April 10, 2013
In fits and spurts, spring in Iowa bubbles to the surface, emerging as galanthus, crocus, daffodils, and a fresh new display in the front yard of the botanical garden. And it's more than just pansies.
It's possible we got this all started a bit too soon, rushing out last week to relish the waking warmth to tuck into ground a mere 1,100 plants. The forecast staring at me this week--snow showers and upper 20s--doesn't exactly have me worried (the plants were prechilled prior to their arrival to ensure their hardiness through a freak dip in temps), but has me questioning my zealousness, knowing full well that the chances of an errant chill are better than not. In spite of 20-some years of gardening know-how, I rallied volunteers and staff to the front yard Friday to plant a palette we're bursting to share with you.
Grown for us by the awesome folks at Peace Tree Farm, these plants arrived on palettes last Thursday, shimmering in the bright afternoon sun that graced the loading dock. The front yard display evokes the floriferousness of a South African spring--madly colored meadows of awesomeness. While we're a little light on grasses, sprinkling in a few Coolio junegrass (Koeleria glauca 'Coolio') at the edges, we're heavy on effusive colors.
Those colors radiate from four unique color series of wallflowers (Erysimum). The Winter, Rysi, Poem, and Glow series range from copper tones to sorbet blends and sunny yellows to dramatic reds. They're divine! The Glow series are perennial in Zone 5, though we're just using them for spring color. The others a bit tender and hardy only to Zone 7/8. Regardless, a perennial with this much punch deserves a home in every garden, exclusively for their generous dollops of color in a season more known for its colorlessness than anything else. Did I go on this long without cheering their fragrance? Sweet, perfumey, and a teensy bit heady, it's an aphrodisiac for the nose.
We've also got two really great novelties growing amid these not-so-shy wallflowers--the new 'Fleur En Vogue' cyclamen and 'Snap Daddy' snapdragons. Both are head-turners. The 'Fleur En Vogue', featuring umbrella-shaped flowers that essentially looked like a flat-pressed version of normal cyclamen, are a bit freakish in close quarters, but en masse and at a distance look like a dream in vivid pinwheels. The snapdragon boasts variegated foliage, sneekily deceiving passersby who haven't yet made the connection between the unusual foliage and the usual, bubble-shaped buds.
The palette is just the kind of expression a front yard should have. Sad, depressed, mud-splattered pansies, dutiful highlights amid troupes of kale and other cool-season staples, deserve an overdue rest (for at least the next millennia). Give spring a chance and venture outside the grocery store palette to something adventurous, fun, and always prechilled.