Northern Shade Gardening

Early Spring Garden Discoveries

Thursday, April 1, 2010 Category: Spring Gardening

It’s always exciting to pull back the leaf mulch in early spring, to discover the new growing tips of perennials. With the perfect weather continuing, I’ve been able to do my earliest spring garden cleanup, following the edge of the melting snow. Not only did I find the new growth of Brunnera, Campanula, Pulmonaria and Iris, but many bulbs were popping up under the leaves too, while the evergreen perennials were able to expose their leaves to the warm sun. I was very impressed to find the first colourful buds of snow crocus, striped squills and snowdrops, the earliest flowering time ever in my garden, due to the extra warmth.

Crocus chrysanthus' Gipsy Girl' (snow crocus) buds

Crocus chrysanthus ‘Gipsy Girl’ (snow crocus) buds

Here are the adorable buds of Crocus chrysanthus ‘Gipsy Girl’ (gypsy girl snow crocus). The sunny yellow petals, with maroon stripes on the outside are perfect for spring, so bright and cheery after the drabness of the leaf mulch. They will be solid yellow on top when they fully open. The snow crocus lived up to their name, with many of them popping up at the edge of the melting snowline. The bulbs couldn’t wait when the warm weather arrived, and were shooting right through the snow and last fall’s leaves.These are perfect for a northern garden, to start the flower parade with a jolt of colour, as soon as possible.

Crocus chrysanthus 'Blue Pearl' (snow crocus) buds

Crocus chrysanthus ‘Blue Pearl’ (snow crocus) buds

The Crocus chrysanthus ‘Blue Pearl’  have tight buds that are just about to open. Although they look white in the photo, the flowers are actually a pale blue, with the yellow anthers visible within. Each bulb is sending up two or three buds, so there should be a good display when they fully open.

Crocus emerging through snow and leaves

Crocus emerging through snow and leaves

This is typical of the bulb garden areas before I cleaned up. The new, hardy crocus tips are emerging at the edge of the receding snow, right through last year’s leaves.

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' in March

Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ in March

I had to throw in another shot of the very photogenic Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’.  These beauties look great all year long. It is hard to believe they can keep their leaves in such pristine condition through the coldest winter weather. I only had to remove about three leaves from a total of six plants. Our snow cover helps protect them over winter. This picture really shows the colourful red stems, contrasting with the green patterned leaves. Underneath the leaves are small red buds that are enlarging. They’ll rise up above the leaves when they flower, facing upwards, to make a showy display.

Heuchera 'Mint Frost' in March

Heuchera ‘Mint Frost’ in March

The Heuchera ‘Mint Frost’ (coral bells) leaves have the  apple green look of fresh leaves, but this is last season’s foliage, preserved beautifully under the snow. I only had to remove one or two leaves, but the rest have the fresh look of spring already. Some of them still have the darker veining they get in late fall. I made a note to plant more Heuchera, since these plants look super, right from the first melt, up until they get covered by snow in late fall.

Heuchera Plum Pudding (coralbells) in March

Heuchera Plum Pudding (coralbells) in March

These three Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ (coral bells) plants are intensifying their flashy colour. No other perennials are up in this area of the garden, yet, but these plants look brilliant with such saturated colour.

Asarum europaeum (European ginger) leaves in March

Asarum europaeum (European ginger) leaves in March

The evergreen leaves of Asarum europaeum (European ginger) make the garden look green as soon as the snow melts. The wild gingers are great for late fall and early spring appeal when there isn’t much green to be found. I love how this glossy groundcover looks as an edging in the garden.

Cornus canadensis (bunchberry) in March

Cornus canadensis (bunchberry) in March

Cornus canadensis (bunchberry) is another perennial with evergreen leaves that gets the garden off to a quick start. This groundcover is already colouring  the area under the evergreen on the north side of my house, while I wait for the other plants to start growing.

garden cleanup leaf mulch and snow

garden cleanup leaf mulch and snow

Here is what most of the garden beds looked like before I removed the mulch. You can see that there are still bits of snow left here and there, with lots of leaves and sticks.

ladybug on leaf in spring

ladybug on leaf in spring

I enjoy peeling back the leaf layer to see the first stirrings of new perennials, but there are  some sleepy seven spot ladybugs to discover, too. I carefully shake out all of the leaves, looking for the bright red, and set them aside. It’s almost time to start back to aphid munching. This one is so shiny, I can practically see myself in the reflection on its back. :)

I’ve never had flowers in March before, since most years the earliest bulb starts near the end of April.  With the beautiful weather, the gardening cycle started about 3 to 4 weeks early this year. The early spring bulbs and evergreen perennials make fabulous additions to the garden, since they help counteract the blandness of a typical March and April in Edmonton.

Spring Gardening Reveals Early Green Foliage

Sunday, April 12, 2009 Category: Spring Gardening
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?

Green Leaves in the Spring Garden

Wednesday, April 1, 2009 Category: Spring Gardening
Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' (Hellebore) leaf in ice March

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' (Hellebore) leaf in ice March

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’.

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' (hellebore)

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' (hellebore)

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.

Campanula rotundifolia (harebell) from under snow March

Campanula rotundifolia (harebell) from under snow March

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.

moss on patio March

moss on patio March

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?