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Dreaming of spring: Put a plan in place for this year’s flower gardens

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF SUNNY BORDER NURSERY<br/>Author Cheryl B. Wilson says one of her most important additions to her gardens this spring will be  'Mercury Rising' coriopsis.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF SUNNY BORDER NURSERY
    Author Cheryl B. Wilson says one of her most important additions to her gardens this spring will be 'Mercury Rising' coriopsis. Purchase photo reprints »

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF WWW.PLANTDELIGHTS.COM <br/>The 'Madeline' salvia was introduced by Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF WWW.PLANTDELIGHTS.COM
    The 'Madeline' salvia was introduced by Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Salvia phyllis fancy

    Salvia phyllis fancy Purchase photo reprints »

  • Salvia eucanth midnight

    Salvia eucanth midnight Purchase photo reprints »

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF WWW.PLANTDELIGHTS.COM <br/>Author Cheryl B. Wilson plans to plant  'Anthony Parker' salvia, which she first saw on a trip to the New York Botanical Garden.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF WWW.PLANTDELIGHTS.COM
    Author Cheryl B. Wilson plans to plant 'Anthony Parker' salvia, which she first saw on a trip to the New York Botanical Garden. Purchase photo reprints »

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF SUNNY BORDER NURSERY<br/> The 'Mercury Rising' coriopsis is a new cultivar, bred by central Massachusetts horticulturalist Darrell Probst.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF SUNNY BORDER NURSERY
    The 'Mercury Rising' coriopsis is a new cultivar, bred by central Massachusetts horticulturalist Darrell Probst. Purchase photo reprints »

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF SUNNY BORDER NURSERY<br/> The new cultivar Coriopsis 'Mercury Rising' was bred by Darrell Probst, a central Massachusetts horticulturalis.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF SUNNY BORDER NURSERY
    The new cultivar Coriopsis 'Mercury Rising' was bred by Darrell Probst, a central Massachusetts horticulturalis. Purchase photo reprints »

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF SUNNY BORDER NURSERY<br/>Author Cheryl B. Wilson says one of her most important additions to her gardens this spring will be  'Mercury Rising' coriopsis.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF WWW.PLANTDELIGHTS.COM <br/>The 'Madeline' salvia was introduced by Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf.
  • Salvia phyllis fancy
  • Salvia eucanth midnight
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF WWW.PLANTDELIGHTS.COM <br/>Author Cheryl B. Wilson plans to plant  'Anthony Parker' salvia, which she first saw on a trip to the New York Botanical Garden.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF SUNNY BORDER NURSERY<br/> The 'Mercury Rising' coriopsis is a new cultivar, bred by central Massachusetts horticulturalist Darrell Probst.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF SUNNY BORDER NURSERY<br/> The new cultivar Coriopsis 'Mercury Rising' was bred by Darrell Probst, a central Massachusetts horticulturalis.

The weather has been positively schizophrenic: One day it snows and the next the temperature soars to nearly 60 degrees. That pesky Pennsylvania groundhog predicted an early spring and in the early morning the birds are singing merrily and snowdrops and winter aconite abound in my garden under the beautiful yellow witch hazel.

Still, spring doesn’t seem to be as far advanced as we might hope. There are still piles of snow in South Amherst gardens. A year ago — after an open winter (a winter with little or no snow cover) — daffodils were in bloom by the vernal equinox. That won’t be happening this year, although some are in full bud.

It was delightful to get outside two weeks ago and pull away mulch from the Christmas rose and the snowdrops under the lilac. After a winter of intermittent cold and snow, I am ready for spring.

So I dream of warmer weather and lots and lots of flowers as well as ripening tomato plants and basil on the porch. Although I need to downsize my gardens, I still can’t resist new varieties.

Rich reds

My most important perennial flower purchase this year will be ‘Mercury Rising’ coreopsis, which I saw last fall at Sunny Border Nurseries in Connecticut. I love red flowers and ‘Mercury Rising’ is reportedly a truly hardy red coreopsis, unlike the much-touted ‘Limerock Ruby’ of a decade ago. The new cultivar was bred by Darrell Probst, a central Massachusetts horticulturalist best known, perhaps, for his introduction of new species of epimediums from Asia. In recent years, Probst has turned his talents to breeding new forms of coreopsis, commonly known by the insalubrious name of tickseed. These daisy flowers bloom all summer in the right conditions. Probst has bred dozens of new cultivars, labeling them the “Big Bang” series, which have been introduced by Sunny Border.

The rich red of ‘Mercury Rising’ is just what I love. The rather sprawling plant grows 18 inches tall but spreads to nearly three feet. I’m not sure where in my gardens this new plant will find a home — but it will find a home! Reds are often tricky to site in a garden so they don’t clash with other crimsons and scarlets. But after requesting a photo for this article from Sunny Border, I can see how ‘Mercury Rising’ would look stunning next to a perennial salvia. In the front garden I planted S. ‘Caradonna’ last spring, so the new coreopsis will pair nicely with it. Problem solved. The coreopsis should bloom after a nearby red daylily, but the red hues are similar so perhaps they won’t clash if they overlap.

Salvias galore

Salvias are my other major wishes for this year. Culinary sage has survived in my backgarden for years and I have tried perennial ornamental sages as well, including the lovely sky-blue S. azurea and my favorite, S. transylvanica, which blooms intermittently all summer. The problem is that sages prefer rather dry conditions in full sun and many of my gardens are now shaded and the soil is heavy clay, even after years of amendment.

Last summer, after a frustrating local search for S. pratensis ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, I was given a plant by the master gardeners who I led on a trip to Coastal Maine Botanic Garden. Clivia Pasek searched diligently in the rain through a Maine nursery to find me a specimen. I can’t wait to see it bloom again this summer.

After a visit to the New York Botanical Garden in October, I want to try lots of annual forms of salvias. Way back in 1985 when I visited my sister in England, she reported that a prominent gardener she knew said the new wave of plants to grow would be salvias. They have long been popular in California as well. I guess I’m a slow learner.

I’ve grown S. farinacea ‘Victoria Blue’ and ‘Mystic Spires’ for several years.

I have tried ‘Black and Blue’ Salvia guarantica and Salvia uliginosa with, frankly, little success. But I’m ready to try again with different forms.

Salvia leucantha or Mexican bush sage has foot-long wands of deep blue or purple flowers that bloom in the fall. There are several hybrids which I absolutely must try such as ‘Anthony Parker,’ ‘Phyllis Fancy’ and ‘Midnight’, all of which I saw in New York. ‘Purple Velvet’ is similar to ‘Midnight’ and the flowers feel like velvet cloth.

In searching the Internet for sources of these annual salvias, I found another lovely one which I will order from Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina.

It is ‘Madeline’ with bicolor blue and white flowers. It was introduced by Piet Oudolf, the famous Dutch landscape designer. Although most salvias have blue or purple flowers, there are also a couple of red-flowered salvias that intrigue me. Years ago, at Monticello, the home and garden of Thomas Jefferson, I found Salvia coccinea, a red salvia with loosely arranged florets, so much more charming than the “gas station” Salvia splendens. I don’t know why I grew it for only one year. I should try again.

There is a S. coccinea hybrid called ‘Lady in Red’ and a S. microphylla called ‘Hot Lips’ which has red and white bicolor flowers. Perhaps I will try those, too.

The only problem with these new salvias is that, unlike ‘Victoria Blue’ and ‘Mystic Spires’ they are strictly fall bloomers. However, most gardens are heavy with spring and summer blooms and rather sparse with flowers, other than chrysanthemums, in the waning days of the blooming season.

Nurseries are ready

Spring has officially arrived now and the local nurseries, like Andrew’s Greenhouse in South Amherst and Bay State Perennial Farm in Whately, will be opening soon. And the garden centers such as Hadley, Annie’s, Wancyzk as well as Ravenwold Greenhouse in Florence and Hickory Dell in Northampton will be getting in tempting stock.

Nasami Farm is a great place to find native plants and Skawski Farms in Hatfield has wonderful bargains with healthy plants. There are other local nurseries and greenhouses which I need to explore. However, there is limited space in my gardens these days and I must be circumspect.

A few years ago my daughter brought reality into my life. When I told her I needed a certain plant, she said, “You don’t need it, Mom. You just want it.”

True, alas, but that doesn’t stop me from buying more than I should. Set your budgets now unless you have deep pockets. Flowers are necessary for the soul, but we don’t need to break the bank with our purchases.

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