Spring fling

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By Stephen Westcott-Gratton

Spring is bustin’ out all over” …to mangle the Rodgers and Hammerstein song title ever so slightly. And after about a week of “normal” temperatures, everything seems to be popping out of the ground at the same time.

As if to prove it, a clump of our gorgeous native pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens, Zone 3)—native from Ontario to Yukon—is blooming at the same time as some neighbouring (squirrel-planted) broad-leaved grape hyacinths (Muscari latifolium, Zone 4) which are usually busy producing seed by the time the pasque flowers bloom.

And the warmer temperatures also woke up hungry over-wintering insects. I love bumblebees, mostly because they’re so docile, and I adore stroking their furry backs, often to the amazement of folks who don’t realize what friendly little fellows they actually are. (The only way I know to get stung by a bumblebee is to step on a patch of clover with bare feet). Some gardeners think that in order to support bees, butterflies and other beneficials, you have to plant exclusively native flora, but that simply isn’t the case.

As you can see, this hungry bumble is perfectly prepared to hang upside down to get every last drop of nectar from the dainty Eurasian spring ephemeral, purple fumewort (Corydalis solida, Zone 4).


Other insects prefer slightly stinkier blooms, such as the faintly malodorous Turkestan tulip (Tulipa turkestanica, Zone 3). Each flowering stem bears multiple ivory-white blooms with yellow centres and brown-tipped anthers, perfect for naturalizing in grass. I seem to grow more spring bulbs in my lawn than I do in my flower beds!

Notice the crocus leaves at the top right-hand-side of the photograph: that’s not the maturing foliage of spring crocus bulbs, but rather the spring foliage of autumn crocus bulbs (Crocus speciosus, Zone 3). Once the foliage has matured, they’ll retreat underground until fall, when large, leafless purple crocus flowers will appear—hence their common name, “naked ladies”.

Another springtime favourite is the magenta-purple ‘Wanda’ primrose. Not to be confused with the multi-coloured Wanda Supreme Series, the original ‘Wanda’ is a cross between my all-time favourite flower—the common English primrose (Primula vulgaris, Zone 4)—and Primula juliae (Zone 3) which was discovered in the eastern Caucasus in 1900. ‘Wanda’ was introduced by Bakers Nursery (Wolverhampton, U.K.) at the end of the First World War, and was named after the wife of one of its directors. Note the grassy, maturing foliage of spent Iris reticulata bulbs.

I think that the blooms of our indigenous plantain-leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea, Zone 4), native from Nova Scotia to Ontario, are pretty cool—especially when compared with the flowers of other grassy perennials. The plant itself is clump-forming, but it does tend to self-seed liberally; fortunately, excess seedlings are easy to pull out if you feel you have enough already. And as a bonus, the foliage stays green throughout the winter months, snow or no.

And speaking of unwanted seedlings, weeds like warmer temperatures too! I always feel frustrated at this time of year because when I should be outside pulling weeds, more often than not, I’m inside working at my computer.

But the fact of the matter is that this is the very best time of the year to get rid of those unwanted, uninvited garden hooligans. They can’t hide in clumps of peonies or ornamental grasses (yet!), and because the ground is still so moist, pulling these rogues out will never be easier.

See those few innocent-looking blades of quackgrass (Elymus repens)? Here’s what is likely going on just beneath the soil surface:

The bane of gardeners across Canada since 1861 (when it was first recorded), Eurasian quackgrass is considered one of the three most serious noxious weeds: worldwide it infests 37 different food crops in 65 countries. Now is the best time to pull those darn runners out!

Likewise, a small rosette of dandelion leaves may not seem like a big deal, but those taproots will grow to China if you let them. Remove them by using a trowel to loosen the soil on all four sides of the leafy rosette, and then give a firm but gentle tug. You’ll be amazed (and likely horrified) at what you pull out!

Source: canadiangardening