Spring Groundcovers

Spring Groundcovers

Chester gardeners usually watch for the delicate drooping blossoms of snowdrops to herald the arrival of Spring.  This year, on March 20th, they were surprised to wake up to a freak snowstorm instead. The snowdrops and crocuses in this post were photographed just days before that snowfall and we can’t guarantee that the blooms will look as good when the snow melts!

Galanthus

Among the first plants to pop up, snowdrops are part of the genus Galanthus,  a word that comes from the Greek gala  meaning milk and anthos meaning flower.Although a superficial glance would lead you to believe that snowdrops are all alike, a white flower on a slight but sturdy stem, according to a knowledgeable source in England there are in fact over 500 named cultivars.

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The flower is made up of three outer and three inner petals, all white but with a fleck or small green mark on the inner petal.  The clearly defined green lines on these petals, a blossom picked on March 11 from a local garden, makes it identical to a cultivar named “Rosie” that can be seen on a marvelous website  “Snowdropinfo.com”.  The website, which is run by a grower in  the UK, carries lots of information and illustrations of these lovely spring flowers. Check out the Galanthus Gallery. The website also contains a warning about buying Galanthus bulbs on the net. Apparently some unscrupulous dealers have been misrepresenting their wares on eBay and buyers have been burned.

As a follow-up to our own confusion in identifying the sky-blue flowers that appeared in a recent post (March 9), we’re presenting a few other suggestions for spring ground covers.

Phlox subulata
Photo credit: Robert E. Lyons, Ohio State University website

One of the candidates for consideration was Phlox sublata (known as creeping phlox or moss phlox). This plant is native to North America  and is hardy from zones 3 to 9.  It belongs to the family Polemonioideae and forms a mound of about 15 cms in height. This plant produces mostly pink flowers, however, and even the blue hues are more nearly mauve.  So, after further input from other viewers, this plant was discounted as not fitting the specs, but it is certainly a worthy choice for any spring garden. It is particularly effective in rock gardens or along the edge of a path or a low wall.

The mystery plant would thus seem most likely to be Veronica chamaedrys (also known as Birds-eye Speedwell), a native to Europe Veronica chamaedrys but certainly well adapted to life in Nova Scotia. It is a herbaceous perennial that grows to be about 12 cm tall. It creeps along the ground, forming a dense mat and sending down roots at the stem nodes. It belongs to the family Plantaginaceae.

The Veronica’s colour is similar to that of the blue Myositis arvensis (Forget-me-nots), widely known as self-seeding annuals in our area.  In addition to adding (often unbidden) charm to our landscapes, Forget-me-nots are useful as food plants to the larvae of some moths. They come in pinks and whites as well as shades of blue.

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Shoots from Crocus bulbs sprang up in mid-March and these flowers opened the day before another light snowfall covered the ground.

And, although not strictly speaking a “ground cover”, another early spring favourite is the crocus, which comes in many hues.  This photo was taken in a Chester garden guarded by very active kittens who take it as their mission to protect the bulbs from predatory squirrels.

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