Thursday, April 1, 2010

They're Baaack! Spring wildflowers Going Wild!

Tulip magnolia, in full glorious bloom

My garden is finally beginning to come back. Winter is gone, and I'm cleaning up the last of the detrius from the trees and dead stalks from last year's blooms. The toads have spent the last four days serenading non-stop, 24-7, with an occasional frog chiming in the chorous. The air is perfumed with tulip magnolia, hyacinths and daffodils and clear spring air. Every day there is a new wildflower blooming in the woods, and I'm so amazed at how they've spread! Yellow adder's tongue, an ephemeral which only stays for a few weeks and is gone, is blooming some 20' away from its original patch, and that colony has tripled in the past few years. This dainty (but not delicate!) little wildflower appeared in my woods on its own some 15 years ago, popping up baby leaves and completely covering a section of path. There were no blooms for three or four years, and then the whole patch seemed to burst into yellow stars at once! I always have to block the path so they don't get stepped on for a few weeks, and then just as suddenly as they appeared, they are gone.

When I first started planting spring wildflowers, mostly rescued from places that were doomed due to development, I kept them cosseted and protected, anxiously searching every spring for their return. One in particular, those dainty yellow violets, returned faithfully in the same spot every year for maybe 5 years, and then suddenly, one year, they disappeared! I was soo disapointed, as they are among my favorites--and then I discovered them, 20' away, and not just three or four plants but hundreds of them! Apparently the seeds had been carried, and they had been quietly gathering forces where I wasn't looking. Now they are everywhere in the woods and it is difficult to walk without stepping on them, much like their cousins, the common blue violets and all of THEIR kin, which include the Confederate violet, a red one that was given to me by a friend, and a couple varieties of white ones. Two years ago, I purchased (with my eyes wide open, mind you) a pot of Korean violets, with pretty long, speckled leaves. I read the tag, it DID say "will naturalize", and I do know what that means! But they are beautiful and I forgive their promiscous ways. I just keep transplanting them out of the paths as I hate stepping on them. I know they aren't North American natives, but I am not so much a purist that I won't plant anything else. (If I was, I wouldn't have any hostas, which are native to Japan!)  I also have several other varieties, some of them cultivars, like Freckles, which is white with purple "freckles" but none are quite as untamed. Bird's foot violets, their big and beautiful blooms appearing later in the spring, love the sun and spread slowly (not nearly fast enough for me) but I suppose one of these years I'll be looking at the colony of them and wondering, as I have about other varieties, how on earth did there get to be so many of them?!!

Pretty yellow violets

Common blue violet. To some, they are hated weeds in the garden as they reseed so vigorously!

Dutchman's breeches. They have, as they say, "spread nicely" throughout the woods.
Posted by PicasaSpring wildflowers like trilliums, anemones, Dutchman's breeches and Jack-in-the pulpits, transplant very easily in the spring, even while they are blooming. There is about a 3-week window; before that you can't find them, and after, it's too hot and you will have a hard time keeping them alive. Getting plenty of soil with them and keeping them moist seem to be the key. If they are put right back into the ground, they don't seem to even realize that they have been moved; keeping in mind that they need to go into the same kind of growing conditions you found them in. Soil and sun or shade are important issues.  If you are dealing with violets, just slap them into the ground and cover their roots and they don't seem to care, as I've discovered; especially the common blues, which actually seem to prefer sunny spots, as long as there is adequate moisture. Woodland phlox are very easily transplanted also. I have moved them at various times of the year, but kept them watered in the heat and when there hasn't been any rain for a week or so until they are established, and then, as with most of the spring denizens of the woods, they are on their own!

 In times of summer drought, many ofthese beautiful spring flowers retreat underground and go dormant, saving their energy, and sometimes that is a scary thing because you think you have lost them, but never fear, they will be back next spring!

The first of the wild phloxs to open up, yesterday. Soon the woods wil be full of them! There are cultivars available such as White Perfume, and they will hybridize and interbreed so there may be a variety of colors from white to pale lavender, pink, the common blue, and deep purple shades. They bloom quite a long time and are all very fragrant! Beautiful with hostas and in a shady garden bed.

Virgina Bluebells, spring 2008. They are not quite open yet this spring.

Some of the spring ephemerals don't stick around, even when there is a good year with plentiful rain, like the adder's tongue and Virginia bluebells. Now there is a plant that will colonize! I started with, I think, three plants, one in the woods and one in a wildflower garden by the pergola at the entrance of the "secret garden". After a few years living in quiet solitude, they began exploring, scattering seeds in all directions. The colonies are quite large, especially the one next to the pergola, which has a gravel path leading up to it and stone path thru and beyond to the woods. There, they reseed prolifically, and I have to keep digging up the babies and moving them out of harm's way into the woods. They do, incidentally, move without even noticing, but you have to get them when they are just showing a leaf or two because they have a long taproot like a carrot and if they have gotten big enough to bloom, well, you can forget that! They, also, have gotten to the point of crowding the stone path as to make walking without stepping on them difficult. (I missed a few babies!) But they too, are brief, blooming and gone in a few weeks time and they are so beautiful that I forgive them.

Jacob's ladder (Polemonium) is another pretty wildflower, usually available at a garden center or can be purchased from a catalog. Another beautiful blue, it can make a huge clump so don't underestimate the space to give it in your shady garden. It will also reseed vociferously if you forget to deadhead it. It is a mid spring bloomer, already with a lot of buds but not open for another week.

Another shady garden wildflower that you might find offered for sale is giant Solomon's seal. Often in a variegated form, it is rhizatomous and spreads vigorously so give this plenty of room. It doesn't play well with others, however, and likes to crowd out smaller neighbors. Other smaller Solomon's seals are equally as invasive but not as piggy about the ground they grow on, and interact well with trilliums (which can be just as agressive, I just let them fight it out) and others. It can be a good ground cover for a shady spot but is not evergreen, it does die back in the fall but with a wonderful golden color.

Wild ginger, just starting to unfold it's leaves. The deep maroon flowers will be hidden under the leaves, and are pollinated by snails!

Wild ginger is a shady woods ground cover that you will often find on hikes in the woods, also is offered frequently for the shade garden. And cover ground it will! But the rhizatomous roots of these leave plenty of room for other plants to come up among them, including Dutchman's breeches, bloodroot, ferns, bulbs, and other wild treasures.

The most important rule about transplanting wildflowers: NEVER DIG THEM FROM THE WILD! The only exception to this rule is if they are endangered and about to be bulldozed, and even then you should get permission as it is still someone else's property. If you are moving them around in your own woods, then they are yours and you can do with them what you like, but please be kind! They are a precious resource and should be protected. Sometimes you can gather seeds and propagate them that way.
A book that I like:"Growing and Propagating Wildflowers" by Harry R. Phillips

And keep singing! It's spring!


  1. Nice,

    I wish I had time to work on our garden like you do!

  2. Wow. You have amazing wildflowers up there.

  3. Quite a collection you have there! I feel too ways about the violets, I love how they look in spring, but they're awful the rest of the year, so I'm keeping them out of my garden (even the native violets). In the end, we want something pretty to look at -- sure looks like you do!