Thursday, 20 April 2017

April Showers

 It hasn't been the best weather for getting out into the garden, but whenever we've had a rare day without rain, I've been out there watching for signs that the plants at least aren't letting the situation get to them.
The usual early bloomers are about two weeks behind normal, but slowly, slowly perennial foliage is emerging and amongst it are some brave hellebores, primroses and spring bulbs. Although I've posted photos of hellebores in previous years, I keep hoping to make better and better images. Here are a few of this year's collection:

Peppermint Ice

Peppermint Ice
Cherry Blossom
Frilly Kitty
Green hellebore
The last one is a plant I bought last year in a sale at a big-box store, not the ideal place to find good plants. It had no flowers and looked weak, but the broken label said 'Green...' and I thought I'd take a chance on it. I'm glad I did since it has grown well, and this year produced several of these exotic double flowers.

In a sunnier (well, normally) location, charming little grape hyacinth Muscari latifolium with its two-tone bells is gradually spreading through Narcissus 'Jack Snipe', making a cheerful contrast of blue and yellow. By the time the Muscari reaches its full height, its flowers will be almost level with the Narcissus.

Another pleasing contrast is the mix of double pink Primula 'Sue Jervis' mingled with snowdrop foliage and the black blades of mondo grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'.

Several small willows are leafing out and also producing their furry little catkins. First, as usual, is Salix gracilistyla 'Melanostachys' with its dramatic red and black flowers, a little bedraggled by all the rain we've been having.

Salix nakamura var. yezo-alpina has also suffered but the way raindrops clung to its woolly leaves made for an unusual close-up.

 Salix helvetica,  the last to flower, avoided the worst downpours.

However, it hasn't produced nearly as many red stamens as usual on its soft grey catkins.

The tiniest willow, whose name escapes me for now, is offering a better contrast.

Another shrub that can be counted on for an early show is Ribes sanguineum 'King Edward VII', a darker pink version of our West Coast native whose blooms lure the Rufous hummingbirds back north from Mexico and southern California. Sadly, the local hummers don't seem to have found mine, although a few usually turn up in midsummer when the roses and perennials are in flower.

Along with early blooms, perennial foliage is emerging to fill in the gaps between shrubs and early bulbs. One of the best specimens in my back garden is lovage, Levisticum officinale, a plant I chose for its value as a celery substitute in soups and sauces, little realizing how much more it would contribute to the garden  This is a plant that really gets a move on once it emerges from its winter sleep, rising visibly higher every day until it reaches a sturdy 6 feet or more. As it grows, it efficiently hides the dying foliage of snowdrops and early tulips.  Its own leaves are decorative, especially the young, purple-flushed tips, and when it flowers, its pale yellow flat-topped umbels attract a host of bees and butterflies.

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