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East Coast Blooming List

March 2012

Spring Blues

Leonard J. Buck Garden, Far Hills, NJ

It's the color of sky and ocean, often described as peaceful, secure, and orderly – the color blue. It signifies trust, confidence, faithfulness, loyalty, intelligence and unity and is the reason why police officers wear blue. Blue is a favorite color of many and the color most preferred by men.

What better flower to add to your garden than blue? Visit the Leonard J. Buck Garden and see and feel the blues.

Blue begins in the Garden with early sprouting bulbs. Dwarf iris, grape hyacinth, blue squill, and Spanish bluebells look amazing by themselves or among yellow daffodils and vibrant red tulips.

Iris reticulata, dwarf blue iris, adds early color and seems impervious to snow and often the short, grassy leaves emerge from frozen ground. The flower is quite large in relationship to the plant as a whole, and has a wonderful fragrance, somewhat like a violet. Each flower has six petals: three reflexed "falls” and three upright "standards." Standards are usually smaller than the falls. The true species has narrow, bold blue-purple standards and a gold central stripe marks the falls.

Iris reticulate 'Cantab' has flax-blue flowers, lighter at the tips, and white-rimmed, yellow blotches. I. reticulate 'Harmony' produces bluebird-blue standards and royal-blue falls with a white-edged yellow blotch; one of the best. I. reticulate 'Alida' flowers are soft, clear blue in varying shades with drops of butter yellow and flecks of white; a nice addition to this group. I. 'Pixie' has the richest of blues in the Iris genus. It makes an unforgettable sight planted in large drifts with yellow crocus as contrast.

Dwarf blue iris need well-drained soil. Plant them on mounds, in raised beds or troughs, and in rock gardens. They grow well with full sun to mostly shade. A vigorous grower, Iris reticulate will return each year and occasionally naturalize & spread, though sometimes they die out after a few years. They give a great show when there's little other color in the garden.

Muscari botryoides, grape hyacinth, bears spikes of bluish blooms resembling bunches of grapes hanging upside down, hence the common name. Grape hyacinth perfumes the surrounding air with a subtle, sweet fragrance. They are hardy and well behaved, spreading slowly over the years causing minimal disruption. They thrive in full sun or deciduous shade, and tolerate practically any soil, but prefer well-drained. They are ideal companions for tall bulbs or flowering shrubs and look marvelous in loose sweeps all by themselves.

Scilla siberica, Siberian squill, is another early-flowering bulb for the garden. Its electric blue blossoms are a welcome sign of spring. Clusters of nodding, starry, flowers droop like bells on spikes with dark green, strap-like leaves. The many species of scilla self-propagate freely in full sun or light shade and well-drained soil, living long, trouble-free lives. They naturalize readily in low grass or at the feet of deciduous trees and shrubs. The short stature of most makes them a welcome sight in front of a perennial border or in a rock garden. Siberian squill is one of the most shade tolerant bulbs.

Hyacinthoides hispanica 'Excelsior', Spanish bluebells, are among the last of the spring-blooming bulbs to flower. This underused bulb provides color and contrast to the woodland garden, rock garden or naturalized areas. It is particularly effective in large drifts under deciduous trees or at the margins of shade/woodland gardens. Spanish bluebells grow 8 to 12 inches tall with large clumps of glossy green, strap-like foliage, topped by spiky clusters of bell shaped lavender-blue flowers. It grows easily in well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. 'Excelsior' has deeper, violet-blue flowers and is slightly taller than the species. Spanish bluebells have no serious insect or disease problems.

Spring perennial plants can be found in blue: lungwort, Virginia bluebells, Iris cristata, and Siberian bugloss.

Pulmonaria angustifolia, lungwort, is a clump forming, usually deciduous perennial with hairy, dark green, 8-10-inch leaves. In spring the flowering stem shoots up and bears numerous pink buds that open into funnel-shaped flowers. Like others in the Borage family, the flowers change color as they age, from pink or red to blue. Lungwort grows well in the semi-shady garden, offering deep color under trees. They prefer moist soil but will also do well in average garden soil. In their native environment, lungworts grow on soils ranging from acid to alkaline, dry to wet, sunny to shady, along streams and in mountains. Lungwort grows 10 to 12 inches tall and 18 inches wide.

One of the prettiest blue wildflowers in the garden is Mertensia virginica, Virginia bluebell, a.k.a. Virginia cowslip. This North American native emerges in spring with deep purple leaves that, when exposed to sunlight, turn grayish green. An elegantly arched flower stalk holds clusters of flower buds in colors of gentle pink and lilac. As the buds grow upward to meet the sun and begin to unfold, they turn into a stunning cluster of delicately scented, sky blue, trumpet-shaped flowers that stand tall above the leaves as if they are watching the approach of spring. After blooming, the foliage turns yellow and dies. By June, there will be no trace of these beautiful plants as they go completely dormant. Virginia bluebell grows 18 to 24 inches tall; prefers shade and thrives in acidic, moist to wet, humus-rich woodland-type soil. Virginia bluebell is in the Borage family.

Iris cristata, crested iris, is a dainty, beardless, woodland iris, endemic to the eastern United States. Its wide arching sword-like, leaves arise from a shallow rooted, creeping rhizome, and its sweetly fragrant flowers are very showy. Its blue-violet flower is composed of three sepals, three petals, and three petaloid styles. The sepals are marked with a central white or yellow band having two crested ridges. The flower stems are shorter than the leaves and the showy flowers are often nestled within the clumped foliage. Crested iris grows best in rich, moist but well-drained soil in partial shade.

Brunera macrophylla, Siberian bugloss, displays sprays of tiny, intense blue flowers similar to forget -me-nots over bristly, rough, heart-shaped leaves. Plants are happy in any shady area that stays relatively moist. It does not tolerate of dry soils. Siberian bugloss often self-seeds and appears around the garden in other places. It looks good in front or in the middle of a border, and makes for an attractive and versatile groundcover, particularly under shrubs. The large, heart-shaped, green leaves remain attractive throughout the growing season. Divide the 1-2 foot clumps in early fall. Siberian bugloss adds new interest in the shadiest parts of your garden.

Visit Somerset County's Leonard J. Buck Garden and feel the peace flow over you through the relaxing hues of the color blue. After all, a garden is a perfect place to reflect, relax and rejuvenate to continue life's journey.

- Tricia Scibilia, interpretive gardener, Leonard J. Buck Garden, Somerset County Park Commission:
**Photos by Tricia Scibilia unless otherwise noted

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