Originally Published: March 19, 2010 10:01 p.m.
It's official: It's spring, and not just because it says so on our calendars. Lilac buds are plumped to bursting while forsythias and everything else at garden centers are in full bloom. What I enjoy most about spring is that I can dress up my winter-drab flowerbeds and containers with some fresh new bloomers.
In my own gardens, I usually start with the "potscapes," the groups of containers at our home's entrance and on the back patio. Once those are completed, I quickly move on to planting the raised gardens. In both tasks I always include some of my blooming favorites, incorporate others that just look incredible at the garden center right now and add a few I may not have considered in the past few years.
I grow a dozen or more varieties of pansies and violas to sell at the nursery, but Flirty Skirts Pansy is the new favorite for my container gardens. Featured in Friday's Daily Courier as my "Plant of the Week," it's no wonder this pretty bloomer has caught my fancy. Its cheery, frilly, double ruffled blooms have a hint of pansy scent, but the carnival of colors adds a bright note to the last of our inclement weather. With blossoms that often resemble a monkey face, Flirty Skirts is perfect as an accent to flower beds, hanging baskets, strawberry pots and other containers. I think Flirty Skirts are perfect for a cut bouquet indoors or in a window box where they are visible up close.
I planted several of them just before the last snowstorm, and their tough flowers poked right through the snow. It truly was a celebration of spring even in cruel weather. All pansies love being outdoors in the cold and are one of the few flowers that bloom right through winter. Plant them in October and enjoy their magic throughout the cold months.
Rosemary is in full bloom right now and is very pretty this year. This same rosemary that cooks use in the kitchen easily releases its classic fragrance as you brush up against it in the garden. Violet blue flowers cover the length of the branches, with the best blooms on plants that have at least six hours of sun. The hotter the location the better - just make sure the planting hole has good drainage which is essential to this plant's well-being. Rosemary makes a very nice landscape shrub with most of the features homeowners are looking for: an evergreen that has showy flowers, low maintenance, and is a low water user. If you kill this one, it probably will be from over watering.
Garden tip - If your fruit trees and vegetable gardens have difficulty pollinating and setting fruit, plant rosemary in the orchard or next to the garden. It is a plant irresistible to bees, and while at its fragrant flowers they will pollinate other fruiting plants in the yard. Rosemary will attract these essential garden denizens to areas where bee counts have been dropping.
I enjoy playing with edible plants as landscape and container accents. Guess the appeal is thinking outside the gardener's norm to where artist meets landscaper. A beautiful plant that fits right into this creative mind slot is the artichoke. Its long foliage seems to flow from a silver mound, making an ideal addition to any Southwest landscape. Part of an artichoke's appeal is in its almost prehistoric-looking purple thistles. In containers its prickly stems contrast attractively with midnight purple violas flowing from the pot rims. I enjoy growing this perennial vegetable simply for its beauty, usually with no intent of harvesting the delicious heart of each flower. To harvest for eating, cut for best flavor when the flowers reach 4-5 inches in diameter.
For a shaded bed or covered patio consider lily of the valley. Its lovely clusters of pure white flowers strikingly contrast against the evergreen foliage. Right after blooming, the leaves take on a tinge of pink, extending the plant's show. Most varieties are in bloom at the garden center now and ready to plant. Remember, the secret to growing lily of the valley is avoiding midday sun, so keep it in the shade.
Some parting mention of other spring blooming plants that are looking over-the-top at the garden center this first week of spring: Strawberries are in bloom, beginning their progression to producing their sweet fruit. Flowering stocks fill the greenhouse with an aroma that almost puts gardenias to shame. The blooms of this year's dianthuses, carnations and daisies are all larger than ever. An unusual plant is the erysimum, its purple flowers fading to pink as they bloom consistently now through fall.
In my continued attempt to help homeowners enjoy more gardening success, I host free classes each Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Today, March 20, the class topic is "Growing Herbs in the Landscape," and on the 27th it is "Water Efficient Landscapes," and April 3 covers "When & How to Plant Flowers."
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Throughout the week Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, and can be contacted through his website at www.wattersonline.com. Ken says, "My personal mission is to help local homeowners garden better in our mountain landscapes."