An afternoon stroll through the landscape during the latter half of April is a joy for all the senses. The sights, sounds and fragrances of the emerging garden beckon us forth, as each day Mother Nature applies another brush stroke of color to the broadening palette of the spring landscape.
An afternoon stroll through the landscape during the latter half of April is a joy for all the senses.
Songbirds flit about the treetops singing their spirited springtime melodies as they perform their annual courtship rituals and begin gathering materials for weaving their remarkably intricate nests. The heavenly perfume of multi-colored hyacinths drifts across the garden carried by a warm gentle breeze. As the downy buds of pink and purple pasque flowers (Pulsatilla vulgaris) begin to unfold, their soft fuzzy leaves are irresistible to touch.
The sights, sounds and fragrances of the emerging garden beckon us forth, as each day Mother Nature applies another brush stroke of color to the broadening palette of the spring landscape.
Drifts of deep-blue scillas and lavender-blue chionodoxa create a magnificent backdrop for daffodils and early-blooming perennials. A few dozen tiny bulbs were planted many years ago and have naturalized throughout my shady borders as perennials were moved about transporting the dormant bulbs along with them.
As the foliage of these lovely little bulbs declines, the broad leaves of hosta help to conceal their yellowing leaves. Clusters of grape hyacinths in shades of blue and pure white are beginning to bloom and serve as attractive companions for primroses, pansies, tulips and daffodils.
For bulbs to bloom reliably from year to year, it is essential that their foliage not be removed until it is brown, for this is how the plant manufactures food to carry the bulb through dormancy and produce next year’s flowers. Consistent moisture, good drainage and an application of fertilizer while these bulbs are actively growing will further assist in their annual return and promote future blooms.
The handsome hellebores are spectacular this season, most likely appreciative of this winter’s snow cover. Last spring, these harbingers of spring were nearly silent due to unseasonable winter warmth followed by frigid temperatures, which toppled their premature flower stalks. Gratefully, most of these resilient shade-loving perennials fully recovered and their early blooms have been well worth the wait.
The elegant white blossoms of the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) are in full bloom with large cup-shaped flowers that unfold atop rigid, fleshy stems. As their silky, white petals age, they gradually acquire tints of dusty rose. Unfortunately, despite the reports that hellebores are deer-resistant, a large percentage of blooms were devoured prior to opening by these foraging beasts, and a few plants were actually uprooted as they feasted on the plump buds.
Nearby, several clumps of Lenten roses (H. orientalis) are covered with dozens of nodding, saucer-shaped blooms that will persist for weeks. Apparently, these plants must be less palatable to my furry intruders as their blooms have never been touched despite their proximity to their cousins.
Dozens of hellebore hybrids have been developed in recent years, greatly expanding the color range and flower forms of these sturdy perennials. In addition to the traditional mauve-colored blossoms, these updated cultivars may produce clusters of 2- to 3-inch blooms in shades of pink, purple, yellow, green or white, many generously spotted with contrasting freckles, in both single and double flower forms.
These unique early-bloomers prefer moisture-retentive, organic soils in dappled shade and offer multi-season interest with their long-lasting blooms and leathery, evergreen foliage.
Perhaps the most popular blooms of springtime are provided by sunny yellow forsythia bushes. Effective as a hedge or in a mixed shrub border, flower color ranges from icy lemon to electrifying golden yellow. These rapidly growing shrubs are extremely adaptable to a wide variety of conditions but thrive in moisture-retentive soils in full sun, sending up suckering shoots to quickly produce multi-stemmed bushes up to 10 feet high and wide.
As flowers fade, a severe pruning of this vigorous shrub will promote compact growth. Old, thick, woody canes should be cut to the ground and removed entirely. Buds will be formed later in the season and an early pruning will maximize flower production on new growth.
Pretty pansies are another springtime favorite providing splashes of color in containers, window boxes and along garden paths. Available in every color of the rainbow, their smiling faces are irresistible to young and old alike. These cool-weather plants will continue to flourish well into summer if grown in moisture-retentive soils in filtered sunlight. For continuous bloom, remove spent flowers regularly and pinch back leggy stems to encourage compact plants.
The fuzzy, gray buds on the tips of magnolias have swelled and split to reveal hints of the spectacular blooms that rest within the attractive velvety capsules. In the days to come, the dramatic blossoms will unfold to display the glistening, starry snow-white blossoms of Magnolia stellata and the giant pink and white satiny goblets of the teacup magnolia (M. soulangeana).
Numerous cultivars of magnolias have become readily available in recent years that provide even greater diversity in bloom color and extend the bloom season. Several hybrids such as M. loebneri "Leonard Messel," M. "Ricki" and M. "Susan" produce lilac-colored blooms later in the spring season that often avoid the damage of late-season frosts. Additional varieties bear appealing lemon-yellow blossoms including M. "Elizabeth" and M. "Goldfinch."
As evening approached, the slanted rays of the setting sun electrified the fluffy rusty-red and yellow blooms of our native swamp maples. Nearby, the silvery silken catkins of pussy willows have erupted to become fluffy, pale-yellow flowers that sparkled in the sunlight.
A perfect spring day came to a close as the resonating tones of spring peepers drifted through the meadow from the nearby wetlands while robins serenaded the glory of spring.
Suzanne Mahler is an avid gardener, photographer and lecturer who has been developing the 1.5-acre property surrounding her home in Hanover, Mass., for more than 30 years. She is a member of two local garden clubs, past President of the New England Daylily Society, an overseer for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and is employed at two garden centers.