Early Spring
from March 2000

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One of the joys of life at Suncrest, where plants from so many regions and climates come together, lies in watching the birth of a new spring. California and other Mediterranean-climate natives begin their preparation with the first fall rains, growing through the winter and putting on a sometimes dazzling floral display before drought forces a halt to their activity. Alpine and other mountain plants often flower as the snows recede and need only a slight rise in temperatures here to burst forth. And even among plants of the temperate forests and plains, some simply insist on an early start. All of this conspires to make March an exciting time. With far too many favorites to mention, I hope you'll enjoy the few plants that follow.

A recent shrubby acquisition for us, already well-known and loved in the Northwest, is Corylopsis pauciflora, or winter hazel. This is a beautiful 6-10' shrub of the witch-hazel family, with slender zigzag stems and dark, neatly veined leaves. At this moment clusters of small, sweetly fragrant, greenish yellow bells are beginning to appear all along the bare stems. Winter hazel is easily grown in any reasonably well-drained, non-alkaline soil. It should have light afternoon shade away from the coast.

A much smaller, evergreen shrub of the heath family is Andromeda polifolia, or bog rosemary. Our current selection, 'Nana', forms hummocks about 1' high, with hundreds of crowded, wiry stems and narrow blue-green leaves, which are rolled under along the margins. It greets early spring with masses of small lantern-shaped flowers. These are deep pink in bud, shaded pink and white as they expand. Bog rosemary needs an acid, well-drained soil, like that appreciated by many azaleas, and thrives in sun or shade along the coast, part shade inland.

On the perennial front, the mustard family provides an amazing number of showy March bloomers. Many of these are useful in either low borders or rock gardens. Arabis blepharophylla 'Spring Charm', rock cress, is the selected form of a coastal California native. It forms low, dense crowns of shoots, with dark, oval 1-2" leaves. Sprays of dazzling purplish red four-petalled blossoms, each about 3/4" across, erupt with the first breath of spring. The genus Erysimum, or wallflower, contains several beautiful matting perennials from Europe and Asia. E. pulchellum is a broad, soft mat with toothed narrow leaves and many small orange flowers on each 6" stem. The hybrid selection 'Jubilee' has broader, more densely packed leaves and brilliant yellow 3/4" flowers. In both cases, the flowers are delightfully fragrant. All three of these rewarding perennials delight in a sunny spot in the garden, with well-drained soil and moderate to occasional summer watering.

Too many plants, too little space.