We are in that time of year when winter is still here, but we know that spring is just around the corner. This can be frustrating for gardeners, especially if we have beautiful, sunny warm days in the middle of February that really set off ‘spring fever’ in all of us. The Garden is just beginning to awaken at this time of year. Below you will find some beautiful plants to brighten your days.February: Lenten rose
The woodland garden comes alive with the early-blooming Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus) during February. This evergreen perennial is wonderful to use in a mass and makes a great companion plant for spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils, bluebells and spring snowflakes, or hostas and hardy ferns. The coarse textured foliage is a striking contrast to the finer textured selections of ferns, especially Japanese painted fern.
The common name Lenten rose refers to its early flowering, often during the season of lent. The blooms are made of four to five bracts surrounding a cluster of stamens that resemble an old-fashion, single rose flower. Colors generally range from white to rosy pink with differing shades and hues in between. Recent breeding work has added double forms, as well as more color variation especially on the darker burgundy end.
Lenten rose is drought tolerant once established, has few pest and disease problems, needs pruning only to remove the older foliage, and - most importantly - deer leave it alone. The Garden has several large masses of Lenten rose in our woodland areas, primarily on the Nature Trail and Dogwood Trail.
March offers a host of weather situations ranging from snow, sleet, hail, high winds to beautiful sunshine and gentle breezes. Throughout this changing weather, daffodils are in bloom at the Garden. In the south, I would say that daffodils are one of the easiest and best bulbs for us to grow which return year after year. There are many species and cultivars of daffodils to choose from that offer variety in season of bloom, flower size, fragrance, and flower color. They are exceptionally hardy and persist in the garden for years as long as they are allowed to die back naturally each year.
Throughout the Garden you will find patches of naturalized daffodils. Our earliest blooming selection is ‘February Gold.’ This small-blooming cultivar is found along the path of the Four Seasons Garden. Our latest blooming selection is ‘Thalia’ and is a beautiful pure white that can be found surrounding the Flower Pot treehouse just outside of the Linda J. Smith Visitor Center. Numerous cultivars throughout the Garden bloom between these two selections, especially under the canopy of deciduous trees.
As April approaches and the threat of frost passes, the Garden’s many azaleas start to bloom. Thousands of azaleas have been planted over the years, and, as these plants grow and mature, the floral display will become more spectacular. Two main types of azaleas are planted at the Garden: evergreen selections (mostly species and cultivars from the Far East) and deciduous species native to the southeastern United States. Both are beautiful in their own way and provide a wonderful addition to the Garden’s botanical display.
Evergreen azaleas are planted throughout the Garden from the entrance all the way back to the South Loop. Over the years, the Garden has planted an extensive collection of cultivars showing the different forms of azaleas available in the nursery trade. Since the Encore azalea series was introduced by a nursery in Alabama, we try to make sure that we have all the cultivars introduced in this series. Encores are known for blooming three times a year, which is a wonderful attribute. However, the floral display on many other spring blooming azaleas is more dramatic since they only flower once.
In the years to come, I believe that our Garden will be known for the incredible native azalea collection that is planted throughout the site. Vernon Bush has planted thousands of native azalea seedlings in the Nature Trail and Azalea Trail, along with hundreds of named cultivars and hybrids that have been donated to the Garden. This spring floral display of these beautiful native azaleas is absolutely spectacular. Plan to walk our trails throughout the month of April to insure that you do not miss a single flower.