We often think of early spring as daffodils and mid spring as tulips. They steal the show and we love them for so many reasons – they come in a stunning variety of shapes and colors and bloom for weeks in our gardens. Lately, however, I’ve been appreciating all of the supporting actors in the gardens that make this show even more impressive. The North Garden has about 1100 tulips in bloom right now. That is more than we have had since I first started working here at Blithewold. What really draws it all together and makes it feel like one complete piece are the supporting plants – summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’), catmint (Nepeta ‘Early Bird’), sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima cv.), and the Korean spice bushes (Viburnum carlesii).
This picture of the North Garden illustrates the cohesiveness that is created through the strategic placement of summer snowflake throughout the long border garden. This perennial bulb will fade as the spring progresses and eventually the foliage will die back so much that one may forget it was ever here (much like a daffodil). It is the gift that keeps on giving every spring. The garden is punctuated by the Korean spice bush, whose perfume wafts gently on the breeze. The other morning I was hit with sweet successive waves of this heady fragrance. It made working in this beautiful garden on a sunny spring morning even more enjoyable than I thought possible.
Before we leave the North Garden, I want to call your attention to two other perennials that herald the middle of spring – avens and sweet woodruff. We have several cultivars of avens (Geum) planted here. The three that are first to bloom and are all low-growing (they top out at about 10″) are also all named for cocktails – ‘Mango Lassi’, ‘Mai Tai’, and ‘Tequila Sunrise’. We love their sweet peachy colors and reliably early bloom time. Sweet woodruff, on the other hand, is one of those ground cover plants that it would be easy to overlook, but I am grateful for this plant every May when it comes back into bloom here. It does well in part shade and connects all the plants around it with its pretty foliage and little white flowers. Sometimes the most mundane looking plants are the key to making a garden come together.
The Rose Garden enjoys many supporting players as well. Once again, the tulip display is greater than I recall it being in years past, but it is all brought together with a few important team players. Moss phlox (Phlox subulata ‘Emerald Blue’) provides a pretty carpet beneath the show stopping tulips. The forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica) are self-sowing plants that appear in new places every year. It’s fun to see where mother nature has decided to sow these true-blue flowers each year.
The other early spring bulb that is just coming into bloom here is Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica).
They bloom in both pink and blue here in May and then disappear just like the summer snowflake (featured image at top). I enjoy that they have their time and then hide from view until next year. The ever-increasing rose foliage hides their previous existence and we usually remember they were once there when we attempt to plant in that spot. (It’s best to place some type of marker in your garden if you are – like us – always adding in new plants throughout the season.)
I hope that when you visit Blithewold to see the beautiful tulips in the gardens you will notice the perennial plants and bulbs that make the gardens really come alive. After all, they deserve some recognition, too.