Goshen gardener welcomes spring

Spring comes gently to Goshen; even now, in late April, the woods are brown and the weather often chilly.
But by early May dainty ephemeral wildflowers — Spring Beauties, Dogs Tooth Violets, Bellwort, Trillium and Dutchman’s Breeches to mention some favorites — will blanket the forest floor as the delicate green veil gradually creeps up the mountainside.
And in my garden, as if to make up for lost time, spring progresses by leaps and bounds with an intensity and urgency that is totally unmatched at any other time of year. Throughout the month of May flowering trees and shrubs, perennials and bulbs, will all burst forth in a rainbow of colors to celebrate winter’s end.
But spring is also fleeting, lasting just a few short weeks. By early June it is time for the flowers of early summer — lilacs and peonies, roses and irises, catmint and salvia — to take center-stage in our gardens.
The first flowers of spring grow low to the ground. After all, in just a few short weeks they will complete their entire annual cycle of growth, flowering and setting seed. So, to make a bold statement in the garden, I like to mass lots of them — same kinds or different kinds — together.
Fortuitously the bright clear colors of our favorite spring flowers all mix easily together — blues that match the hue of the mid-day sky shine against brilliant pinks, light purples and lots of yellow, and of course the greeny-yellow of young tender leaves.
To illustrate some of the many ways of combining the bountiful flowers of spring, I would like to share with you four different corners of my own garden and the spring flowers that thrive there. All are easily grown and all would make lovely additions to any North Country garden. You can see lots more pictures of these harbingers of spring at http://northcountryreflections.com/welcome-spring.
On the barn slope
The whole of this steep western-facing slope, capped by a handsome 75-year old farm barn, is easily visible from the house. The path up to my vegetable garden bisects the space, and a rustic boulder wall runs along the base. In springtime this is a sunny space, but by early June nearby ash trees will cast their shadows during the middle of the day.
After last week’s warm weather the snow has finally receded and all across the slope snowdrops have emerged, telling me that spring has begun in the mountains. Before long it will be time for the pink Spring Vetch, Lathyrus vernus “Rosenelfe,” an easily grown member of the sweet pea family that grows just a foot or so high, interspersed by lots of pale yellow daffodils, to put on their show.
In mid-May several large patches of moss phlox (Phlox subulata) will contribute welcome splashes of color as they trail over the wall. I am particularly fond of a bluish purple phlox (which has been in my garden for eons) growing beside a clump of bright yellow Aurinia “Basket go Gold”; for several weeks they make a wonderful picture together.
I also use the space behind the wall to experiment with new plants — or at least plants that are new to me. Now several sizable clumps of creamy double Hellebores, as well as three kinds of trillium, grow in this easily accessible soil. This spring I will also be carefully watching to see if a small patch of Bunchberries (Cornus canadensis) I planted a few years back will finally bloom for me.
Under the serviceberries
By the end of April the native serviceberries (Amelanchier arborea) in the woods around here will burst into flower. For me this amazing sight is like “Snow In The Springtime.”
But, not to be outdone, at the entrance to our back garden I planted four smaller Shadblow Serviceberries (A. canadensis) that each spring create a dainty white canopy over the bed below.
Most of the bed is lightly shaded which has proven to be the perfect environment for some of our beloved native woodland wildflowers, including Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) with clear white flowers, purple woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata), the delicate Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla), some fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia) and plenty of Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia). Near the front of the bed, you can’t miss a Koreanspice bush (Viburnum carlesii) which fills the air with its heady fragrance. This small bush is surrounded by a carpet of bright pink Japanese Primroses (Primula kisoana). I do note however, that, while I love the brilliant color of these particular primroses in my spring garden, they need to be enclosed with a six-inch root barrier to prevent them from over-running other less exuberant neighbors.
And towards the back of the bed, which is more heavily shaded, the arrow-shaped leaves of Barrenwort (Epimedium versicolor “sulpureum” and Epimedium x rubrum) create a pleasant groundcover all season long.
In the shade of old maples
Three ancient maple trees and a massive grey rock, no doubt a relic of the ice age, dominate our small front garden. This wonderful craggy rock surface also forms a stunning backdrop for the small flowerbed that I enjoy from my study window. And, despite the inevitable encroaching roots of those old maples, this space is filled with spring flowers, as well as Variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum “Variegatum”), Hostas and Ligularia dentata that gradually fill out as summer progresses.
Throughout May the low growing spring perennials in this bed create a delightful study in blue and yellow. There are lots of yellow English primroses (Primula vulgaris) interspersed with our lovely native Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), as well as some blue lungwort (Pulmonaria) among the yellow globeflowers (Trollius chinensis). Some English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) of my youth are gradually filling in on the grassy bank towards the road.
Finally in the third week of May, as spring is running its course, two large azalea bushes, Rhododendron “White Lights” and R. “Bright Lights,” come into flower and steal the scene. And, since they are also easily visible from our quiet road, sometimes people driving along will pull over to inquire what they are.
In the wild
About 10 years ago I planted some “naturalizing bulbs” including the lovely blue Cama (Camassia quamash) amongst the dangling bells of Summer Snowflake, (Leucojeum aestivum) in the meadow around the pond. Each year they have gradually expanded in the moist soil and cast their reflections in the water.
Also over the years I planted lots of carefree daffodils in my flowerbeds. However all daffodil bulbs will multiply in place and eventually start to take over valuable bed space. So each June I make a habit of digging up clumps that have outgrown their welcome and relocating them to the meadow or along the edge of the woods, and even beside the road. This chore is best done as soon the flowers have died back, and before the leaves turn brown and disappear.
In these wilder areas of my garden they have continued to flourish, and each spring they emerge out of the cold ground to create a “Host Of Golden Daffodils,” as immortalized two centuries ago by William Wordsworth.
Judith Irven and Dick Conrad live in Goshen where together they nurture a large garden. Judith is a Vermont Certified Horticulturist, garden writer and landscape designer. You can subscribe to her blog about her Vermont gardening life at www.northcountryreflections.com. Dick is a landscape and garden photographer; you can see more of his photographs at www.northcountryimpressions.

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