By mid-March my fingers are itching to get in the soil and so are the plants I've collected over the last month or two in preparation for spring planting. Unless your garden soil is cold, wet and muddy, this can be the perfect time to begin planting. Nurseries, home improvement centers and even the local markets are bringing in new plants every day for us to add to our early spring beds and borders. On a day when the air temperature is above freezing and the soil is workable, we can begin to plant hardy ornamentals, potted roses, vines, trees and shrubs.
Let me begin with one reminder, especially if you're feeling impulsive. It's still too early to put out any plants that hover on the margin of hardiness. Despite the actual date and the fact that it is officially a week away from spring, nonhardy annuals might not survive a cold snap or an outright freeze. Tender annuals may be tempting, but experienced gardeners know to wait until after Mother's Day to plant them in the garden. Since frosts are quite possible into April, planting any earlier is a gamble.
In February, Richie Steffen, the curator for the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden introduced another year of superb plant selections for the Great Plant Picks program. The GPP program's purpose is to recommend a comprehensive palette of outstanding plants for the Northwest gardener. The photographs are beautiful and detailed information on each plant is available. This year's selection features 30 great plants for big impact in a small space. Even better, you can print the info directly from the website.
One of the plants on their list that I chose for my own garden many years ago is Acer palmatum 'Ukigumo'. Ukigumo is a Japanese name that refers to the variegated foliage that is layered in tiers along the branches, resembling floating clouds. I planted
this elegant, small tree in an oversized, bird's egg blue planter and placed it on my front porch more than seven years ago. Its foliage emerges white in spring with striated hints of pink and green. The colors continue to change through summer and fall.
At a garden writer's event a few weeks ago, Skagit Gardens introduced us to their newest selections for this year's garden. Skagit is introducing two new varieties of brunnera. Brunnera 'Sea Heart' is one of their Vigorous Heart Series which claims to stand up to heat and humidity better than before. 'Sea Heart' has pink and blue, two-toned flowers and silvery leaves with prominent dark green veins. Brunnera 'Silver Heart' is also a part of the new series, featuring clusters of tiny blue flowers with large, pure silver leaves lightly veined in green.
I still hold a special place in my heart and garden for Brunner macrophylla 'Jack Frost'. This classic Siberian bugloss has been one of the most reliable plants in my garden for both flower production and long season of foliage interest. 'Jack Frost' forms large clumps of hand-sized, heart-shaped silver leaves, each one etched with delicate, mint green veins. Terra Nova's selection of Brunnera 'Looking Glass' is another favorite. I hope the new varieties are worthy of their predecessors excellence in the garden.
Although adding plants to the garden is the highlight of my garden life, there's plenty to do while waiting for the right time to plant. For one thing, you can buy the plants on your plant list; just keep them safe in a protected area until planting time. If you keep a journal, write down the exact name of each plant as well as when and where you plant them in the garden. Many of my plants have been transplanted several times. I keep track of every move. This information will become invaluable over the life of your garden.
Ease yourself into the busiest season of the year by cleaning up the last vestiges of winter from perennial beds and mixed borders. Clear away any vegetation that you kept in place to protect plants through the winter. As for those tantalizing annuals and tender perennials, of course we're going to take a chance and buy a few to add color to pots and planters. Go ahead; tuck a flat of pansies or primroses into a corner bed near the front door. Just don't spend your entire seasonal budget quite yet. You'll have ample opportunity to get your itchy fingers in the dirt and plant to your heart's content with the bona fide arrival of spring.
Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at Write2Robb@aol.com.