YOU MAY not want any more color if you have great clots of azaleas, many gardeners do not go in for azaleas and feel the lack of bloom between the end of the small bulbs (crocuses, early scillas, anemones, snowdrops, etc.) and the beginning of the iris-rose-peony season in mid-May.
A plant not commonly seen is the merry-bells, Uvularia grandiflora, which has hanging narrow segmented bells of sharp greenish yellow, nodding from pleasant foot-high stems adorned with lance-shaped polished green leaves.
It is fine in woodsy leaf-mould, and makes a pleasant picture in front ot yew bushes in the shade. It also grows admirably in full sun, provided the soil is full of humus and get water. It is one of those plants that from unpromising small creatures in pots, will form a superb clump in three or four years provided its modest requirements are met. It is not worth growing in a dry spot, or on heavy clay. But so many gardens of the capital are woodland gardens (though it sometimes takes the gardener a couple of decades to notice this) that the merry-bells should be one of our common spring flowers.
I almost blush to mention the spring beauty, Claytonia, since it can take over an entire lawn in the sun. And many gardeners, I know, take it for a weed. Still, its slender three-inch stems adorned with little starry-to-bell-shaped white flowers admirably tinged with blush or bronze, make it a plant of great charm. I have seen it at its best covering a large lawn of Bermuda grass. The grass is mowed not long after the spring beauty blooms, but this never seems to do any harm, and for a few days in April the grass is wonderfully transformed. I doubt it would hold its own in blue grass. It grows from small fleshy roots or bulbs.
One of the great cottage flowers is the lungwort or Pulmonaria saccharata. It starts blooming the end of February and continues into May, or at least through the height of the Kurume azalea season.
Its leaves are softly fuzzy -- not decidedly fuzzy, but not smooth or
Its leaves are softly fuzzy -- not decidedly fuzzy, but not smooth or polished, either -- and they are of soft (not vivid) medium green with pale spots all over them. This suggested lungs to some people and it was assumed, therefore, that anything with leaves spotted like lungs (and one may only hope one's own lungs are less spotted than the Pulmonaria ) would be fine for curing lung ailments.
I can it soldiers and sailors, as many country people do. Its flowers are like small Virginia bluebells -- that is, little hanging trumpets on a stem perhaps four inches high. The flower stalks are born very freely indeed, for about seven or eight weeks. At first the flowers are pink, then they turn a nice soft blue. This suggested to our imaginative forbears the uniforms of soldiers and sailors. The two colors appear together, so good clump looks festive in a modest sort of way.
If in a half-shaded spot you have some early daffodils, such as February Gold,' then the soldiers and sailors are nice to plant with them, since they start before daffodils and go on much longer.
One of the great plants for the pre-May season is the native blue phlox, P. divaricata which makes great pools of lavender-blue beneath dogwoods or, of course, anything else. It likes woodland soil, stands much shade, and like the other plants mentioned is quite permanent when satisfied.
It may be a little obvious to plant this phlox in front of pink azaleas, but it is lovely in such a situation. It grows only about a foot high. It spreads at a comforting rate but could never be thought a weed.
Another plant that glorifies light woodland gardens (from early March till May) is the giant forget-me-not, usually listed as Brunnera macrophylla. Eventually it produces leaves the size of small plates, but the leaves are small in early spring. Flowers are borne on branched stems a foot or so in height, covered with little stars of electric gentian blue. There is a great deal of pink in this blue, which one is not aware of, and everyone calls it spectrum blue.
I have a bit of edging along a slate walk planted thickly with Brodiaea uniflora (also called Milla and Tritelia and another name or two) which from bulbs that look and smell like wild onions produces an astonishing number of soft fragrant blue stars the size of a quarter, one to a stem, and the stems about 6 to 10 inches high, over neat hummocks of narrow glaucous leaves. You plant the bulbs in October.
Two sorts of bugle weed (Ajuga) keep trying to take over the space of the star-flowers but do not succeed. One of the bugles has spikes of rich full blue like a grape hyacinth; the other is bluish-mauve. They all mix together and are to my mind quite pretty, especially when a great branched stem of the Brunnera hangs over them.
There are plenty of other flowers this time of year, but the ones I mention are not rare, and all of them stand the shade of the sort of trees commonly planted in front gardens -- dogwoods, old oaks, etc.
For gardeners of some boldness, I commend the great Bergenias, with fat glossy leathery leaves the size of butter plates, with flowers of somewhat raw madder-rose. They show up startlingly with the other plants mentioned, and have the great merit (they are not really cultivated for their flowers but their leaves) of being evergreen, turning to bronze-beet-liver colors in the winter.
Another startling plant to combine with the ones mentioned is the hosta called H. albo-picta in catalogues. It has leaves a very sharp yellow, almost chartreuse, irregularly bordered with green. As summer comes on it turns plain green, but for a few weeks it makes a bold, not to say startling, show. You might suppose anything named "albo-picta" would be showily variegated with white, but the hosta has no white anywhere on it, but this beautiful acid yellow and acid green in dense thick fountains about a foot high: Few plants give a greater impression of bursting vim and ginger. The flowers are inconsequential in the summer.
There are a number of hostas touched with clean white. The one often called H. 'Thomas Hogg' has green leaves neatly and regularly edged with white, and it holds up well through the summer, too.