Joys of spring


In about a month, the shade garden in front of the house will look like this: orange columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and pink wild geranium (Geranium maculatum).

I just spent a glorious hour clearing my shade beds of last fall’s leaves and the winter’s detritus (all carefully raked on to the leaf piles to preserve overwintering insects and their larvae). I realized a week or so ago that all the snow that fell on the driveway had been thrown on to the very spot where my earliest spring ephemeral, Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), is planted. Now that the snow is gone and the rain stopped, I raked that garden clear and uncovered emerging leaves of columbine, wild geranium (both in bloom in the photo above), asters, tiarella, heuchera, Virginia waterleaf, and, of course, last  year’s ferns. It was lovely to see them all.

My very dry, sandy soil won’t support some of the showiest spring ephemerals, such as bloodroot and Virginia bluebells, and oh, how I wish it could. But here are some plants that come up reliably for me every spring.


Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), surrounded by foliage of fern, columbine, and shade aster, will bloom in April.


Don’t forget that violets are natives as well, and they are an important butterfly host plant. I encourage them in the lawn and in the shade beds.


Dutchman’s breeches, the earliest flower in my garden, usually blooms around April 1. It was buried in snow until very recently. No sign of it yet.


Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum Virginiana) will bloom in May. Solomon’s seal needs a wetter site than I have so it doesn’t spread much; the waterleaf loves the dry soil.


Canada anemone (Anemone canadensis) is a great groundcover for part shade. It spreads almost a bit too enthusiastically.

What plants are popping up to delight you in your garden?


Offers and upcoming events


Look ahead to spring, when ferns, columbine, and tiarella can grace your shade garden.

Yesterday I told you about Prairie Nursery‘s offer of free shipping on spring orders, available now through January 24 (plants will arrive on the date you specify in spring). Today the catalog for the annual plant sale of the Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College arrived. This is an opportunity to obtain a number of hard-to-find plants, such as spring beauty, golden groundsel, and alternate-leaved dogwood. Place your order by Feb. 21 and pick up your plants in April. Both of these excellent suppliers offer only pure species, which can be better at attracting pollinators than hybrids or cultivars.

On Jan. 25 at 7:30, the Bergen-Passaic chapter of the Native Plant Society of NJ meets for the first time in our new location, the headquarters of the NY-NJ Trail Conference, 600 Ramapo Valley Road, Mahwah. The meeting will be extremely interesting to native plant enthusiasts: the speaker will be Carolyn Summers, author of Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East, and horticulturist at the Native Plant Center. Carolyn will have copies of her book for purchase and signing. At this meeting, we’ll also discuss plans for spring and summer field trips, including one to Carolyn’s garden in the Catskills, so be sure to attend. Contact with any questions.


Aronia melanocarpa (black chokeberry) is one of the wonderful native shrubs you can find at both Prairie Nursery and the Native Plant Center plant sale.

Nature in miniature

Tiarella is one of my favorite spring-blooming natives. It’s in bloom right now. It perhaps is 8 inches high on a good day; I wish it were 8 feet. Here’s a photo of a small clump that’s growing in one of my shade gardens:


There are several species of Tiarella native to North America and Eurasia. Tiarella cordifolia is our native eastern species. It likes partial or full shade and medium soil moisture (my soil is very dry and sandy, so although the tiarella comes back every year and blooms nicely, it doesn’t spread as enthusiastically as I would like it to). The leaves are heart-shaped and somewhat variegated. If your site is even somewhat moist, this plant could gradually form a lovely groundcover for you.