If you spend any time looking at gardens, you realize that flowers are made with extreme detail. Some are complicated and exquisite. Others have simple, graceful shapes and forms. All I need to do is look at a flower, and my faith in God is restored.
My friend Lyn Pesterfield and I were traveling to Charlotte, N.C., last week and we started chatting about spring ephemerals. You are probably thinking what is an ephemeral plant? The definition of ephemeral "is lasting a very short time, fleeting and passing." So my definition of a spring ephemeral plant can be related to things like "Bleeding Hearts" or columbines. These plants are wonderful and gorgeous, but they are above ground only five to eight weeks out of 52 weeks of the year.
You have to be willing to understand and accept that the plant will look amazing for a month or two. After that, the plant will slowly fade back underground. If you can accept this, then you can enjoy having the exquisite complicated blooms of “ephemerals” to enjoy each spring. Remember to keep track of where they are planted in your garden so that you don’t dig over them. I like to use golf tees to mark where they are in my garden.
There are several excellent qualities of ephemerals, and I hope you will consider planting a few in your garden. Each year, we all should try a couple of new plants to grow and evaluate. That will keep your gardens interesting. Some of my all-time favorite ephemerals bleeding hearts, primroses, columbines, English daisies, ranunculus, spring anemones, and Virginia bluebells.
Bleeding hearts are a beautiful example of an ephemeral plant. They come up each spring and show us their gorgeous flowers and then seem to fade away. They are shade plants, so remember that when planting them. Bleeding hearts will benefit from the perennial feed formula that I use each spring. I use 1/3 cottonseed meal and 1/3 10-10-10 fertilizer with trace elements.
This plant is very happy in zones 3 through 9, and the plant blooms only once. But when it blooms, oh my!! It is an amazing sight to round the corner into my shade garden and see the white bleeding hearts hanging perfectly and dangling from a delicate stem. There are many types of bleeding hearts available locally and mail order. There is the standard rose and white ones, all white ones, and red ones called "burning hearts."
Another beautiful ephemeral plant is spring primroses. This is a low growing perennial with a rosette of veiny leaves. They send up a burst of nickel-sized yellow flowers, but are also available in white, and occasionally pink shades. They are shade loving plants that love to grow near a pond in rich soil.
Plants such as columbines, poppies, English daisies ( bellis perennis), and ranunculus are all considered to be ephemeral plants. They bridge the gap between seasons. Why grow them you may ask? They are so beautiful and are worth the effort, even if only for a very short while.
The famous gardener, Gertrude Jekyll, grew ephemerals and called them “contrivances.” She used them as replacements for fading plants and would plant them to hide the fading yellow leaves of some other plant that had finished blooming. Gardeners all over the world who are really good at gardening use these same methods.
Jazz up your early spring garden by planting a few of these ephemeral plants. Your garden will be more interesting and you will enjoy it.
Linda Cobb is a master gardener who lectures, teaches, and does garden design in South Carolina. She can be reached at 864-574-8493 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.mygardenersguide.com.