Mothers’ Day weekend has a certain look and feel to it in coastal Virginia. For one thing, anyone who has a living rose shrub in their yard has flowers blooming. German bearded Iris began blooming in late April and continue their annual display, even as other, later Iris have burst into bloom this week. Clumps and rows of bearded Iris bloom each May in yards where few other flowers are ever seen.
Our Siberian Iris are at their peak, and bright yellow flag Iris pseudacorus have just started blooming. These beautiful yellow European natives are on our ‘invasive’ species list here in Virginia because of their exuberant growth. They grow near ponds and swampy areas, and spread along their rhizomes. Each flower also produces abundant seed, ready to sprout wherever a bird may drop it, and so they spread in wild places.
The new Iris pseudata, a sterile hybrid of Iris pseudacorus and I. ensata, has been bred for North American gardeners who want the look of these elegant Iris without the worry. I’ve planted a few of these in recent years, and they are lovely. Some even offer variegated leaves. They bloom a bit later than I. pseudacorus for us.
It is hard to say whether we’ve had a cooler, later spring, or if we’re just enjoying more ‘normal’ weather this year. But it feels like many plants have bloomed a little later. The snapdragons I planted last fall for early spring color are still covered in buds. Some of our daffies have buds but no flowers, still.
The last Azaleas bloomed this week, a beautiful splash of color near our mailbox. And a Rhododendron planted six or seven years ago is covered top to bottom in beautiful clusters of purple flowers. It rested for a few years after planting; or did some hungry deer just munch its buds in past years?
The cooler, wetter days this spring make gardening much more comfortable. It has been perfect for our ferns, and for the mosses I keep encouraging to claim more territory in the shady parts of our garden. The moss keeps spreading, and the ferns are unfurling their fronds. Baby ferns keep cropping up in unexpected places, particularly in protected, mossy spots. Some I can leave, and others I move to safer places where a mower won’t accidentally nick them.
Do you ever struggle to identify a plant that turns up unexpectedly? An unknown fern grew in a container planted a few years ago at the botanical garden where I volunteer. I planted a Japanese holly fern as the evergreen anchor for this large pot. And suddenly, this lacy, frothy frond appeared in the mix. What could it be?
Sometimes you just live with a question, hoping to gather clues that will lead to an answer. Richie Steffen’s and Sue Olsen’s A Plant Lover’s Guide to Ferns, published by Timber Press in 2015, is the first resource I turn to with questions about ferns. Their information is very helpful, but the photos don’t always help with identification as much as I need them too. The answer was there all along, but I didn’t find it until this week.
I was re-potting some ferns that I ordered last fall from Steffen’s Hardy Fern Foundation near Seattle, Washington, when I noticed that two of those ferns looked very, very similar to my mystery fern at the garden. So, I studied both varieties in Steffen’s and Olsen’s book, and then took a series of photos of my mystery fern to try to capture the identifying characteristics.
The mystery fern is definitely a crested Dryopteris. I’ve been trying to determine whether it is Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata,’ or Dryopteris filix-mas ‘Parsley.’ With just a frond or two poking out through other foliage, it is a little tough to call. I can’t see its true form or size. But I am leaning towards the D. filix-mas ‘Parsley’ today. It is a lovely little gem, and I’m considering pulling that planting apart to dig it out and give it its own space to grow.
Have you noticed that flowers come and go in just a few days, but foliage lasts for weeks or months? I love the pops of color flowers give so generously. And then a few days later, there’s a faded bloom to clean up and trim away. I rely more each year on colorful leaves and interesting texture. Ferns offer both. I keep collecting new varieties and planting new areas with evergreen perennial ferns. They hold the soil, look wonderful all season, and require very little attention.
I’ve added several new varieties of ferns to our garden in recent weeks, including the beautiful Asplenium scolopendrium, or Hart tongue’s fern, in a new bed where I want to crowd out the former foliage. It took me several months to accumulate the plants, the border pavers, the new soil, and the time and energy to pull it all together. By then the old perennials there had begun to grow, the daffies had sprouted and faded, and my plans to cover the area first in cardboard or brown paper faded to just a wistful memory. Fingers crossed that the ferns will win this round.
Mother’s Day weekend has always held both promise and peril for me. It is a beautiful time of year, here, and I prefer to celebrate it working in the garden. My philosophy has always been to plant roses if you want to have them, rather than relying on someone to order them from a florist for you. But my own thoughtful daughter sent me a bouquet this year, lovely long-stem beauties raised in South America. I’m loving the decadent beauty of them. Since we have storms and flooding this weekend, I can enjoy the holiday indoors, gazing at the roses, and content in knowing that the ferns are all very happy, and not requiring any attention from me at all.
With appreciation to The Propagator, who hosts Six on Saturday each week.
You might enjoy my new series of posts, Plants I Love That Deer Ignore. Eleven groups of plants are featured thus far, and the list will continue to grow.