About now we’re thinking that a mini-ice-age has set in and we’ll never see summer again! Well, I suppose that could happen, after all, my Mother remembers the May of 1955 when the leaves didn’t open until after Memorial Day weekend! Let’s hope it’s not our turn for more of that! In the mean time it is cold out there, the wind is nasty and persistent and there’s not much popping out of the ground. So what’s a gardener to do?
Why not take advantage of what has been forced upon us and see what the really hardy stuff is out in the garden? What has popped out of the snow? Has anything set bud yet? Is anything in bloom? (not likely) It’s really great, if you think about it. If you’ve been afraid to walk through your garden, put on a warm coat and head out there now. You may be surprised and delighted at what you find. Here’s what I found today.
The champion in the ‘three inches above the soil’ category is the garden primrose, Primula auricula. It even has some little buds! At an even tie are Native Alaskan Chives, Allium schoenoprasum sibericum. They’re up three inches, budded for bloom and taste great to boot. Coming in a close second would have to be Lewisia tweedyi. This fabulous little plant comes out of the snow pretty much as it went in. Perfect, small rosettes of reddish-green succulent leaves are doing their best to cheer up the scenery. Along side this, of course, is Berginia cordifolia. Considered semi-evergreen here, it usually thaws out a deep reddish maroon. A wonderful, rich color in any garden when surrounded by so much brown and gray! Both of these early birds will bloom soon. And then there’s Draba siberica. This flat, ground mustard is a delicate, light green mat bursting with buds. It will be a carpet of yellow within a day or two and will have rushed to first place on my list. While it is a bit untidy when not in bloom, it is irreplaceable for early garden color. Bright and cheerful, it will hold bloom for three weeks if the weather is cool. Flat sedums such as Dragon’s Blood and Variegated are lovely right now, with fleshy leaves and bright red stems. What little troopers!
Runners up, should not be shunned. Various Delphiniums are 2 to 3 inches out, with their green leafs looking like little fisted hands emerging from the soil. Native Iris, both standard and dwarf (Iris setosa and I. setosa nana) are cutting through their frozen homes like thick grass, forming bud heads as they come. Another wild Alaskan favorite of mine, Antennaria microphylla (pink pussy toes), is living up to its ‘favorite’ category by melting out of the ice in full, soft gray color. Its simi-fuzzy leaves and flat, matting form make it look like a silver carpet on the brown ground. It even feels good to walk bare-foot on, if you’re brave enough to take your shoes off and give it a go!
In the shrub and tree division, the Prunus virginiana wins hands down. This wonderfully hardy tree, known commonly as a Canadian Red, can’t be beat for early leafing. While we are surrounded by native trees too afraid to let out their greenery, this imported ornamental just plunges ahead without trepidation. No cold wind or freezing nightime temperatures are going to stop it from enjoying spring! It has leaves and flower buds that grow daily. It’s neighbor, the Northwood Maple – Acre rubrum ‘Northwood’ - positively delighted me with blooms this year! Arn't they beautiful?