Hmmm. March 1. I don’t know you can call today “coming in like a lamb,” nor do I really see it as “coming in like a lion.” After all, 30s and some snow aren’t so freakish for March 1. But it is hardly sunny and 40s either. Maybe it doesn’t really matter what March comes in as. Maybe what really matters is that March comes. The weather may not sing “SPRING” but the calendar does a little trickery on the mind and I believe it is spring (despite three more weeks of official winter). There’s just something about March arriving that says you’ve made it. You survived another winter. You didn’t get put out on the ice floe. Wolves didn’t chew through the front door and drag you to their den for a January dinner date. Little things like that.
March is also the time of year when I am most likely to start losing plants that I am overwintering in my office. They’ve been here since late October, held on through November, December, January and February, but now are almost screaming “I can’t freaking take it anymore!” They work so hard to make it on limited light and my lackluster watering schedule. Eventually some of them simply say to hell with it. And that is okay. Actually they look better than usual this year. Don’t know I can say the same about the ones in my basement at home. I tend to throw the poor things down there and shut the door, only taking a cursory glance when I’m forced to go to the basement for something else. I’m a bad horticulturist. I should probably be spanked. But the majority of the plants usually make it and before you know it REAL spring is here and they and I almost break into song.
Despite my dislike of winter this year……. Okay. I know. At some point I dislike winter every year. But this year I knew early I would not like it, and despite fairly mild weather, it has felt bitter cold. Let’s start again.
Despite my dislike of winter this year, it has been surprisingly pleasant working in the gardens on sunny days. Been getting lots of the grasses cut back, plenty of pruning done, and trimming back some perennials. I was working on the Sutphin Mall this week and came upon my small patch of Heuchera longiflora. That’s longflower heuchera for those of you that hate scientific names. Longflower alumroot for those of you that really hate scientific names.
I rescued these from a trash heap when the Garden Writers Association meeting was here in Indianapolis back in 2011. I have pretty much ignored them and yet they looked beautiful growing in that crappy structured soil with few nutrients and a pH of 8. I think I want a whole bunch more. I don’t even remember the flowers but North Creek says they are pale yellow. I was just taken by surprise at how pretty the foliage was in late February. I wasn’t sure whether to cut it off or not, but also knew I soon would not have time to do it, so I soldiered on. Still, I’m not certain the colors could not have become even better and maybe would have waited in my garden at home.
In this shot, you can see the summer color retained in the half of the leaf that was under its siblings and the winter color on the half that was exposed to the elements.
We’ve been using tons of Heuchera villosa and its hybrids because they are so tough and reliable and I feel we have found another great one now with the H. longiflora.
A third one to explore, Heuchera parviflora (littleflower heuchera), was suggested by Paul Cappiello of Yew Dell Botanical Gardens. It apparently can be found growing in dry dust under limestone ledges. And there are purple foliaged forms!
These are all US natives with H. villosa and parviflora listed as Indiana natives as well. I decided to explore Heuchera parviflora a bit more. To quote Mr. Charles Deam ( THE Charles Deam of Flora of Indiana) – “Our only specimen of this rare alumroot is one which I found in a pocket on the perpendicular face of a sandstone cliff on a farm two miles southwest of Leopold, Perry County.” Perry County!? Leopold!? Don’t you get it!?!? He found the bloody thing in my backyard, practically. And as further proof it was near me – “The leaves were quite purplish on the lower surface.” Purplish! Color! That’s me, damn it.
H. longiflora is native to both Kentucky and Ohio, which makes it almost an Indiana native. Kinda. Sort of in a way. Native is so questionable.
This is Heuchera ‘Violet Frost,’ one of my favorite cultivars. But it looks rough in the same conditions as the H. longiflora. It will bounce back but it can’t beat its cousin in the winter, at least this year.
Also looking good was some little bluestem, what I grew up calling broom sage, what I would now call Schizachyrium scoparium, I suppose.
Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ looks good in all seasons but I love the orange and coral highlights in winter.
I should mention that for the first time I have happy Microbiota decussata. Apparently all it needed was very well drained crappy soil. Who knew? It’s chocolate now (mmmmm, chocolate) but will go back to green come spring. By the way, stands out better than this image would suggest.
And one more tough as nails plant living large in that high pH- low nutrition soil, Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard.’
Regardless of how March comes in, I am simply glad to have it back. Oh, winter probably isn’t really gone. And more than likely we will be in for some nasty days. But those days are longer. That sun on the days it shines has a bit more power. And I am one hour closer to that mad glorious rush of everything bursting out of winter dormancy and exploding into the frenzied ecstasy of spring.