I think the nineteenth century saying that “April showers bring May flowers” was true then. However, he didn’t know about global warming and that this week’s weather implies that March showers bring April flowers.
Back in the early nineties, when I first planted Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’ (Summer Snowflake), this lovely, large, snowdrop-looking bulb, bloomed in early May. Since then, the bloom date has slowly backed into April, and now, into March. I spent most of Monday – sunny and fifty degrees – working in the garden, starting to cut back ornamental grasses and perennial stalks that harbored deadheads as winter fuel for birds and insects. Lo and behold, I discovered my Leucojum in bloom although only two inches high for now. This is one of the longest blooming bulbs for us so if you don’t have any in your garden, I highly recommend planting them this coming fall. The only drawback is that the foliage doesn’t go dormant for several months so you need to interplant a perennial that is strong enough to push its way up through the foliage.
The little early bulbs like Galanthus and Eranthis are still blooming but will soon be eclipsed by the early blooming Narcissus. I already see those buds plumping as well as the buds of my tree peony.. Before long, you will be able to see the leaf buds on roses and clematis and that is the time to prune.
When weather permits and you venture out to start spring cleanup, pull as many weeds as you can in order to get a head start on them. Perennials weeds need to be dug because they usually have deep, strong roots. If you have too much bare ground, think about planting a groundcover. One of the best if Ajuga because it will grow in sun or shade, in well-drained soil with average to dry conditions, spreads at a reasonable rate, and is easy to dig and transplant if takes more space than desired.
Ajuga reptans is the species to which most of the cultivars on the market belong. It has small, rounded, green leaves that only grow a few inches high and four inch blueish-purple spikes that appear in May. However, there are so many interesting cultivars that the species is rarely used unless plain green is being used as contrast to variegated or colored foliage.
My favorite for many years has been ‘Burgundy Glow’ with its cream, rose, and gray-green variegation. It fits well into the color scheme that many clients request: blue, pink, white, and purple. I find that it prefers partial shade, sometimes scorching in afternoon sun. A newer cultivar, ‘Dixie Chip’, has more pale pink and white.
On the other hand, the purple-leafed and almost black cultivars, such as ‘Chocolate Chip’, ‘Mahogany’, and ‘Black Scallop’ love full sun. Additionally, their leaves are a bit larger and glossy and because of their size, cover the ground more quickly with the exception of ‘Chocolate Chip’ which spreads slowly.
I’ve recently become acquainted with another cultivar, ‘Golden Glow’ that really lights up the shade. The leaves are sage green with creamy yellow edges. In cool weather, rose tones also color the foliage.
Ajuga is extremely hardy (zones 3-9) and very low maintenance. Deer and other animals leave it unscathed. A large expanse of this groundcover is spectacular in May when it is in bloom. Because of its stoloniferous nature, it is quite useful in preventing erosion on slopes. If planted as a bed edging, be sure to trench the bed to prevent the Ajuga from spreading into the lawn.
I mentioned in my last post that I had a gardening journal to give away. The lucky recipient is Lois Rose who wrote a wonderful explanation of why she deserved the book. What she wrote was a function of having just returned from her fifty-fifth high school reunion. I quote: “I have never recorded the plants, the conditions, the ups and downs so that I could use that information into the future. I have relied on memory ..and I could see that failing in many of my old friends and by extension, myself. This would serve as a new beginning, organizing, recording, remaining optimistic all the way into the future.
Enjoy Spring even though it doesn’t feel like it. And best holiday wishes to all of my gardening friends who will be celebrating Passover and Easter this weekend.