonderful foliage. It’s nice to see everything else has decided to stretch from its winter slumber. I am sure more photos will follow with every passing week…

    1. Teza, it’s been great to get out in the warmth of the sunshine and putter around in the garden. Last year, more plants were up by this time, but so far there isn’t a bulb shoot to be seen.
      ‘Ivory Prince’ is my favourite plant of the month.

    1. Bughunter99, thanks. I took it in between rainstorms, in the early evening from my patio. The sky was full of red, and it was reflecting off of the branches.

  2. Hurrah!! Spring is arriving in your area!! Northern Shade, I really must ask you what you do to your Hellebores to help them winter-over? As Soon as Spring arrived, my poor plants looked miserable and all the leaves were “yukky.” Now they’re growing new ones and I believe I saw one bud today. (They never could have bloomed earlier…) Happy Easter. (And Happy Spring!) :-)

    1. Shady Gardener, hurray for spring and green. The hellebores are right under a large tree, so they got a good covering of willow leaves in the fall, which probably added some insulation. 1 or 2 plants didn’t have as many leaves over them, so I threw a few handfuls over them. I think that it is the solid snow cover which probably protected the hellebores too. It covered them in December, and didn’t melt back to expose them until the beginning of April. Other than that, I didn’t do anything special for them. We had a very cold winter. Out at the airport it got down to -41C (-42 F), so they were definitely cold tested. Of the 6 plants, 5 of them came through with almost every leaf green, while one needed half of its leaves removed, but still had a good amount of green ones left.

  3. Isn’t it wonderful to see new growth emerging? Your hellebores look wonderfully healthy. I didn’t realize European Ginger was so cold hardy.
    I love that early evening light creating a glow on everything. It’s particularly beautiful lighting up the daffs in our garden which have just begun to open. I picked my first small bouquet today to take to church. It looked lovely with the Easter lilies.
    We’ve had more frigid winds this weekend, but the forecast looks better for this week, thank heavens. I’m anxious to get outside!
    Happy Easter to you!

    1. Kerri, it is exhilarating to see the beginnings of new life in the garden. The 2 groups of European ginger that I planted last spring kept most of their leaves under the snow, mostly in fairly good shape too. The last group that I planted in the fall doesn’t seem to have any leaves. I don’t know if they didn’t do as well, or if they will just send out new leaves when the temperature warms up more.
      Enjoy the next week of gardening.

    1. The Garden Ms. S, the Helleborus do look nice under the trees. I planted more woodland plants last year, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they look this spring. One woodland plant that didn’t really show last year were was Trillium. I have a faint hope that they might come up this spring, but if not, I’ll probably plant more.

      Barbara, the hints of spring really lift your spirits after a long, cold winter. Plants which tough it out through ice and snow are some of my favourites. Your Helleborus patch is especially pretty, and your plants are so covered in blooms.

      Andrea, it’s a good thing that a pretty plant like Helleborus blooms for so long. When you plant small, new plants you have to use your imagination to picture them filling out their garden space. That’s one of the things that I like so much about gardening, always anticipating what will come next. It is too bad that the weather caught your roses and clematis. I added some borderline hardy plants, so I’m not sure if they will all come through to bloom fine this spring or not. It is always tempting to try something new, and wait with optimism.

  4. I am glad for you that Spring has arrived in your garden too :-) ! The hellebore plants are tough ones, fighting through snow and ice. I love them. We had a very cold and a special long winter this year, but my hellebore plants turned out to be even more beautiful. They got longer stalks than usual. Your last question: Oh yes, I make plans while working in the garden, but unfortunately I only can realize a few of them ;-) !
    Enjoy Spring and have a good time!

  5. Hello
    thank you for stopping by my blog! I see spring is coming along in Canada as well. My helleborus have been in bloom for over two weeks now. I have added some new Helleborus Orientalis as well and it will be fun to see them bloom (hopefully next year, though they are rather small). We have had a late winter this year with snow starting in January and freezing cold which diminished many plants like roses and clematis. I have lost two roses, but one was definitely to sensible for the Alps anyhow.
    Enjoy the days to come and again, thank you for stopping by.
    Greetings from Germany,

    1. Birgitta, it is actually Helleborus x nigersmithii ‘Walhelivor’, or just Helleborus hybridus ‘Walhelivor’. It is most frequently sold here using the marketing cultivar name of ‘Ivory Prince’. It adds to the confusion, but I think it is done so the name can be trademarked. The plants are tissue cultured, so I suppose they are trying to make as much money off of them as possible. I bought mine at a good discount at the end of last season.
      The plants themselves are beautiful.

  6. It’s so good to see things waking up after their long winter nap. I’m hoping for that first warm rain to really snap things up. Nights are still in the teens but everyday something new starts to emerge.

    1. Wiseacre, this is the time of year when I have to walk around the garden more than once a day, as things change so quickly. It is exciting to spot each new sign of growth.

  7. Hi! I am glad that spring and little Ladybugs are showing up in your garden! I love Ivory Prince and thanks for the name explanation! Your willow looks splendid lit by the setting sun…people who think there is no beauty in bare trees…have never really looked at them. Have a great week~~gail

    1. Gail, the ladybugs and I usually start our gardening about the same time in the spring. After a winter off, we were both moving at about the same speed too in the garden this weekend.
      I love how the willow looks. I should have included a picture of all the moss that grows on its trunk too.
      Your recent pictures of your trees at dusk were gorgeous.

      Beth, my goatsbeard gets about 2 m (6 feet) tall, but the plumes on top can get even taller. They form a good sized clump around too. They sprout up quickly, and in the middle of summer they look more like a shrub. Mine do well from light shade to medium shade. My tallest one gets about an hour of direct sun a day. I tried one in a very shady corner, almost no direct sun, with lots of root competition under a tree and against a fence, and it grew very stunted, with no flowers.

  8. The pictures of ice on plants looks very familiar! Can’t say that I’ve seen any ladybugs – but that’s definitely a good sign that spring is coming soon. I’ve always wanted to try a goatsbeard. How big do they get and do they need a lot of shade or partial?

  9. I ‘m so glad that in my garden the pieces of ice are disappeared.
    It was a long Winter time in Germany. But I can see some last rests in your garden.
    I think you are happy to see now more and more flowers, buds and Ladybugs.

    Have a great time. Wurzerl

    1. Wurzerl, spring gave us a little more snow last night, so I’m glad I left some of the leaf litter for the ladybugs. I did get a chance to trim the leftover dead foliage, and to cut off the dried flowers from plants like hydrangea and astilbe.

      Barbara, I enjoy taking inventory in the spring, looking for any signs of life. The phlox divaricata have good growth on them, and the Pulmonaria have quite a few leaves. The more sensible plants are waiting for more consistent weather.

  10. Seeing the shoots of aruncus makes me anxious to go outside to see what new bits and pieces I’ll find. I just adore the colour of willows in the spring – wish I had a property big enough for a giant willow with a bench underneath and a pond at my feet. It is an exciting time of year.

  11. Lovely to see all that new growth. I was wandering whether you have ever tried to divide your aruncus dioicus ? We attempted it once but never again !

    1. Anna, I didn’t try to divide one, but I did move one that was in too dark of a corner. It took a fair amount of digging for a perennial. It didn’t do well in its new location yet either. I think I would plan on leaving it in place, once I planted it.

    1. Sweet Bay, the early evening light after a storm can give such a warm glow to everything. As I look at the little buds and leaves here and there, I’m picturing the rapid growth that the plants will be making over the next month.

  12. The garden is coming back to life! As I spot the first shoots and blooms of the season, I am planning the new vegetable beds and places to expand flower beds. It’s tough time for a few days because it is so nice, but the yard is still soggy.

    Your ladybugs look great…they must know where to hide. Last year I remember finding them in the leaves and then getting an April snow. Well, they deposited a lot of eggs later in the season.

    1. ChrisND, I’ve been trying to be careful to stay off of the wet ground too, but the urge to putter about is strong. I realize, also, that I expanded and widened some beds last fall, but they don’t all have stepping stones in the right places. I’ll have to put in some pavers to keep off the soil in the wider beds.

  13. Hi Shade, it cheers my heart to hear of your gardening waking up and looking none the worse for the harsh winter. Ivory Prince is new here, we look forward to seeing if it is the stalwart that the H. orientalis are. Your dianthus is a beauty too. Can you grow the more cottagey ones, like Firewitch and Bath’s Pink? We find them to be very long lived and they self sow like mad, making a fabulous array. Happy bloom day!

    1. Frances, yesterday I noticed the first bulb tip showing. It was a Galanthus. I went around to all the other bulb patches, looking for evidence of shifting soil.
      Ivory Prince has skyrocketed up my list of favourites, by its early spring showing of pretty green leaves. Producing a few blooms should help it jump a few more places up the list.
      I’ve grown cottage pinks too, right next to the carnations, but they have died out now. The blooms on the cottage pinks lasted longer, and stayed more upright.

  14. Your hellebores are beautiful. I planted one last spring in the shade of a lilac and noticed a few weeks ago that someone had eaten off all the leaves. I see, though, that new ones are emerging now, so I’m quite happy! I’ve been tiptoeing around my garden, afraid that I will crush some tender little sprout. But pretty much all of my plants seem to be coming back. I hope you don’t have an April snow so that you can enjoy as much spring as possible!

    1. Jared, I thought that Helleborus were supposed to be less tempting, but some animal must have appreciated the hellebore banquet in your garden. It’s a good thing they are regrowing. With luck, the diner will have moved on now. Ivory Prince has stiff, poky edges, which might discourage munchers.
      It is a difficult time of year to stay out of the garden. This is the most enticing time to explore, take inventory, and poke around.

  15. I see your take on Spring is similar to mine. There is not much better than paying minute attention to its unfoldment, IMO. I want to thank you, first, for identifying my Lungwort plant I asked help for. I also want to thank you for revealing the most interesting developments of your Spring so far. I have a good friend in Edmonton who showed me pictures a couple weeks ago of abundant new snow. I bet you’re as tired of all that as she was. Love your blog.

    1. Steve, it’s fascinating to note which plants poke their head above ground first, which test the waters by unfurling a leaf first, or which stubbornly wait until warm weather is assured. I have a lot of admiration for plants which rashly risk all, by standing green in the earliest of spring.
      The lungworts are such charming plants, growing in the understory, not fussy, and producing lovely spring blooms. Your photos of them under the rhodies really show them in their element.

      Pomona, it’s not a weeping willow, but the branches do sweep down lower than most trees. I was surprised to see that some of the campanula rotundifolia (harebells) kept the bright blue flower colour under the snow. I’m not sure why they retain the colour, when other blossoms fade to earth tones, or mostly whither away. The colour made me feel very optimistic, and had me poking around under leaves to see what other interesting discoveries there might be.
      Last year, when I saw the Ivory Prince leaves next to other Helleborus in the nursery, they were really easy to pick out without looking at their tags. They had an interesting shape, and silver markings. I’ll be adding more to my garden this year.

  16. I agree with all the comments about your beautiful willow picture, and your description made me miss the one I grew up with (is it weeping?) As a child I spend many hours hidden under the weeping willow near the stream at the back of our yard, always full of life as you say.

    The campanula rotundifolia story amazed me! Yet another incredible campanula story, but then campanulas are all amazing in their different ways, I believe. So many of them are tolerant of so many things.

    I’m beginning to feel ‘Ivory Prince’ is stalking me, via garden blogs. He’s totally beautiful. I want him in my garden, too.

  17. Thanks for posting the cultivar of the Ivory Prince. I’ve now been bitten by the hellebore bug and will keep an eye out for it at the local nurseries. I don’t think you will find bergenia as charming. The last week’s thaw has uncovered all four that I planted last summer (end of season sale too) and only the first to appear, in the sunniest spot, looks presentable. The rest are a bit ragged, floppy, and covered with dust.

    After this last week of relative warmth and blessedly short-lived new snow, the yard is free of the nasty white stuff and the pond thawed. Bulbs have begun popping up – Tulipa tarda and striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides) in the planters in front of the house. The squill come with buds ready to start opening and look like they will win the race for first garden plant to bloom, as they do most years. But, I do have one weedy johnny-jump-up violet with two flowers. You have to put your nose to the ground to see the tiny blossoms (4-5 mm across), but with no competition, they aren’t bad.

    1. Dave, the Helleborus ‘Walhelivor’ (alias ‘Ivory Prince’) don’t seem to have been fazed by last week’s snowfall, or temperatures dipping below freezing. I had already removed their fallen leaf covering, so they were exposed, but the new leaves are still growing, and the old ones look fine.

      The first green tips of bulbs is a sign of good things to come. Putting the Tulipa tarda and Puschkinia scilloides (striped squills) into planters at the front of your house is a good idea, since you will be able to see the blooms up close as you leave and enter. The Puschkinia scilloides are usually my first blooms too, but they have not yet risen this year. However, last year I planted Galanthus elwisii (snowdrop) bulbs, and one is showing a little white now. My previous experiment with a Galanthus did not do well, as none appeared in spring.

  18. Hi Northern Shade: It is encouraging to hear that you are having success with snowdrops. I tried Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’ in 2005 near the pond, but never saw a sign of them. Thinking it might have been too wet, last Fall I put in some less spendy single G. nivalis in spots with better drainage, but no sign of them yet.

    1. Dave, my last snowdrops that didn’t do well were a double too. The Galanthus elwesii is swelling with white petals and should be out soon, but the clump is not all up yet. In other areas ( the UK and Europe) I’ve read that gardeners buy them ‘in the green’, as growing bulbs in the spring, and have much better long term success with Galanthus that way. I’ve never seen them sold that way here.
      I was out doing more spring garden cleanup today, and saw the tips of a few other bulbs, finally.

  19. The transformation in your garden is going to be great over the next month! Goatsbeard sounds like an interesting plant, I like the name – you’ll have to post a picture when it’s fully grown.

    1. Sam, goatsbeard gets large, fluffy, cream coloured plumes on top, rather like a giant astilbe. It’s a good perennial for giving height in the shade garden. Today, I noticed more bulb tips poking up here and there, so I think with the warm weather over the next week should enlarge the patches.

  20. Oh Northern Shade, I so hear you on April snows. I dread them even if they do bring valuable moisture. I always want rain instead once we enter the fourth month. I hope you’re done with snow so your garden can get on with growing. I see why you like that willow tree photo ~ it’s stunning. Also, I just added two hellebores to my garden this spring so I’m excited to hear how well they do in cold temps. I’ve been reading a lot about Ivory Prince too but he’s not one I added. Maybe I should re-think that?? Enjoy your warm days in the garden.

    1. Kathleen, I’m not sure about all Helleborus, but the Ivory Prince have done well so far. They are rated a zone or 2 warmer than here, but they came through the winter fine. We are supposed to get a cold snap Friday, -11 C (12 F), so that should be a good test of their ability to handle the capricious spring weather. It will be interesting to see if they still flower. I’m debating about throwing some leaves back over them, but leaning towards letting nature take its course and seeing what happens.

    1. Jackie, thanks. We are supposed to start having much warmer temperatures at the end of the week, which I am looking forward to. The garden was starting to grow in the middle of the month, but then the we had a cold snap and little snow flurries on many days, causing the plants to go into suspended animation. I hope they are are back on track now.
      I experimented with more borderline hardy plants last fall, and most of them seem to have survived. I’m anxious to see if they bloom.

  21. Hi Northern Shade,

    Now that the hard freezes seem to be finally on the wane (knock-on-wood), I have to ask how the Ivory Prince has held up? I guess I really have been bitten by the hellebore bug and am hoping for the best, but I asked my friend who does the Gardening in Zone 3b blog and he had no luck with them.

    1. Dave, the Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ seem to be doing very well. They were exposed last week when the temperatures dropped to -10 C (14 F) with even colder wind chills, but seem to be perfectly fine. I thought the cold weather, after the new spring growth had started, would stress them, and threw some fall leaves back over top, but by then the temps had warmed up anyways. A bit of last year’s foliage has started deteriorating, but the new leaves look fine, and there are some buds. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how sturdy they have been. They are sited in an average suburban backyard, with a fence and tree cover.

  22. Bet your garden has grown quite a bit over the last few weeks. I’m a big fan of Helleborus. Gotta love a plant with pretty flowers that bloom early in the season. It’s encouraging that your ladybugs are out and about already too. Isn’t it? Happy gardening.

    1. Seasonal Wisdom, May should bring out lots of growth and bloom. With the setback in April, the flowering has been delayed.
      I hope there are enough aphids for those ladybugs to eat. :)

    1. Shady Gardener, I went plant shopping this weekend, for the first time this season. I found some perennials that have been on my lists for a while, as well as some of my regular annuals. I’ll post about the new perennials tomorrow.

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