The calendar says April, but with bone-dry soil and temperatures in the upper 80s, it has felt more like August here in southeastern Pennsylvania this week. It’s tough on the dainty wildflowers that have dared to open their thin-petaled blooms, and the sun is intense enough to bleach out or scorch delicate petals. On the plus side, it’s been great to be able to move nearly all of the seedlings outside for a while—at least until nights get back into the 30s this coming week.
The unusually warm temperatures are also bringing out loads of seedlings from the winter-sown seeds.
After some of the earliest seedlings got mowed down by mice, I ended up having to make some wire cages for the pots. They’re not pretty, but they’ve done a good job.
It’s Bloom Day, though, so let’s step away from the seeds for a bit and check out what’s in the garden right now. Let’s see if I can group things by color…
Yellowroot ( Xanthorhiza simplicissima) is always one of the first shrubs to flower. This native isn’t a traffic-stopper, for sure, but it makes an interesting show, particularly in a mass planting.
The emerging foliage and buds of an unnamed peony ( Paeonia) seedling.
Little sweet Betsy ( Trillium cuneatum): the only trillium I’ve had luck in getting established so far.
‘Gingerbread’ witch hazel ( Hamamelis x intermedia): I usually don’t detect much fragrance from this one, but it’s definitely noticeable this year.
‘Spring Purple’ Chinese winter hazel ( Corylopsis sinensis, formerly C. willmottiae ‘Spring Purple’): I nearly lost this youngster because of the cicada damage two summers ago, but it has decided to live and is putting on its first good show of greenish yellow flowers. (The “purple” in the cultivar name refers to the purple new leaves, not the blooms.)
Buttercup winter hazel ( Corylopsis pauciflora) is putting on an excellent show in the shrub border out front.
I was considering digging out the Oriental paper bush ( Edgeworthia chrysantha). Though its foliage is attractive, the flower buds have always dropped by late winter, despite being in a sheltered spot. But this year, it managed to hang onto one cluster, buying itself at least another year or two.
Native yellow fumewort ( Corydalis flavula) is just coming into bloom and will continue for several weeks yet. It’s hard to find in the trade but easy to grow from seed if you sow it soon after it matures in late May.
Miami mist ( Phacelia purshii) won’t start flowering for another week or so, but it’s another charming native annual for mid-spring color—typically from its blue flowers. Late last summer, I found that some of its seedlings had bright yellow foliage instead of the usual green. I moved them to a separate area and am eagerly anticipating the show when they come into bloom. For now, I’m calling them ‘Hayefield Gold Mist’.
Cow parsley ( Anthriscus sylvestris) definitely isn’t native here: in fact, it can self-sow to the point of being invasive in some areas if you don’t keep it deadheaded (or collect the seeds). I do let a few seeds of ‘Golden Fleece’ drop, though, because its bright leaves are so pretty, particularly with spring blues, pinks, and white-flowered companions.
Most of the hellebores are past peak already, but the green bells of bearsfoot hellebore ( Helleborus foetidus) are looking terrific right now.
After my last post, several of you asked if I sell seeds of my “ Lupinus from Prince Edward Island.” I hadn’t listed it before because I didn’t imagine there’d be much interest in it, but I should have realized that there are many other fans of Lucy Maud Montgomery who would would enjoy the connection, so I do plan to add it to my site this summer.
Ramps ( Allium tricoccum) in the garden, started from local seed back in 2019.
The brightly speckled spring foliage of a variegated geranium ( Geranium yoshinoi ‘Confetti’)
Here’s an easy transition from greens to yellows: several seedlings of jewelweed ( Impatiens capensis), including the green-leaved species next to two baby ‘Peridot’.
Sassafras ( Sassafras albidum) just started flowering yesterday.
Siberian corydalis ( Corydalis nobilis) is also just starting to bloom but beautifully intricate even in bud.
I’m not sure about the identity of this primrose ( Primula). It’s vigorous and free-flowering, growing in quickly expanding clumps, but it’s dainty at the same time. All of the clumps I have are clones of the original, and they don’t set seed, unfortunately.
I do know this one: It’s a polyanthus primrose ( Primula) from Barnhaven’s Winter White Group. And, it does set seed! Most of the blossoms in this photo are “thrum”-type flowers, but if you look closely, you can see a “pin”-type bloom on the right edge. Having both types of flowers in close proximity allows for good cross-pollination. (If you’re interested in learning more about how this works, you can read about it here: “ The pin and thrum of primroses.”)
Spring has to bring bulbs, too, of course. ‘Pipit’, a jonquilla narcissus that starts all yellow and ages to white in the center, is one of my favorite daffodils. It makes an excellent partner for the bright white blooms of ‘Gravetye Giant’ summer snowflake ( Leucojum aestivum).
This cutie came to me as ‘Kathy’s Sweetheart’ (thank you, Kathy!) but is apparently correctly known as ‘Stella’. This heirloom variety starts out soft yellow but is quickly bleaching to white in the heat.
‘Thalia’ is yet another of my favorite daffodils ( Narcissus) for its vigor, its crisp white blooms, and its fragrance. It’s mingling here with the burgundy stars of yellowroot ( Xanthorhiza simplicissima).
Another shot of ‘Gravetye Giant’ summer snowflake ( Leucojum aestivum), just because it’s so lovely.
The guinea-hen or checkered lilies (Fritillaria meleagris) just started blooming yesterday. The white one in front used to be F. meleagris ‘Alba’ or var. alba but apparently is now F. meleagris var. unicolor subvar. alba. Sigh.
Rue anemone ( Thalictrum thalictroides, formerly Anemonella thalictroides) flowering in one of my nursery beds, from seeds sown in July 2021
False rue anemone, another charming native wildflower, is flowering for the first time from seeds sown in summer 2021. It used to be Isopyrum biternatum but now has a new identity (sure, why not?): Enemion biternatum.
One benefit of this warm spell is that the fruit trees are getting to do their thing without getting frosted. The Asian pear ( Pyrus pyrifolia) out back is looking quite spectacular but is best appreciated for a good distance away. Anywhere nearby, the odor is absolutely foul.
Fortunately, the winter honeysuckle ( Lonicera fragrantissima) next to the greenhouse is still flowering, and its lovely lemony fragrance is a good antidote to the stench of the Asian pear.
Another fantastically fragrant shrub providing a wonderful welcome by the front gate: dwarf Koreanspice viburnum ( Viburnum carlesii ‘Compactum’)
Not fragrant, but still a joy: contorted flowering quince ( Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Contorta’)
I’ve really gotten into spring vetchling ( Lathyrus vernus) over the past few years, once I realized that it is pretty easy to grow from seed. I now have a bunch of plants in a range of colors. The bushy, perennial plants are sturdy and generally trouble-free (though they do need some protection if you have rabbits), and they really make a spectacle in the spring garden. This purplish pink color is common for the species.
This version of spring vetchling, with softer pink flowers, is typically referred to as Lathyrus vernus ‘Alboroseus’.
This photo doesn’t do justice to this blue-flowered version of spring vetchling, which has much narrower foliage than the typical species plants. It seems to be known by a number of names, including Lathyrus vernus ‘Filifolius’, ‘Filicifolius’, ‘Flaccidus’, ‘Gracilis’, and “Narrow Leaf Form”.
The fabulously purple spring shoots of ‘Gerald Darby’ iris ( Iris x robusta)
Virginia bluebells ( Mertensia virginica), flowering for the first time in my stock beds from seed sown in summer 2021
Another nice native (this one is a winter annual): blue-eyed Mary ( Collinsia verna)
To finish, I can’t resist sharing some new things coming along that I’m really excited about.
I had no idea that ashwagandha ( Withania somnifera) would grow as an annual. We’ll see how it performs here; looks promising so far!
Ok, not very exciting to look at, but it was a surprise to see these emerging seedlings of giant daisy ( Leucanthemella serotina) yesterday. I have tried growing it from seed many times, with no luck. The few online sources that offer it advise sowing indoors, in warm conditions, but that has not worked for me. This year, I tried one last time, sowing in late March and setting the pot outdoors, and the seeds are germinating happily. Yay!
Noon flower ( Pentapetes phoenicea) is another one I find tricky to start from seed. I know it wants to be warm but it is very fickle: Sometimes it sprouts and sometimes it doesn’t, even in apparently identical conditions. This spring, I sowed my very last four seeds and got four seedlings. Go figure!
A new spiny thing for this year: litchi tomato ( Solanum sisymbriifolium). The fruit is supposed to be edible, but edible doesn’t always mean tasty; we’ll see.
Ok, not new, and definitely not edible, but wickedly cool even when it’s little: porcupine tomato ( Solanum pyracanthos)
Also not new, but so pretty, even when young: ‘Keith’s Ailsa Gold Leaf’ tomato ( Solanum lycopersicum)
Some stars from this year’s first sowing of ‘Sunspots’ sunflower ( Helianthus annuus). I already discarded two solid green ones, and I think the one at the top left will have to go too, because it is variegated only on one side. The other three have excellent, evenly distributed variegation, and if they make it to seed-production stage, they should help to improve the overall variegation percentage of the strain going forward.
This one thrills me to no end: a variegated seedling of variegated cockscomb ( Celosia argentea var. cristata ‘Variegata’). On this strain, the usual variegated feature is the crested flowerheads—with an irregular mix of yellow and red—sometimes with a bit of red showing up in leaves and stems. This little beauty shows the more usual kind of variegation, with cream-to-white splashes and speckles. The markings seem to be extending into the new leaves on that side, so with luck, it will end up producing some variegated seeds, too. Then I’ll have to grow them out to see how they perform. With luck, I will eventually be able to offer ‘Hayefield Variegated Variegata’.
The emerging seedlings of gopher spurge ( Euphorbia lathyris): aren’t they cool?
One final new thing: Ipomoea magnusiana. It was easy to germinate, but there is a lot of contradictory information about it, so I’m not sure what to expect. Nice foliage so far, anyway.
Well, that was a pretty good show, considering the tough conditions. Looks like we’re getting back to more “normal” spring conditions soon, thank goodness. I hope spring is treating you well, wherever you’re gardening!
April 15, 2023 April 16, 2023