This past weekend, I visited Cindy’s garden. Like me, she lives in Upstate New York, near Syracuse. Cindy has been buying plants from my nursery for well over 15 years and gardening for even longer. She started as a customer and became a friend. She has a very kind heart. Years ago now, when my husband was sick, she would bring him baked goods to help keep his weight up. After he went to heaven, she started coming down to the farmer’s market and hanging out with me, helping customers with her gardening experience and giving me the chance to take a break. She has been a great friend and it has been fun over the years to watch her little by little, plant by plant as she has learned which flowers grow the best in her yard.
Now, even though her yard is small, Cindy has found ways to keep her garden in bloom throughout the growing seasons. She has crafted an ever changing tapestry of color and I want to take a look at how she goes about it. This is only the first visit to Cindy’s garden. During the course of the summer, I will be making monthly trips to visit this garden and write about the beauty I find there.
Right now, spring bulbs provide the primary burst of color. Bulbs have, well, bulbous root systems, similar in shape to onions or a traditional light bulb. Rounded at the base and somewhat pointed at the top. Most other perennial plants have fibrous root systems, which are fine textured and delicately branch out into the soil. Both types of roots can coexist very near to one another. The fibrous roots simply branch around them and are unbothered by the presence of the bulbs.
So, the bulbs come up with their vibrant glory and by the time the foliage of the perennials is large enough to overtake them, the bulbs have finished flowering and begun to go dormant.
What is it to go dormant? Bulbs use their foliage to store energy in their roots. After the energy is stored, the leaves turn brown and everything above the soil appears dead. Basically, the plant is sleeping most of the year, its life force stored in the bulb. So, planting spring blooming bulbs between perennial plants is great because the perennials start growing just as the bulbs go dormant. The foliage of the perennial plant shades and shelters the bulbs.
New gardeners often come to me with flowers plucked from a neighbor’s yard and want to buy blooming Spring bulbs from me. Unfortunately, bulbs prefer to be planted in the fall when they are completely dormant. So, plan ahead, buy some bulbs this fall and prepare for a more beautiful Spring next year.
Let’s take a closer look at what specific plants are flowering in Cindy’s garden. The veritable sea of blue comes from two slightly different species of flowers.
Chionodoxa luciliae are the palest blue flowers, and the darker more denim blue are Scilla siberica. They look very similar but offer a subtle variation amid the pops of yellow. Daffodils and the dwarf narcissus Tete-a-Tete bring light and vibrant glowing color to the bed as does a large clump of yellow primrose. Hyacinth dot the bed with their pink and dark violet jewel tones. Meanwhile, all of this is happening around perennial flowers that are just beginning to awaken. Creeping Sedum Dragon’s Blood edges the bed and offers maroon tinted foliage to contrast with the blue scilla, and Penstemon Husker’s Red shows dark burgundy foliage which is striking beside the flowering bulbs. At the other end of the bed, a Lavender plant offers a silver gray backdrop for the blues and yellows.
Cindy pointed out to me that her yard slopes southward. The yard is warm and sunny all day long. Winter snow melts faster here and her soil gets warm quickly in the Spring. Her neighbors across the street are shaded and this makes their yards are cooler. The daffodils in their gardens were just beginning to open. Even in the same neighborhoods we see individual microclimates! It is so important to remember that every yard is slightly different and so, every garden is slightly different. Don’t judge the way your garden looks by your neighbors yard. Make something you love and enjoy, your own ever changing work of art. Their gardens will be beautiful too, but they have to wait a little bit longer for the full beauty to show.
I learned a lot from visiting Cindy’s garden this weekend. Perennials and bulbs coexist beautifully together. There are a lot of beautiful bulbs to choose from and planting a variety not only makes a very colorful display but also extends the season of bloom. Perennial foliage colors and textures matter even when they are barely up. The Sedum, the Penstemon and the Lavender offer contrast to the bulbs and add depth to the colorful display.
What stood out during this visit? In case you want to plant some of these yourself and don’t want to reread the entire article to get their names, these are the plants I talked about today.
- Chionodoxa luciliae
- Scilla siberica
- Narcissus Tete-a-Tete
- Creeping Sedum Dragon’s Blood
- Penstemon Husker’s Red