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6:24 PM Tue, Sept. 25th

Column: Exceptional blossoms can leave gardeners giddy

Courtesy photo<br>
This Indian Princess Hawthorn is exploding throughout the Arizona mountain areas with spring blooms and more buds to come.

Courtesy photo<br> This Indian Princess Hawthorn is exploding throughout the Arizona mountain areas with spring blooms and more buds to come.

The landscape is exploding in celebration of the season. Lilac buds are plumped to bursting while forsythias and everything else at the garden center 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.

As a garden center owner, I have seen so many different plants over the decades that I rarely get excited over introductions of new plants, but this spring I've been dealt a jaw-dropping exception. Red winter orchids are so stunning that I instantly was drawn to the racks full of this early spring bloomer. This amazing evergreen perennial announces the first day of spring with flowers that continue their bloom well into summer. With flaming red flowers that gradually give way to royal purple, the blooms are bound to bring on giddiness to even the most seasoned gardener. It's a lot of bloom for the buck, so how could I not take home three for my container gardens? Planted with tall crimson kale and with violas spilling over the edge of my jade-green container, they look terrific!

Rosemary is in full bloom right now and very pretty this spring. 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 blooms that can bask in 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.

If your fruit trees and vegetable gardens have difficulty pollinating and setting fruit, plant rosemary in the orchard or next to the garden. Rosemary will attract bees, even to areas where bee counts have been dropping. It is a plant that is irresistible to these essential garden denizens, and while rosemary is in bloom, other fruiting plants in the yard will benefit from the pollination.

I enjoy playing with edible plants as landscape and container accents. I guess the appeal is thinking outside the gardener's norm to where artist meets landscaper. A beautiful plant that fits right into this creative mindset 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 a container, its prickly stems will contrast attractively with midnight purple violas flowing from the pot's rim. I don't care for the taste of artichokes, but I love growing this perennial vegetable simply for its beauty.

I dream of having a plant bearing huge flower florets with the sweetest lilac fragrance imaginable. The plant would have to withstand summer heat, have great color in winter - no, wait, it must be a winter evergreen. Whoa! What am I thinking? This "dream" plant already grows here in Prescott. Indian Princess Hawthorn loves heat, sun and wind. It looks great planted in clusters, as a short hedge, or as a foundation planting. Deer, rabbits and javelinas are no threats to this homeowners' evergreen delight. Additionally, the large instantaneous size costs under $40 and, I'm pleased to report, this year's crop is spectacular.

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 are 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 fruits. Flowering stocks fill the greenhouse with an aroma that almost puts gardenias to shame. The blooms of this year's dianthus, carnations, and daisies are larger than ever.

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Last Friday, I was the featured business owner at my National Bank branch, so I filled the tellers' windows and offices with pansies and violas. The scent of spring flowers was so strong that every customer commented about the wondrous fragrance filling the building. I love spring pansies. The carnival of color adds a bright note to the last of our inclement weather. They are the perfect accents to flower beds, hanging baskets, strawberry pots, and other containers.

I planted several of them just before the last snowstorm and their tough flowers poked right through the snow! Even in cruel weather, they truly provided an early celebration to spring. All pansies love being outdoors in the cold and are one of the superstars of spring.

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In my continued attempt to help homeowners enjoy greater gardening success, I host free classes each Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Today, March 19, the class topic is "Container Garden Beauty & Style"; on March 26, it is "Tasty Herbs in the Landscape"; and the April 3 class covers "Easy-Maintenance Landscapes."

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.