Despite the last 4 days of snow, the first crocus bud is up in the lawn. Those pointed leaves are spearing through last year’s fallen leaves, right in the middle of the snow melt. I adore these hardy bulbs that bring the first colour of spring. Their endearing habit of coming into bud just a few days after popping up is perfect for a gardener who’s grown impatient after 6 months of winter. This patch of lawn gets very shady when the trees leaf out, but the speedy crocus can take advantage of the early spring sunshine that filters through the bare tree branches.
Crocus don’t wait until you’ve done your garden cleanup to start flowering. This first intrepid bud is Crocus chrysanthus ‘Prins Claus ‘ (snow crocus). The petals are white and purple, and as you can see its an early riser. The fresh green leaves, each with a silver stripe, are almost as welcome as the buds, after a winter of monotony in the garden. Snow on evergreen branches is a pretty sight, but after 6 months I’m ready for something flashier. Soon this patch will be joined by the other purple, white and yellow crocus. Most of them are the smaller C. chrysanthus, but each small plant can produce many flowers. When they all open, the petal edges almost touch from flower to flower. With all of the leaves now, it won’t be long until the lawn is covered in blooms. I planted mostly the earliest flowering types of crocus here, so the leaves die back fairly quickly, and I can mow the lawn by the end of May, after they’ve gathered all of the energy they can. The garden has a mixture of early and late flowering crocus, to give a longer season of bloom.
Even ice crystals clinging to the bud’s petals don’t bother a snow crocus. This is the perfect plant for early spring in Edmonton. When the snow or clouds come, the petals simply fold up and wait patiently for the sun’s warmth, when they’ll unfurl and make a tapestry of spring colours . They are particularly showy when most of the garden is still a series of monochrome earth tones. A vibrant field of yellow and purple is a great start to the gardening year, especially after the dreariness of a long Edmonton winter. Happy gardening season.
I wrote this article last fall, but then never posted it. The Astilbe are starting to get buds now, so I’ll follow up with some photos of how they look this year once they open fully. Here are a few of the moves I made last year with my Astilbe. Back in early autumn I transplanted a number of them to better positions in the garden. Some needed new sites, because they were being overshadowed by neighbouring plants, and others got new flowering partners. I also added some brand new Astilbe to my garden.
The Astilbe japonica ‘Europa’ above is part way through the move, and the rootball is sitting up on the ground. They were getting overshadowed by some ferns and other plants that had grown taller, so the ‘Europa’ were getting almost no sun. Astilbe can handle shade, but too much shade and the blooms dwindle. There were fewer flowers on them last year, and the pink plumes disappeared behind the fern fronds, and couldn’t be seen. I transplanted them to a part shade area that gets more light. The new site will get a few hours of direct sun, and then indirect light for most of the day. In the new location, the pretty ‘Europa’ can be seen better, without the tall ferns in front of them. They also get partnered with some shorter Campanula (bellflowers), so the Astilbe flowers will easily be seen over top of the blue flowers.
The slightly taller Astilbe arendsii ‘Diamont‘ (‘Diamond’), shown in summer, used to be with the ‘Europa, so I dug it up and moved it too. Now it’s next to the ‘Europa’ in the new location and the white flower plumes will show up much better next year. It gets some short blue flowering Campanula companions in front of it, too.
Astilbe ‘Verssilvery Pink’ ( ‘Younique Silvery Pink’) was new to my garden last year. They have beautiful shell pink flowers. The colour is very similar to Astilbe japonica ‘Europa’. Earlier in the summer, while they were waiting to get planted, I had them on my patio in their containers just below a pot with light blue lobelia. The two soft colours of pink and blue looked great together . When it came time to get it in the ground this fall, I put it with some Campanula cochlearifolia and Campanula rotundifolia which have light sky blue flowers, similar in colour to the lobelia. I think the combination will look good when they bloom together next year, with the pink above the blue.
This picture shows the flowers of Astilbe ‘Younique Silvery Pink’ fully open back in summer. You can see the soft, delicate pink colour, and the numerous blooms, but they were still in their pots and flowering based on previous care. It’s supposed to be a very heavy bloomer, but ‘Younique Silvery Pink’ might not get the same number of blooms once it’s in a shady site in my garden.
Here’s another summer picture. Astilbe ‘Verswhite’ (‘Younique White’ ) has been in my garden for two summers now. This cross between A. arendsii and A. japonica blooms with pretty white flowers. It is part of the same series as ‘Younique Silvery pink’. I only had one plant, and it was in an extra shady site, so I’ve transplanted it next to the new ‘Younique Silvery Pink’, so they’ll flower together at the same time.
‘Younique White’ has bright red stems, that show especially well when the shafts of sunlight filter through the branches. This photo shows the companion plants to ‘Younique White’ in its old spot. There was a Hosta ‘Francee’ to one side, some Brunnera in front, some Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern) behind, and some Onoclea sensibilis (sensitive fern) to the other side. The sensitive fern is long gone, as it retreats with the slightest hint of cold.
This summer view in the other direction showed the birdbath on the other side, short Asarum europaeum (European ginger) in front, more Brunnera after that, and some Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich fern) behind the birdbath. There are a few of the Hosta ‘Patriot’ leaves showing behind the birdbath. I actually liked the way it looked with the surrounding perennials, but I think it will be more effective as part of the larger group of ‘Younique Silvery Pink’.
Astilbe ‘Mighty Pip’ is another new Astilbe. They are supposed to be one of the tallest Astilbe, so I planted them where the shorter Astilbe used to be. They should be able to compete with the taller ferns for light. ‘Mighty Pip’ will get darker pink flowers. There are some Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady In Red’ (lady ferns) in front of them, some Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) to one side, and a Hosta ‘Francee’ to the other side.
This photo of Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady In Red’ shows the way that sunlight highlights the fiery stem colour. Even though the ‘Lady In Red’ ferns are getting taller, I want to keep them at the front of the garden, as they have nice red stems that look good against the green fronds. I don’t want to hide the stems behind other plants, because when the sun shines through in the evening at a low angle, I can see them lit up from my kitchen window. That’s why the Astilbe got transplanted instead.
I gave these Astilbe transplants lots of water after moving, and for a few weeks afterwards to help them adjust. A couple started getting crispy leaves as Astilbe will do if they dry out, but they should be fine next year. The only Astilbe that didn’t get moved were my ‘Hennie Graafland’.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the Astilbe look in their new locations. With their feathery foliage, they look good next to broad leaved plants like Hosta or Brunnera. Then when the soft Astilbe flower plumes appear, I think they should partner well with the blue Campanula.
The pretty blue Chionodoxa forbesii (glory of the snow) bulbs and the pure white Sanguinaria canadensis f. multiplex (double flowering bloodroot) make gorgeous companions for each other. I planted the Chionodoxa around the Sanguinaria last fall, and now this spring the pretty bluish purple flowers help show off the white blooms of the bloodroot.
This garden area has both the single and double flowering Sanguinaria canadensis I haven’t seen any of the single flowering ones this year, however the double flowering f. multiplex seem to be spreading well and there are many more of them blooming. These perennials are so beautiful that I’m very glad the rhizomes are multiplying. The double bloodroot must enjoy the position under the willow, with all of the bits of tree leaves, twigs, and other organic matter that they get to grow in, since they are a woodland perennial of Eastern Canada. These flowers handle a great deal of shade, as the willow has leafed out now, so there is very little direct sun here. This garden section is on the north side of a fence, so the plants might get a bit of low sun first thing in the morning, but mostly it’s shade.
I hope some single flowering forms have survived, as the pollinators would miss the single flowering Sanguinaria, since the doubles do not have reproductive parts. The doubles have longer lasting flowers, and a more beautiful form than the singles, but I like to share the garden with the insect visitors, too. In the picture above, you can see another bloodroot folded leaf emerging on the lower left. Soon, it will be revealing an exquisite white bloom.
When the flower buds first emerge, the closed white petals are wrapped tightly in a leaf. Then both unfold and the leaf grows fairly large after the white petals drop. You can see a new bud rising up in the front of the picture still mostly protected by the wrap around leaf. On the upper right is the next stage with the flower popping out of the leaf. On the upper left is a more mature flower, fully open and sitting above the leaf. Once the flower opens fully, it remind me of a water lily sitting above the leaf. Eventually the leaf opens completely, close to the ground, and gets fairly large. The plants make an attractive groundcover for the rest of the summer.
The bloodroot flowers have been emerging in waves, so the display has lasted a while. The double flowering bloodroot tend to bloom longer than the singles anyway, but with the staggered emergence, there are new flowers to spy everyday.
Chionodoxa forbesii (glory of the snow) are one of my favourite bulbs. These were added to surround the Sanguinaria last fall, and the two flowers compliment each other.
I planted the Chionodoxa all around the Sanguinaria group, so all the bloodroot plants would get partners. So far there have been a couple dozen bloodroot flowers, and most of them have a group of pretty glory of the snow flowers to accompany them, lean on them, and twine around them.
Those Sanguinaria leaves will grow large enough to form an almost solid mat of leaves, and cover the decaying bulb foliage from the Chionodoxa after the bulbs finish blooming. The leaves have a thick texture, with rounded deeply cut lobes. The solid mat of foliage they make for summer means that few weeds will grow here.
If you’re looking for a partner for your Sanguinaria canadensis, I can recommend some Chionodoxa bulbs to highlight the pretty white blooms.