Ephemeral Woodland Wildflowers & Return of the Ethereal Hermit Thrush…

April 25th, 2011 § 22 comments § permalink

Red Trillium (Trillium erectum)

There’s no place quite like New England for experiencing three seasons in one day. Sunday morning I rose to find a chilly house and snow covered gardens. Soon –with the sun shining brightly outside– temperatures soared to 63°. Breakfast in the snowy garden … Well, why not? I threw open the entryway doors, soaked up the warm rays, and sipped my morning coffee.

As I sat gazing upon the blushing hillside, taking in the quiet still of morning air, I heard a sweet, long-anticipated sound in the distance. Rising and falling —a mystery in shadowy hemlock boughs— the ethereal song of the hermit thrush echoed through the trees. Flute-like and gently warbling, the sound of this bird’s melancholy voice always bring tears to my eyes. All thrushes have beautiful songs —I’m particularly fond of the twilight serenade of the veery and the haunting, melodic and supremely beautiful voice of the wood thrush— but the return of the hermit to my mountain top signals spring like nothing else. The hermit thrush is the sound of childhood memory —dusky riverbeds and humid, rainy mornings— and it will always be my favorite (click on name of bird to listen to its song at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology online).

Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot) takes its name from the bright red sap of its roots

This morning, seduced by woodland’s springtime song, I pulled on my raincoat and ventured into the damp darkness —filled with the musky scent of leaf mold and dewy moss— to find an explosion of life emerging on the forest floor. Busy bees hummed about in the mist and silver-tipped fiddleheads shimmered in the dim light. The first two flowers I spotted were Red Trillium (Trillium erectum, pictured at top of article) and Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, above). Sometimes called ‘Stinking Benjamin’ due to its odor (personally, I don’t find it all that offensive, even close-up), Trillium erectum blooms a beautiful, maroon-red color. Hardy in USDA zones 3-9, the trilliums —members of the lily family— prefer moist woodland soil and make lovely shade garden plants (be sure to purchase trillium from a reputable grower – never dig plants from the wild). Due to its summer-time dormancy, this perennial is best combined with other shade plants. Red and White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) are particularly lovely companions to lady fern (Athyrium filix feminina) and cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea).

The beautiful, starry flowers of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, pictured above) are among the earliest blossoms both in my garden and surrounding forest (USDA zone 3-9). Rich in pollen, early-flowering Bloodroot flowers are an important source of food for bees and pollinating flies. Although its white flowers are lovely in combination with many early-blooming bulbs and perennials, this is one springtime ephemeral that needs no leafly companion for summer-time camouflage. Bloodroot’s intricately-edged, long-lasting leaves make an excellent ground-cover in shady situations (particularly beneath shrubs and trees, in well-drained soil).

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) – one of the earliest blooming North American wildflowers in my forest

The last flower I spotted this morning was the charming Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria, pictured above). Dutchman’s Breeches —as well as fragrant Squirrel Corn (D. canadensis), Wild Bleeding Heart (D. eximia) and other members of this lovely group of wildflowers— are an important source of springtime nectar for pollinators like bumble bees, honeybees and other long tongued bees. Various dicentra species are native to moist woodlands throughout North America (most are hardy in zones 3-8), and these delicately textured native plants make fine additions to the shade garden. Like most springtime ephemerals, the foliage yellows and withers in dormancy, so it’s best to combine these perennials with large-leafed companions (ferns, astilbe, coral bells, etc).

Trillium erectum: So what if it doesn’t smell nice! I still think it’s one of the prettiest springtime flowers

Native forest flora and fauna have always fascinated me –a childhood interest nurtured by my knowledgable woodsman father– and while growing up here in New England, I learned to identify most native plant and animal species from my dad. My love of woodland wildflowers and native plants only grows deeper with each passing year, and I enjoy sharing my passion with others. The Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center and The New England Wildflower Society are two great, non-profit, online resources for native plant enthusiasts. Learning to identify, protect and grow native plants helps support wildlife; including bee, butterfly and bird populations.

William Cullina’s Wildflowers

I’ve mentioned favorite horticultural author, William Cullina’s books here many times, and his book, Wildflowers, with The New England Wildflower Society, is never far from reach during the growing season. An excellent native plant resource for North American gardeners —including those in the west— this book serves as both an encyclopedia of plants and growers guide-book to perennial wildflowers. In honor of The Gardener’s Eden’s anniversary this month, I will be giving away a copy of this beautiful book.*

To enter, simply leave a comment on today’s post, and in your comment, name your favorite wildflower and why you love it. Be sure to correctly enter your email address so that I can contact you if you win the giveaway (your email won’t be visible to others, nor will it be shared or sold). Your entry must be received by 11:59 pm Eastern Time, Friday, April 29th. A winner will be randomly chosen from all entries received in comments, and announced 4/30 here on this post, on The Gardener’s Eden Facebook page, and also on Twitter. Due to shipping constraints, this giveaway is open to readers in the United States and Canada only.

Good Luck! xo Michaela

*This is an unsponsored giveaway- book purchased by Michaela. All reviews are purely editorial, and are based on the personal experience and opinions of this author.

congratulations to wendy, winner of william cullina’s wildflowers!

Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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“Native Plants: Why We Love Them and How to Use Them” – Free Seminar – This Saturday at Walker Farm in Southern Vermont – Please Join Me …

May 13th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Native mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, (here a cultivar named ‘Pink Charm’), are durable, evergreen plants suitable for ledgy, exposed sites… far more hardy than their more tender cousins, the rhododendrons. To read more about Kalmia latifolia, click here.

I am very fortunate. This place in Vermont, where I live, is a true paradise and I cherish it. Every morning I wake up to the beautiful sights, sounds and smells of the Northeast American native forest. The songs of the veery, hermit and wood thrush, the mist rising from the Green River valley and the fragrance of the woodland surrounding my home relax and comfort me. Of course, I am not alone – many people, including a great number of my friends, share this passion for the native forest, and I love hearing about their woodland hikes, experiences and discoveries. I have also traveled throughout North America, and I know that every spot I have visited on this continent -as well as those I have yet to see- has it’s own unique and irreplaceable natural environment. This great love of nature is part of the reason that our native plant species are so important to me. There are many, many beautiful trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants all over the world -and I do have quite the collection of exotics growing here in my garden- but none more beautiful or important than those growing naturally outside my front door.

As is often the case with horticultural terms and phrases, native plant can have different definitions and meanings, depending upon the source of the information. In the strictest sense -and according to The New England Wild Flower Society–  when describing woody plants and perennials on this continent, the term native “refers to plants growing in North America before the European settlement”. Does this definition include species cultivars that have occurred since the European settlement through natural selection? I imagine so. But I would expect that the NEWFS definition excludes individual cultivars and hybrids created via the hand-of-man. My own definition of  native plant is somewhat looser and more tolerant of the various seedlings and crosses commonly found in gardens and in the nursery trade – but I’m no research scientist. Perhaps because one of my favorite North American native trees, Serviceberry, (Amelanchier) , is a horticultural wild-child, (freely hybridizing with neighboring species within the genus), I see the process of plant evolution as inevitable and fascinating. Mother nature seems to approve of variety, as do I !

Beautiful, spring blooming trees of the forest understory, such as North American native Halesia tetraptera, are excellent choices for home landscapes…

Beyond their obvious importance in the natural ecosystem, native plants also make fantastic additions to the garden. In fact so many North American native species, such as coral bells, (Heuchera), coneflower, (Echinacea), gayfeather, (Liatris), and cranesbill, (Geranium), have become such superstars in the nursery trade, that many gardeners have no idea that many common garden center plants are actually wild-flower cultivars. As far as I am concerned, that is good news because native plants, and nursery-grown native cultivars, provide season-spanning food and habitat for local animals and insects, and they also tend to require less water, commercial fertilizer and chemical support than imported plants. And again, I am no purist when it comes to my own garden. I have a great passion for exotic plants – especially Japanese maple! However, I make every effort to garden responsibly, both in my own private paradise, and in the various landscapes where I work as a professional gardener and designer.

This Saturday morning, (May 15, 2010, from 9:30 – 10:30), I will be presenting a free, introductory seminar on native plants for home gardeners at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. If you are in the area, and you would like to learn more about how to use some of these incredibly beautiful and hardy plants in your own landscape, please stop in and join the fun. The emphasis will be on home garden design; creating season-spanning interest, and wildlife support in your back yard oasis, by choosing trees, shrubs and perennials native to the Northeastern United States. Examples of lesser-known native plants will be on display, and free color handouts, (including design tips, plant information, and online resources), will also be provided. Visit Walker Farm online or call 802 – 254-2051 for more information.

Native Lady fern, (athyrium felix feminina), and selected cultivars such as ‘Lady in Red’, shown here, provide shady habitat for toads and frogs, and durable but delicate beauty for dappled gardens… Especially in combination with other natives such as Heuchera and Phlox divaracata.

An excellent ground-covering choice for acidic, shady areas, native labrador violets are stunners whether blooming or not…

Clethra alnifolia, our native summersweet, is a low-maintenance shrub producing pollinator-magnet flowers in late summer…

Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’ is a lovely, select pink-flowering cultivar of our native summersweet shrub, shown above

Aruncus, commonly known as the ‘goat’s beard’, is a statuesque June bloomer for perennial borders and woodland edge…

Fothergilla major, (witch alder), and Lindera benzoin,(spicebush), provide a changing backdrop for gardens all season long…

By combining native shrubs and cultivars, a natural but dynamic, sustainable design can be achieved…

Fothergilla gardenii, our native witch alder, lights up the garden in spring and again in late autumn…

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For further information on native plants, I highly recommend the following books by Allan Armitage and William Cullina; two accomplished, renowned, horticulturalists and brilliant and poetic authors I admire…

William Cullina – Wildflowers

William Cullina – Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines

Armitage’s Native Plants for North American Gardens

Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at TGE

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