One of my favorite places to go on a walk in Seattle.
In this book I finally found an answer to my question ‘Why do some trees bloom so early?’ Early spring is a hard time, when the wind and the snow keep trying to disturb those beautiful spring flowers. In When Perennials Bloom—An Almanac For Planning and Planting (2008), Tomasz Anisko states “Blooming may be timed so the flowers are more visible to the pollinators. In forests, such conditions exist when deciduous trees are leafless, causing woodland floras to have many species that flower in early spring.” Yes, it makes perfect sense. It’s early in the season, it’s cold outside, who wants to spend all their time buzzing and hunting through all that foliage looking for the flowers? Just show me the money! ”For flowering to be successful it needs not only to be synchronous, it also has to be precisely timed with a particular season. Seasonality of bloom thus allows flowering to take place during periods of pollinator availability.” Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The flowers or the bees? Maybe it is the sun that rules the earth. The all great weather factor. Weather is what gardeners are talking about all the time. ”Perennials have evolved many adaptations which not only allow them to survive periods of severe weather, but also to time their flowering so that it takes place when environmental conditions are favorable for sexual reproduction. This, the timing of flowering, is determined in response to change in the environment and through the plants interactions with its surroundings.”
Most of the book is an encyclopedia of perennials and their bloom times, from Acanthus to Yucca. I like the way he starts each plant section with the meaning behind each name. For example, Liriope is for the nymph Liriope of Greek mythology and Hosta commemorates Nikolaus Thomas Host, an Austrian botanist and physician. The final chapter has information and floral charts to create ever-blooming borders. The charts are easy to use and well organized, listing what is in bloom each month from April through November. Don’t skip the introductory chapters, there is a fascinating discussion on phenology, bloom time and how perennials respond to the environment found therein.
For plants growing in the temperate zone, Anisko states that temperature is possibly the most important factor in controlling flowering. Something most of us inherently know is that plants usually start growth only when temperatures rise above a certain threshold. ”Plants injured from extreme low winter temperatures may flower weeks or months later than normal and their bloom can be uneven, sporadic or extended in time.”
Another factor in flowering is day length. ”The response of plants to the length of day and night is photoperiodism. The length of day precisely times flowering in the most appropriate season and synchronizes the simultaneous flowering of all plants within the same population, facilitating the most effective cross-pollination.” We have temperature and light, but don’t forget about water! During the summer months, moist conditions can delay flowering, and then extend the bloom when it finally does begin. Another great part of this book is the information on length of bloom. The leucanthemum ‘Becky’ for instance is reported to flower for 8 weeks, while Arum italicum only for 2-3 weeks. I would definitely recommend this book for any perennial gardener.
Timing is everything. A good time, a bad time. It’s about time. Never enough time! The relationship between plant and animal life cycles and the seasonal changes in climate is called phenology, or the science of appearance. Examples are the date of the first leaf or flower on a plant, emergence of insects and the appearance of specific migratory birds. The National Phenology Network describes it as ‘Nature’s Calender’ which gives us vital information about health (allergens), agriculture (when to plant), recreation (wildflower displays) and climate change. I really like the idea of tracking when my plants are blooming, the length of bloom time and how it relates to our weather. The more I know about them, the more successful I will be in creating seasonal displays and caring for the plants. If I pay attention to how plants have fared in the past, I might be better prepared for atypical weather patterns. I’m ready to start a Sammamish, Washington phenology notebook, keeping records of bloom time and leaf emergence. If I find the time, of course!
Here are a few proverbs and sayings that relate to phenology and the garden.
Prune roses when the forsythia bloom.
Plant in the dust, crops a bust. Rain makes grain.
April Showers bring May flowers.
March…In like a lion, out like a lamb.
A dry March and a wet May, fill barns and bays with corn and hay.
If you hear ‘peeper’ frogs, it’s time to plant peas.
When the first snowdrops emerge from their foliage (but are still not open, then be sure your cabbages, kale, Brussels sprouts and collards are sprouting under lights.
When pussy willows begin to emerge, then it is time to spray fruit trees with dormant oil.
When the first knuckles of rhubarb emerge from the ground, then it’s time to plant your onion sets and seed your cold frames with spinach, radishes and lettuce.
When you see aspens in bloom in the Rocky Mountains, watch out for grizzly bears emerging from hibernation.
Tomatoes can be set out when lily of the valley are in full bloom.
Plant peppers and eggplant outside when the bearded irises are in full bloom.
When maples are beginning to unfurl their leaves, plant perennials.
When the daffodils begin to bloom, it’s time to plant peas.
When the common lilac plant has leafed out, plant lettuce, peas beets, cabbage, carrots and spinach. When it’s flowers are in full bloom, plant beans and squash. When it’s flowers have faded, plant cucumbers and squash.
When the flowering dogwood is in full bloom or when the daylilies start to bloom, it’s time to plant tomatoes, early corn and peppers.
Red sky at night, sailors delight, red sky at morning, sailors take warning.
Silver in the garden is something special. In our society it’s gold that wins first place, but in the world of gardens I think silver takes the prize. This Korean Fir, like others, has needles with silvery undersides. However, unlike other firs, the needles on this tree turn upward, showing off the soft, glistening foliage and giving it the appearance that it’s been dusted with snow. Silberlocke has beautiful color, but another reward is that this slow growing tree only reaches 12-15 feet tall, very handy in the home garden. Slow growing refers to plants that grow less than 12 inches a year. Sometimes called Horstman’s fir, it was named after Gunter Horstmann who discovered it in Germany. Grows in zones 5-8 and performs best in full sun. The upright cones are steely blue and add yet another dimension to this tree. Try an I-Spy game in your neighborhood. Have you seen any Silberlocke Korean Firs lately?
I brought home a catnip plant for the garden yesterday. It didn’t even make it out of the driveway unscathed. Our cat practically pounced on it, knocked it over, rolled on it, rubbed against it and nibbled and chewed. An hour later the neighbor’s cat was rolling around our driveway. The above photo is what made it to the garden. And now, 24 hours later, it’s completely gone. Somebody was having a little fun, and it wasn’t the person shoveling the dirt!
Just the Facts
Nepeta cataria Catnip or Catmint
Height 36-48 inches
Full Sun to Partial Shade
Blooms mid to late summer, white
Foliage silver/gray or blue/green, aromatic
Attractive to Cats, Birds, Bees and Butterflies
Oil from catnip is a mosquito and fly repellant
I love the beautiful contrasting color on a Coral Bark Japanese Maple, especially in the spring. This one I have in a container and the bright new growth is a perfect contrast for the glowing red bark. Do you have a favorite Japanese Maple? Ukigumo for me!
I love the delicate and narrow leaves on this maple Koto No Ito, which translates to ‘harp strings’ in English. As they uncurl they seem to be filling with life like a butterfly from a chrysalis. This tree reaches 6 feet in 10 years and turns golden yellow in the fall.
This dwarf Japanese Maple has pink leaves emerging in spring, changing to green in summer and yellow/orange in the fall. Three seasons of color, better than most perennials! The leaves are dense, small and crinkled, creating a unique texture in the garden. Reaching only 5 feet and slow growing, this tree is great for containers or bonsai.
The new foliage on this maple is soft and powdery. This is another small tree, but with delicate weeping branches. The leaves hold onto their beautiful glowing red throughout the summer. Japanese maples, you can’t just have one!
Here are two living things with a good thick skin. The Viburnum has an amazing leaf, well name leatherleaf. The hippos are well protected with their thick skin. You know the old saying, when someone is thick-skinned they are not easily offended. In nature that means not offended by weather, insects and disease. It’s not easy being an evergreen broadleaf plant in the winter. Enduring harsh temperatures, ice crystals, wind and rain. But the leatherleaf viburnum seemed to tough it out. At times the leaves get droopy, but they retain their luster and shape throughout the winter months. How thick is your skin? do you retain your luster throughout the winter months?
Just the Facts
Viburnum rhytidophyllum Leatherleaf viburnum
Hardy to zone 5…impressive!
Height and Width: 10 to 15 feet
Foliage: Evergreen, opposite leaves, 3-7 inches long
Flowers: Yellow-white clusters, blooms mid-May, fragrant
Fruit: Showy clusters, red to black drupes
Culture: Sun to shade, well-drained soil, easily pruned, protect from wind
Nothing shows off a plant better than a fresh layer of mulch. Today we spread a thick layer in one of my clients yards. The dark color really brings out the brightness in the grass and heather, as well as covering up the surface roots and rocks that have appeared over the winter. This is a happy job. As I spread the mulch today I felt like I was tucking the plants into their bed with a warm and cozy quilt. Smothering weeds, retaining moisture, adding organic matter….what’s better than that? Spring is here and it’s a good time to mulch!
In early spring the flowering plum suddenly changes from it’s winter camouflage of brown twigs into clouds of pink petals. This tree is responsible for turning winter into spring. It’s one of the first trees to flower and fill the month of March with color. Bright and beautiful color that we have yearned for and dreamed of during the long dark months. I like the way the petals gently fall and dust the ground below. When I lived in Spreckels, California we often visited our community park and sat under the flowering plums in the spring. We got so excited by the petals that my kids would shake the trees, pushing and pulling, until we had more than a soft rain, but rather a snowstorm of petals. It was all so fun, until a neighbor came over and told us to be nice to the trees. Me included. Yes, I was guilty. Caught in the act of too much floral fun. No more shaking trees! Another reason to love this tree is the dark purple leaf color. A nice contrast to the green all around.
Just the Facts
Prunus cerasifera Flowering Plum
Height: 15-25 feet
Width: 15-20 feet
Site: Sun, well-drained soil
Hardiness: Zones 5-8
Growth Rate: Moderate to rapid, short-lived 20 years
Flowers: Pinkish-white flowers appear in March before foliage
Seqoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendulum‘ is like an alien tree. It doesn’t look like most of the other trees here on earth. I’ve been watching this one in my community for many years and find it an impressive specimen. Growing crooked, reaching up towards the sun, it’s fascinating to look at. The weeping sequoia can reach heights of 25 feet and grows in zones 6-9. What does it remind you of?