Monkshood & Snakeroot for a Fall Finale

What a luscious October afternoon! I looked out my back window and was drawn, as I always am this time in autumn, to the furthest corner of the garden, where a little fall scene unfolds that I treasure more because it’s a secret. Want to see it?  Let’s take a little stroll past the messy pots on the deck with their various sedums and swishing sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) out into the garden past the table and chairs that haven’t been used since… when? August?

Janet Davis-garden-autumn

Keep going to where the lovely chartreuse Tiger Eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’) is currently doing its Hollywood star thing in brilliant apricot…..

Tiger Eye Sumac-Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger'-fall color

But what’s this scene, just behind it?

Tiger Eye Sumac-snakeroot-monkshood-Janet Davis

Yes, two stalwarts of the autumn garden – and I mean autumn, fall, October!  Autumn monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’) and autumn snakeroot (Actaea simplex), aka fall bugbane. Each year, they flower at the same time, and enjoy identical conditions in my garden, i.e. the most moisture-retentive soil (lowest corner of the garden by a few inches), with reasonable midday sunshine but dappled shade a good portion of the day. The fragrance of the snakeroot is fabulous, something a little soft and incense-like, or reminiscent of talcum powder (in the nicest way).  Colour-wise, I love blue and white, from the earliest anemones-with-scilla in April to this shimmering, assertive finale.

Janet Davis-Actaea simplex & Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'

And did I mention pollinators? As in bumble bees of different species, honey bees……

Pollinators-autumn garden-fall snakeroot & monkshood-

(WHO has the beehives near my house? I’d love to know)…..

Honey bees-Apis mellifera-Actaea simplex-fall snaekroot

……hover flies…..

Hover-fly on fall snakeroot-Actaea simplex

….and paper wasps, below, as well as ants and cucumber beetles.

Paper wasp on fall snakeroot-Actaea simplex

Monkshood is deadly poisonous, but its pollen seems to be an attraction for bumble bees and honey bees once the asters have finished up.

Bombus-Fall Monkshood-Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'

Finally, do note that the snakeroot is not any of those fancy-schmancy dark-leaved cultivars like ‘Brunette’, but the straight species with plain-Jane-green-foliage,. And that it used to be called Cimicifuga, but the gene sequencers have now moved it into Actaea.  It is a lovely plant and should be used much, much more.

Rhapsody in Blue: Linda Hostetler’s Virginia Garden

During last month’s Garden Blogger’s Fling in the U.S. Capital Region, (and following my visit to Washington DC’s fabulous Dumbarton Oaks and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello near Charlottesville VA), I was delighted to find myself meandering through the garden of fellow color connoisseur and Facebook pal, landscape designer Linda Hostetler. I’ve long admired her photos so it was a pleasure to wander the paths exploring her amazing textural plantings. But there was definitely a color theme running through Linda’s garden, and I loved ticking off all the ways she manages to celebrate ‘blue’. So let’s take a little tour, starting in the front garden of Linda and Ralph Hostetlers’ pretty home in Plains, Virginia, not far from Washington D.C. The tapestry-like plantings here, while very lovely, don’t really prepare you for the immense scale of the back garden.

House-Linda Hostetler

Let’s walk down the side path with its playful boxwood balls.

Path-Linda Hostetler

You might catch the light glinting off the sweet mirrored suncatcher….

Mirror suncatcher-Linda Hostetler

…. and at the end of the path, any one of hundreds of interesting plants might catch your eye like the native Indian pink (Spigelia marylandica).

Spigelia

But look up and gaze around and you’ll be struck by the flashes of azure and turquoise shimmering in every corner of Linda’s garden. How does she love blue? Let us count the ways.

Furnishings 

Like a little sense of occasion? Walk into Linda’s garden and you’re passing under a blue arch.  Doesn’t that curved boxwood allée make you want to start exploring? And look at the blue-toned hosta in the rear.

Arch-Linda Hostetler

Want to rest a minute in a little bit of shade? These blue umbrellas (there were several) and tables and chairs were popular spots for relaxing when masses of garden bloggers were trying to escape the June heat.  And don’t you love that spectacular pairing of ‘Lucifer’ crocosmia with the furnishings?

Blue Umbrella and furniture-Linda Hostetler

Art

Little artistic touches in blue abound in Linda’s garden – like these metal spheres in blue and contrasting yellow.

Sphere-Linda Hostetler

And no southern garden is complete without a bottle tree – this one sprouting cobalt blue bottles. (If I’m not mistaken, those are Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry bottles….)

Bottle tree-Linda Hostetler

A glazed ceramic globe is an easy way to give a blue punch to the border, especially contrasted with bright-red coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides).

Ceramic ball-Linda Hostetler

Like me, Linda is a fan of blown glass – this one in swirls of blue.

Blown glass-Linda Hostetler

Lighting

Speaking of glass, there are lots of solar lights in the Hostetler garden, all in shades of blue. You’ll see stained glass globes….

Solar ball-Linda Hostetler

…. and swirls….

Solar-twist-Linda Hostetler

…. and even blue Japanese lanterns.  Imagine the starry canvas these would make at night!

Japanese lantern-Linda Hostetler

Containers

Linda’s lovely, glazed, blue containers are an opportunity for her to change up little scenes each season, whether with tender begonias and tropicals….

Blue Pot 3-Linda Hostetler

… shade-tolerant heucheras….

Blue Pot 2-Linda Hostetler

…. or colorful coleus.

Blue Pot 1-Linda Hostetler

Then there are the artful ways Linda uses blue-hued hangers and stands to feature her pots, like this agave in a blue birdcage.

Agave in birdcage-Linda Hostetler

And this lovely pedestal stand for succulents.

Plant stand-Linda Hostetler

Plants

It was such a sunny afternoon with so many people running through the garden, I gave up trying to get landscape shots. But I did love seeing this little water feature with purplish-blue pickerel-weed (Pontederia cordata). It’s a favourite of bumble bees (and me).

Pontederia-Pickerel weed-Linda Hostetler

And then, alas, it was past the blue hydrangea and back on the bus to continue our tour of Virginia gardens. Next time, Linda, we will hopefully meet in person in your lovely garden (not via blog!)

Hydrangeas-Linda Hostetler

 

The Siberian Squill and the Cellophane Bee

My front garden in Toronto is filled at the moment with hundreds of native cellophane bees, Colletes inaequalis. Sometimes called Eastern plasterer bees or polyester bees (and grouped generally with mining bees), they get their common name for the viscous, waterproof, transparent substance (sometimes compared to plastic wrap) that the females secrete to line and seal the brood cells they burrow in the ground. Their species name means “unequal”, and refers to the unequal segments of the right and left antennae.  They’re one of the earliest bees to emerge in spring and can often be seen on April-flowering native red maples (Acer rubrum), like the one below in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery…..

Colletes inaequalis on Acer rubrum-Toronto

…. and non-native pussy willows (Salix caprea), also in the cemetery.

Colletes inaequalis on Salix caprea-Toronto

My front garden is also filled with the little blue flowers of the non-native, spring-flowering bulb Siberian squill, Scilla siberica.

Front Meadow-April 20-scilla

They’ve been slowly spreading there for at least 20 years, probably much longer, since we’ve been in our house for 33 years and it was soon after I saw the “blue lawns” in our neighbourhood that I decided to plant a few of the little bulbs. Needless to say, the scilla likes our slightly alkaline clay. Quite a lot! Though considered invasive, they are not listed as a serous threat, like Japanese knotweed and dog-strangling vine, since they occupy fairly specific niches and disappear after the foliage ripens. In my garden, they emerge with the crocuses…..

Scilla siberica and crocuses

….. and stay in bloom for the fragrant hyacinths…

Scilla siberica and hyacinth

….. and windflowers (Anemone blanda)….

Scilla siberica & Anemone blanda

And Corydalis solida ‘George Baker’

Scilla siberica and Corydalis solida 'George Baker'

There are thousands enough that my little granddaughter is free to pick handfuls of them.

Scilla siberica bouquet

Later, my front garden will be filled with daffodils, tulips and the bottlebrush flowers of Fothergilla gardenii.….

Front Meadow-May19

….and later still, sun-loving North American (not necessarily Ontario) prairie natives like echinacea, rudbeckia, liatris, vernonia and aster, chosen for their appeal to native pollinators.

Front Meadow-Summer

I also grow many non-native plants like meadow sage (Salvia nemorosa),  catmint (Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and Knautia macedonica and sedums, also chosen for their appeal to native pollinators….

Front Pollinator Garden-Summer

…. like the little native metallic sweat bee (Agapostemon virescens), here on knautia….

Agapostemon virescens on Knautia macedonica-Toronto

….and ‘Mainacht’ meadow sage…

Agapostemon virescens on Salvia nemorosa 'Mainacht'-'May Night'

….and native bumble bees of all kinds, here on knautia….

Bombus on Knautia macedonica-Toronto

….and catmint….

Bombus on Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low'-Toronto

….. and later in the season on echinacea…

Bombus griseocollis on Echinacea purpurea-Toronto

In late summer and autumn, there’s a mix of non-native sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and native obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana).

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' & Physostegia virginiana

Monarch butterflies congregating in Toronto before the long flight over Lake Ontario as they migrate to Mexico adore the sedums (as do bumble bees and honey bees)…..

Monarch-on-Sedum-'Autumn-Jo

….. and native carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica) do some clever nectar-robbing to get at the nectar in the corollas of the obedient plant.

Xylocopa virginica on Physostegia virginiana-nectara robbery

The final chapter in my front garden consists of native goldenrod and rich purple New England aster, below, both valuable to native pollinators.

Bombus impatiens on Symphyotrichum novae-angliae-Toronto

***************

But back to my garden in April. The little blue Siberian squill is why the native bees are there. Cellophane bees are a vernal species. As noted in this excellent bee brochure from the City of Toronto , “As soon as the weather becomes warm enough in late March or April, Common Eastern Plasterer Bees start emerging from their overwintering burrows in the ground. Males cluster around virgin females that are digging upwards to reach the soil surface and the mayhem that ensues can sometimes result in some bees being killed in the crush. Once they have mated, the female excavates a burrow in the ground, showing a preference for nesting in patches of bare, or sparsely vegetated, soil.”

Colletes inaequalis is a polylectic species, or a polylege, meaning it gathers pollen from a variety of native and non-native plants from early spring to mid-summer, when their life cycle ends. According to observers, the plants it has been observed using include Aesculus (buckeye, horsechestnut), Amelanchier (serviceberry), Anemone, Anemonella, Arctostaphylus, Aronia (chokeberry), Cercis (redbud), Claytonia, Crataegus (hawthorn),  Dentaria, Dirca,  Erythronium, Hepatica,  Prunus (cherry), Ptelea, Pyrus (pear), Rhamnus (buckthorn), Rhus (sumac), Ribes (gooseberry, currant), Rubus (blackberry, raspberry), Salix (willow), Spiraea, Staphylea, Stellaria, Taraxacum (dandelion), Vaccinium (blueberry, huckleberry, myrtleberry, cranberry), Viburnum  and Zizia.  And in my garden, the unequal cellophane bee is the principal visitor to my thousands of non-native Siberian squill.

Colletes inaequalis on Scilla siberica-Toronto

My abundant blue squill also attracts other native spring bees, including the lovely Andrena dunningi, below.

Andrena dunningi on Scilla siberica-Toronto

I also have a large fragrant viburnum (V. farreri) in my back garden. Native to northern China, it bursts into bloom with the first warmth of spring.

Viburnum farreri-Fragrant viburnum

As soon as the scented flowers open, my viburnum is literally buzzing with native bees and butterflies, including  mourning cloaks (Nymphalis antiopis) that have overwintered nearby…..

Mourning cloak butterfly-Nymphalis antiopa-on Viburnum farreri

…and the odd overwintering red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta).

Red admiral butterfly-Vanessa atalanta-on Viburnum farreri

The existential problem (not for me, but for some rigid native plant proponents) is that the alien floral nectar and pollen is making life possible for these native bees. In fact, since nobody else on my street has much in bloom at the moment and there are precious few red maples or native spring wildflowers in bloom, I am 99% sure that these bees nest in my own garden in order to attack this non-native nectar feast in early spring, as they emerge from their overwintering places.

I live in a city – in fact, the fourth largest city in North America – in which sun-loving plant species are largely all native elsewhere. As the Toronto bee brochure cited above notes:  “Much of the native landscape in our region was originally forested, with the Carolinian and Mixed Forest Zones being the ecological land classifications for the area. Forests are generally not good habitats for bees, although bumble bee queens and a few early spring bees can be found foraging on the early spring flowers that are in bloom before bud burst.”  My ‘native’ forest (including the maples, birches and willows on which my spring bees might have foraged) was mostly cleared, beginning more than 200 years ago, leaving a grid of streets and roads and buildings and an urban forest very much of the “planned” variety (boulevards and parks), save for our wonderful and extensive natural ravines. Though there would have been patches of meadow and bits of relict, sunny black oak savannah near High Park, most Toronto-specific native wildflowers would have been shade-lovers.

City of Toronto-urban canopy

As the city’s bee brochure makes clear: “In comparison to native forests, an urban environment with patches of parkland, ravine, and large numbers of urban gardens, provides an abundance of floral and nest-site resources for bees. An evergreen forest may have no bees at all, a deciduous forest very few. But within our city there may be over 300 bee species and the average backyard garden will likely contain over 50 species, with some nesting and foraging there, and others visiting for pollen and nectar while nesting on a neighbour’s property.

Pollination ecology is a complicated subject. Douglas Tallamy, in his excellent Bringing Nature Home: How You can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, writes that: “There are subtle chemical differences in nectar among plant species, but by and large, nectar from alien plants is the same as nectar from native plants.”  That seems fairly clear and, extrapolating to the physical needs of Homo sapiens, carbohydrates are carbohydrates; it makes little difference whether they come from local maple syrup or granulated sugar or fructose, we will be hypoglycemic if we don’t ingest sufficient amounts. (Interestingly, “deep ecologists” separate humans from the rest of the evolved animal world – and assign us the shame of interacting in any way that benefits us above other creatures. But that’s a big and thorny subject for another day.)  Tallamy goes on to say: “That said, there is growing evidence that our native bees, the andrenids, halictids, colletids, anthophorids, and megachilids, prefer native flowers to alien flowers.”   He then cites the thesis findings of U of Delaware student Nicole Cerqueira, who compared visits of native bees to native and alien plants and found evidence that they showed a statistical preference for native plants in 31 instances.  I’m not sure my garden is comparable, given what I’ve said about Toronto and its “native” plants, but I would be interested in seeing if quantity, i.e. massed plantings of bee-friendly alien plants, might play a spoiler role in what native bees like andrenids and colletids prefer……

In the meantime, do garden organically and do plant lots of plants for pollinators from spring to fall.

Remember Forget-Me-Nots!

Okay, corny headline. But I do want to use this blog – the second of my “blue for April” blogs – to  ‘remember’ how much I adore the effect of forget-me-nots in the spring garden. Sometimes, on a lovely May morning, as I’m looking at the robins bathing in the lily pond in my back garden, I’ll squint a little and imagine what it would look like without that lacy froth of light blue under the ‘Red Jade’ crabapple tree.  Dirt, that’s what it would look like, and the emerging green of perennials, of course. But not nearly as enchanting as the soft blue cloud that floats around the lily pond.

Pond-Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-not – Myosotis sylvatica. The botanical name comes from the classic Greek word for the genus, muosōtis, from mus- ‘mouse’ +ous, ōt- ‘ear’. And the specific epithet sylvatica means “of the forest” or woodland.  So, mouse-eared plant of the woodland.  As for the common name, it comes from the German: Vergiss-mein-nicht (appropriate, because it’s a European plant)   I can’t think of another plant that gives so much and asks so little. Reasonable soil with a little moisture, that’s it. And when I say “soil”, I’m measuring in square inches, because that’s the way forget-me-nots plant themselves. Biennial, they only need a tiny patch of ground to germinate those prolific seeds in late spring, content to grow their roots and develop a small rosette of leaves in the first summer.

Myosotis sylvatica-Forget-me-nots

Then next spring, up they pop and away they go, flowering for weeks on end, their sky-blue blossoms a tonic with all the yellow spring lavishes around – like basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis), seen here.

Aurinia saxatilis & Myosotis sylvatica

But speaking of yellow, forget-me-nots exhibit an interesting evolutionary trait developed in order to attract pollinators. But first, some basic botany: they are protogynous, meaning the flowers initially have a female phase, then a male phase. The nectaries are located below the ovary, which is at the base of the corolla. Around the opening to the corolla is a fleshy yellow ring which is a nectar guide. Once the bee has spotted that yellow ring and zeroed in on the nectaries and/or pollen (if in the male stage), the plant has ensured its succession. (Oh, how they ensure their succession, with copious seeds.)  Even cooler, once the flower has been pollinated, the yellow ring fades to a creamy brown – a signal to the bees that there is no longer any nectar. It should be noted that honey bees will not come to your garden for just a few forget-me-nots; they need loads of them to make it worth the while of the ‘scout’ honey bee whose role in the colony is to find sizable populations of nectar- and pollen-rich plants and then do the ‘waggle dance’ to instruct the forager bees on how to locate them.  (For more blue plants for bees, have a look at this blog.)

Apis mellifera on Myosotis sylvatica

Forget-me-nots offer up another sweet vignette in my pond garden: insinuating themselves innocently into my Japanese hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’).

Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' & Myosotis sylvatica

For many years, my front garden in May was a candy floss confection of the small-flowered pink rhododendrons ‘Olga Mezitt’ and ‘Aglo’ with loads of pink tulips and blue grape hyacinths. But it was the forget-me-nots that were the frilly icing on the cake.

Rhododendron 'Olza Mezitt' & Myosotis sylvatica

And much as I loathe their wanton (wandering?) ways, the lily-of-the-valley, below, do look rather fetching in the embrace of forget-me-nots. Still, sweet-scented though it is, little Convallaria majalis has proven to be a tenacious invader of much of my garden, and, unlike forget-me-nots, cannot be uprooted easily.

Convallaria majalis & Myosotis sylvatica

When I visit Toronto’s spectacular Spadina House gardens in May, I am captivated by the billowing cloud of blue beneath the brilliant spring flowers in the borders surrounding the four-square potager. It brings all those colours together into a cohesive, beautiful picture.

Spadina House Gardens-Forget-me-nots

Here they are with beautiful white bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Alba’), formerly Dicentra)….

Spadina House-Bleeding hearts & forget-me-nots

…and a closer look at that lovely duo.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis & Myosotis sylvatica

Here are some more sweet Spadina House forget-me-not pairings. This is very early, with Arabis caucasica ‘Rosea’.

Arabis caucasica 'Rosea' & Myosotis sylvatica

Then come the tulips, like pretty yellow Tulipa batalini ‘Bright Gem’….

Tulipa batalini 'Bright Gem' & Myosotis sylvatica

…and these wonderful ‘Daydream’ tulips. That’s lungwort (Pulmonaria saccharata) at the right, rear.

Tulipa 'Daydream' & Myosotis sylvatica

One of the early hardy spurges, creeping Euphorbia myrsinites, looks quite fetching with a sprinkling of forget-me-nots.

Euphorbia myrsinites & Myosotis sylvatica

And forget-me-nots flower for such a long time, they’re ready and waiting when the late-flowering poet’s narcissus, N. poeticus ‘Recurvus’ starts flowering at Spadina House.

Myosotis sylvatica & Narcissus poeticus

I often travel to my old home province of British Columbia in spring, and when I stop in at Butchart Gardens in Victoria, it’s abundantly clear that nobody does forget-me-nots like them.  Look at this lovely carpet under lily-flowered tulips.

Butchart Gardens-Tulips & Forget-me-nots

Although I’m happy with the garden variety forget-me-not that’s been with me for years, there’s a seed strain with more vibrant blue colour called ‘Victoria Blue’. I suspect that’s what’s growing here at Butchart with orange wallflowers.

Butchart Gardens-Wallflowers & Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots come in light pink and pure white, often occurring naturally in naturalized seeds. But you can also buy seed of those colours to have an effect like this with tulips, at Butchart Gardens.

Butchart Gardens-blue & white forget-me-nots

Finally, a little duo from Victoria’s Horticulture Centre of the Pacific (I’ve blogged about HCP and their lovely Garry Oak woodland before). Isn’t this sweet? Bright-pink chives (Allium schoeneprasum), likely ‘Forescate’, with forget-me-nots.  Easy-peasy for the herb garden.

Allium schoeneprasum 'Forescate' & Myosotis sylvatica

Happy spring!

Designing with Little Blue Spring Blossoms

It’s April!  And the snow is gone!! Following through with my New Year’s resolution to blog about one colour per month, that means it’s my blue month.

Blue Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

I’d like to show you five of my favourite “little blue spring blossoms”, with some good ideas for using them in combination with other spring plants

(1) Where I live in Toronto, early spring is resplendent with the wondrous sight of “blue lawns” carpeted with tiny Siberian squill (Scilla siberica).  This is not a bulb to plant if you’re the kind of gardener who likes things neat and tidy.  By nature, it’s a spreader and it will spread far and wide: into neighbouring flower beds – even into your neighbour’s flower beds! But it is harmless, and unlike weedy grasses, after flowering it obligingly disappears below ground until next spring. Since we tend to see them in the thousands, it’s always a revelation to get down on the ground and look up into one beautiful little blossom.

Scilla sibirica

Look at that bright blue pollen!  Incidentally, honey bees, bumble bees and other native bees use that abundant pollen, as well as the nectar and pollen of two of my other blue blossoms, lungwort and grape hyacinths, below, to provision their hives and nests in early spring.

Blue Bee Plants

Speaking of carpets, what about this great vignette at Toronto’s Spadina House,  below? Isn’t it a brilliant way to dress up the legs of boring old forsythia?

Scilla siberica & forsythia

I love mixing other early spring bulbs with Siberian squill. This is a classic combination with the bulb I’ll be talking about next, Scilla forbesii or glory-of-the-snow (lower right corner, below).  Many gardeners still know this blue bulb with the starry white centre as Chionodoxa, but the taxonomists have done the genetic sequencing and lumped it with the scillas. It tends to be a less aggressive colonizer than S. siberica, but does multiply nicely, and looks enchanting mixed with the squill under a forsythia.

Squill-Glory of the snow-Forsythia

Another good partner for Siberian squill is a very much underused spring corm, Greek windflower, Anemone blanda. Though it comes in blues and mauve-pinks, this is ‘White Shades’, below.

Scilla sibirica & Anemone blanda 'White Splendour'

Because they emerge so early, some of our native, northeastern spring ephemeral wildflowers can also be paired with Siberian squill.  This is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) with its starry flowers just opening.

Scillal siberica & Sanguinaria canadensis JPG

(2) My second little blue spring blossom is glory-of-the-snow (Scilla forbesii, syn. Chionodoxa forbesii).  Here we see it emerging through ornamental grasses.

Scilla forbesii-Glory of the snow

The pairing below is one of my favourites, of glory-of-the-snow with the gorgeous spring fumewort, Corydalis solida ‘George Baker’.  I’ve blogged about these beautifully-coloured corydalis before, and can’t say enough about them

Scilla forbesii & Corydalis 'Beth Evans'

(3) One of the earliest spring perennials, appearing with the hellebores, is lungwort (Pulmonaria).  There are a number of species and hybrids, the most common being Pulmonaria saccharata, which tends to have pink buds emerging as blueish flowers atop the spotted leaves that gave the genus its common name. (In the medieval Doctrine of Signatures, the spotted leaves were likened to the spots on the lung that were caused by pleurisy and other “pulmonary” ailments, so it was used as a kind of magical medicinal plant).  Here it is at Toronto’s Casa Loma castle gardens with spring’s earliest “daisy”, perennial leopardbane daisy (Doronicum caucasicum).

Pulmonaria saccharata & Doronicum caucasicum

But to get true blue flowers in lungwort, you need to find plants from the P. angustifolia and P. longifolia groups with unspotted green leaves, such as ‘Blue Ensign’, below.

Pulmonaria 'Blue Ensign'

At Casa Loma, I love seeing these blue lungworts used in the shady woodland garden with native Ontario wildflowers like merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora), below.

Pulmonaria angustifolia & Uvularia

(4) Thinking about Casa Loma brings me to my next blue flower for spring, Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica).  This is the famous slope below the castle in early May, shimmering with the blue of this native perennial.

Mertensia virginica-Virginia bluebells

And in Casa Loma’s shady woodland, Virginia bluebells are grown with bright yellow woodland poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum), below, to beautiful effect.

Mertensia virginica-Casa Loma

.Here’s a closer look at that classic combination.

Mertensia & Stylophorum diphyllum

And there couldn’t be a nicer companion for ubiquitous ostrich ferns (Matteucia struthiopteris) than Virginia bluebells.

Mertensia virginica & Matteucia struthioperis

Two more excellent woodland pairings: Virginia bluebell with yellow barrenwort (Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’)…..

Mertensia virginica & Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum'

…and with red barrenwort (Epimedium x rubrum).

Mertensia virginica & Epimedium x rubrum

(5) My fifth blue spring blossom is grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum). With its spikes of grape-scented, indigo-blue bells, this is a bulb that everyone can grow.

Muscari armeniacum-Grape Hyacinth

It pairs beautifully with the earliest hardy spurge, Euphorbia polychroma.

Muscari armeniacum & Euphorbia polychroma

And, of course, it looks fabulous with mid-season tulips, especially planted in a sinuous blue stream as here, at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Muscari -Grape Hyacinths & tulips

It’s particularly effective with darling pink Tulipa saxatilis.

Muscari armeniacum & Tulipa saxatialis

Want more spring blue-and-pink?  You can’t beat grape hyacinths with pink false rockcress (Arabis caucasica var. rosea), one of the earliest perennials to emerge.

Muscari armeniacum & Arabis caucasica var. rosea

And in my own garden, I’ve loved the classic, all-blue combination of grape hyacinths and biennial forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica).

Myosotis sylvatica & Muscari armeniacum

Let me finish with a little tribute to blue: a tiny bouquet of perfumed grape hyacinths with confederate violets (Viola sororia f. priceana) and forget-me-nots.

Muscarii-Myosotis-Viola

And those forget-me-nots?  They have demanded their very own blog. Coming soon!