Very little–this spring is at least 3 weeks behind most recent years. And today is particularly cold, windy, dark and un-springlike. But it is nevertheless time to begin clearing away last year’s growth from the perennial beds, so for the past few days I’ve been working in my shade garden. The spring ephemerals that dominate this garden are the first to emerge, and if I wait too long to clear it, I risk smothering the new growth. Regular readers of this blog know that I advocate leaving the leaves that fall on the perennial beds to provide winter cover and insulation, and I practice what I preach. And in most gardens, I would not have to carefully remove the leaf layer at the first sign of new growth: plants can grow right through most leaf mulch. But my garden is surrounded by Norway maple trees, and their leaves form thick, impermeable layers. If I left them, the tender plants would not be able to get sunlight, and they would die. So I must remove the leaf mulch as well as last year’s growth of stalks that are still standing.
I’ve uncovered most of the shadiest bed, the one where the earliest wildflowers return year after year. The only new growth to be seen was leaf buds of wild ginger (Asarum canadensis); small basal rosettes of columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and great blue lobelia (lobelia siphilitica); last year’s fern leaves, still nicely green; and tiny leaves of Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum). I can’t believe I’ve never written about the latter plant before.
This is a great plant. It’s related to borage; it’s about 18 inches tall and works well as part of a shade garden or groundcover in the shade. It’s called “waterleaf” because the leaves look like they’ve been splashed with water. It blooms in May, and the flowers are most often lavender but may also be white. It spreads showly by means of rhizomes but never becomes aggressive, although it holds its own nicely against more aggressive spreaders like Canada anemone (Anemone canadensis).